Equity & Diversity Opinion

6 Strategies for Promoting Diversity and Inclusion at Your School

Start with the premise that bias is normal
By Fonati Abrokwa — January 27, 2022 4 min read
Illustration of hands with different skin colors putting together brightly colored puzzle pieces.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As a leader in your school community, what can you do that will really make a difference? Maybe this is a question you consider every day. Or, with so much always going on, it could be something you haven’t consciously thought about in a while. Either way, here’s a suggestion that I believe will create positive change at your school, just like it’s doing at mine: Encourage and embrace a journey in diversity, equity, and inclusion programming.

The key here is “journey” and not just an isolated plan or initiative. People usually look forward to journeys, while they tend to be apprehensive about new policies. Additionally, progress in DEI shouldn’t have a destination or a finish line, but it should continue as a means for real and lasting improvement. Make DEI work a perpetual journey intended to bring together students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni. It’s not a competitive race that creates winners and losers.

At this moment in history, your reaction to the idea of DEI programming might be skepticism or angst. There’s no denying that schools have become the settings for intense debates about a variety of controversial issues. Why wade into choppy waters, especially right now?

Well, these debates underscore exactly why DEI efforts are so important. As leaders, we must cultivate environments that allow for challenging and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. We need a larger tent to celebrate our differences, not ever-increasing small ones that trap us in our fixed ideas.

Here are six strategies that I hope will encourage and support work in your school:

1. Appoint a DEI point person but invite others to help

To keep your efforts on course, it’s good to hire or appoint someone to spearhead your school’s DEI framework and measure goals. At the start, not all people in your school will be rowing in the same direction on DEI work, so you need a captain of the boat to set the pace and path. Beyond a point person, though, it’s critical to get buy-in from all school groups. Naming DEI ambassadors is a great way to promote awareness, while simultaneously spotlighting individuals who are invested in the programming. These ambassadors can be part of a DEI committee that helps design a calendar of diversity-related activities throughout the year.

2. Hold student forums

Giving students a voice in DEI work is an incredibly important part of the puzzle. Students deserve a say in their school’s climate. First, allow students opportunities to gather to discuss DEI topics and events. This could be done in tandem with student-government leaders. Second, make certain that these forums are safe spaces, with a group norm of respect, where students can speak freely. These need to be no-judgment zones, and sometimes it is helpful for adults to cede the floor entirely to students. The focus should be on empathic listening and guided discussion. Another thought: Hold forums where students can ask questions of staff and administrators. These can be “ask us anything” sessions, or they can be focused on a specific topic, like curriculum review or highlighting the contributions of marginalized groups.

Related Video: Tips for Your DEI Journey From Fonati Abrokwa


3. Infuse training with opportunity for self-reflection

Host DEI self-reflection sessions to reach your learning objectives. In this structure, you present information—maybe the difference between equality and equity or cultural labels that are insensitive—and encourage participants to evaluate their own views. Similar to student forums, these periods should be nonjudgmental and not accusatory. They challenge people to grow within themselves.

4. Don’t treat bias like a dirty word

Regardless of race, gender, age, or background, we all have biases. “He’s gay so he won’t be good at football,someone might say. When we normalize discussions about biases and habits of our minds, we decrease defensiveness and, instead, generate awareness. Shaming, on the other hand, can cause people to cover up their true thoughts or behavior. Once people begin recognizing their biases, they can start eliminating harmful thinking. And the goal should be continuous improvement—not immediate perfection.

5. Figure out how to track progress

Schools need to determine what areas to measure and track for success. Questions about feelings of inclusion and belonging should be part of engagement surveys. Establish benchmarks and then compare results over time. Progress might be slow at first, but after a while, there will be breakthroughs.

Once people begin recognizing their biases, they can start eliminating harmful thinking.

6. Adjust, lean on others, and don’t quit

Within every organization, there will be skeptics who openly oppose DEI efforts or resist programming. Despite them, keep going. Ask for, provide, and accept feedback. The best idea you get might be from your harshest critic. As the DEI point person in my school, I’ve also learned it’s helpful to build and frequently tap into a network of DEI leaders in education. Lean on them for advice—I’ve found my colleagues more than willing to share insights and be a sounding board.

Our children are watching. They want to learn. What are we teaching them about cultivating and appreciating diversity, striving for equity, and creating social spaces where everyone feels included? What can children teach us about these same subjects? Your DEI journey will surely have rough roads and detours, but every step your school takes will be invaluable to our children and their futures. Take that first step now.

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2022 edition of Education Week as How to Promote Diversity And Inclusion at Your School


Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity States That Require Period Products for Free in Schools
More and more states are either requiring K-12 schools to stock pads and tampons, or provide funding for schools to do so.
1 min read
A menstrual product dispenser inside a women's restroom in Purdue University Stewart Center on Feb. 6, 2020, in West Lafayette, Ind. More than half of the states have legislation on the books either requiring products be stocked in schools, or provide funding to purchase them.
A menstrual product dispenser inside a women's restroom in Purdue University Stewart Center on Feb. 6, 2020, in West Lafayette, Ind. Legislation in a number of states seeks to provide more access to pads and tampons for students in K-12 schools.
Nikos Frazier/Journal & Courier via AP
Equity & Diversity More Schools Stock Tampons and Pads, But Access Is Still a Problem
Period products are becoming more commonplace in schools. But there are gaps in funding—and in access, a barrier for lower-income students.
7 min read
Photograph of hygienic tampons and a sanitary pad on a blue background.
Equity & Diversity A School Board Reinstated Confederate School Names. Could It Happen Elsewhere?
Shenandoah County's school board voted in May to reinstate two Confederate names. Researchers wonder if others will, too.
7 min read
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The Shenandoah County, Va. school board voted 5-1 on May 10, 2024, to restore the names of Confederate leaders and soldiers to two schools, four years after the names had been removed.
Steve Helber/AP
Equity & Diversity How 9 Leaders Think About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Their Schools
District and school leaders share their take on DEI and what it means for all students to experience inclusion and belonging.
6 min read
An illustration of six speech bubbles that are different in size and of varying shades of blue.