Diversity: A Powerful Experience

Listening to The First Lady, Michelle Obama, inspired me to share my experiences with the power of diversity. The other day, I was asked about my view on inclusion (including special ed students in the regular classroom). Today’s post is a reflection of those two learning experiences and how powerful embracing diversity can be.

One of the comments made by the first lady was in reference to clubs.  Clubs in any organization are designed to be empowering and as a way to organize like-minded people. She mentioned the Black Student Union and the fact that students today don’t see the color of a person’s skin as something that makes a difference. The organization includes students of all colors. Today’s students take the racial diversity surrounding them for granted-and that’s a good thing.  Districts with racial diversity are richer for their variety and geography plays a big part in opportunities for racial diversity experiences. I envy those who grew up in environments full of racial diversity. 

Racial diversity wasn’t a part of my teaching experience, but pilot programs were. Inclusion was one of them. I wanted the special ed students in my classroom. I got a para and an aide to help with the day-to-day learning activities and met with the special ed teacher each week.  The para and aide were the kind of women who liked to have a purpose and I was the kind of teacher who liked to see my students on task making for a win-win situation. I gave up the concept of all students doing the same thing at the same time. That never worked anyway. All students were given assignments and tasks that were designed for their learning needs.  Sometimes there were several students who needed the same lesson so we grouped them together, sometimes students needed practicing a skill that no one else needed to practice. They didn’t know their education was being individualized, it was just a part of everyday learning. They were emerged in a diversity of learning experiences. Public schools have been and continue to do a great job of creating environments that encourage sharing likenesses and empowering all to accept those who are different making sure no one is left out or left behind.

This past year I’ve been involved in so many new experiences and met absolutely wonderful people.  People who are community and state leaders, people who are black, hispanic, handicapped…  They’ve inspired me to open my mind to possibilities, ideas and engage in conversations with those who aren’t like-minded.  I’ve grown. I’ve found that, although surrounding myself with like-minded people is comforting, taking differences into account and embracing them makes for a much richer life.



From What Works With Women at Work by Williams & Dempsey:

Gender bias differs by race.  While it’s tempting to focus only on the things we share, this often translates into removing women of color from the conversation altogether.  There’s room in women’s initiatives to take difference into account and to make sure no one is left out and left behind.

Accomplishments: Telling Your Own Story

We all do things that we are proud of.  Sometimes we do amazing things simply because they need to be done, and sometimes those things get recognized by others, sometime they don’t.  The trick is keeping track of those accomplishments, especially those you are proud of, without alienating others.  Tooting your own horn can look like you are bragging.  And being a woman who brags is just not professionally acceptable. 

In the many years as educators we’ve had the privilege of meeting so many absolutely, wonderfully, accomplished women.  Teacher’s doing an amazing job educating students who have a wide variety of learning and emotional needs.  Principals going above and beyond their required job duties because they know that the student or teacher needs them.  Superintendents making way for innovative, creative and out-of-the-textbook educators in spite of pressure from outsiders to keep classrooms uniform. We’ve also been in conversations where those amazing educators were viewed as ineffectual simply because someone was threatened by their accomplishments. Many accomplished educators just don’t tell their story because of the myths about self promotion.

Our own humility is doing education a disservice and the need to tell about public education’s accomplishments is greater now than it has ever been.  We all know educators who made their students think, who brought out talents no one know they had, and who inspired their students to change the world.  So, how do we tell about our accomplishments without appearing arrogant?

Facts, just the facts!  In conversations, in blog posts, inTwitter feeds and on Facebook statuses state your accomplishments as well as those in your network.  LinkedIn has a “Projects” feature designed for sharing accomplishments.  Use that feature to show what you are doing.  State them in a matter-of-fact way. Include those who helped make the accomplishment a reality, even if it’s someone’s influence from years back.  Be concise, be complimentary, be authentic, be humble and be confident.  We have the power and the tools to tell our stories.  We have the experience and the knowledge necessary to show that we do make a difference.  We have the obligation and responsibility to make our voices heard so that our story gets out there and the world knows what wonderful accomplishments we’ve made  in education!

Since this is another post in my series from the book “What Works With Women at Work” by Williams & Dempsey I’ve focused on women although the advice here can apply to anyone.