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.

Asking The Right Questions

Technology is disrupting public education, and it’s a good disruption!  The promise of technology is to dramatically change the way teachers teach in order to meet the way students learn.  In some classrooms that promise is blooming, in some that promise is still growing, yet in many the seed of that promise hasn’t even germinated.  How is technology being used in your district?  Is it simply taking the paper factor out, or is it being leveraged to encourage communication, collaboration and innovation?  What is driving your technology decisions?  Is curriculum a factor in those decisions?  What about professional development?  

 

As we gear up for another school year many districts are planning for the future through strategic plans and discussions about technology should be included.  Planning for the use of technology in the classroom can be overwhelming at best and we all know that implementing technology without a plan creates chaos.  Knowing what is available now and what is being developed can help in that planning, but keep in mind that technology is an ever-changing landscape and that can sometimes be a roadblock when deciding what technology to purchase.  

 

There are four planning questions that need to be addressed as you decide what technologies fit your district needs: 1. What will students learn? 2. Which strategies will provide evidence of student learning?  3. Which strategies will help students acquire and integrate learning?  4. Which strategies will help students practice, review, and apply learning?  (“Using Technology With Classroom Instruction that Works,” McRel).   

 

One example of technology integration is the “20 percent time,” aka “Genius Hour.” This is a concept where everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, is given 20 minutes to pursue ‘pet’ projects and learning outcomes they choose.  Often students go above and beyond their learning outcomes simply because they are given a conduit for their passions and interests.

 

Being an advocate for technology is a critical role for district leaders  and board members, and being a change agent is one of the 21 Responsibilities of the School Leader (“School Leadership that Works: from Research to Results,” McRel). What does it mean to be a change agent? You consciously challenge the status quo, you lead change initiatives with uncertain outcomes, systematically consider new and better ways of doing things, and consistently attempt to operate at the edge versus the center of the district’s competence.  

 

The culture of a district and community is a key factor in dealing with the disruption that implementing technology can create. Districts using technology successfully in the classroom foster a culture of excellence, grounded in trust, compassion and respect. As a district leader you hold the keys to successfully integrate technology, provide for a culture of innovation and be an agent of change. Ask the question: What could we be doing that we are not to prepare our students for their future?