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Centering Different Perspectives Within Education Networks

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

As educators work to address disparities in educational outcomes among students, some education networks recognize the need to center different perspectives in their work. For some networks, this means being more inclusive of different racial identities within their network. Other networks are working to center different roles within school systems. The experiences of some education networks point to an approach that other networks can use to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives.

Do internal diversity, equity, and inclusion work to ensure authenticity. Before taking steps to engage new perspectives, it is important for networks to look within. Does the network’s leadership understand what it will take to ensure new voices feel heard and valued in their network? Does leadership understand the ways in which current practices and structures may be standing in the way of inclusion and equity? NCSM has done extensive work at the board level to ensure the organization is clear on what it means to prioritize racial equity. For NSCM, the work began with learning and exploration to gain understanding on systemic issues that have driven racial disparities in educational outcomes. Now the board is moving to action—getting clear on specific actions the network will take and outcomes they expect to see as a result. For example, NCSM is analyzing internal policies and procedures to look for structures and rules that inadvertently impede fuller participation by people from a variety of backgrounds. The process began with procedures for nominations to run for NCSM’s elected board of directors. The board found criteria in the rubric that valued formal leadership positions in organizations and school districts over other practical forms of leadership experience and revised the rubric to broaden what is considered “leadership experience” to broaden the range of qualified candidates.

Similarly, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) engaged the board in creating a strategic plan that centers equity. As one outcome of the strategic planning process, the ALAS board decided to prioritize catalyzing information to ensure a smooth transference of knowledge so that when a leadership transition happens, historical and current information is not lost. “Focusing on that was transformational because attention to organizational leadership and succession planning impacts when, why, and how organizational growth happens and how the organization plans for and transforms to meet future needs and demands,” said Dr. Maria Armstrong, executive director.

Build in structures for intentionality and accountability around diversity. Some education networks are gathering data on various dimensions of members’ identities to better understand the diverse range of perspectives included in various bodies or programs. “I used to just eyeball things when picking people to serve on an advisory board or recommending people for various opportunities,” said Kaylen Tucker, associate executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). “Now we are trying to track things more, such as asking folks to share their race, ethnicity, geographic region, and school type in their applications for volunteer roles.” Gathering data on members’ identities can help organizations have a better sense of the range of perspectives they are engaging and can also help organizations hold themselves accountable for achieving diversity in the ways that matter to them. For example, does the organization’s leadership reflect the racial diversity of the network or constituency the organization serves?

Focus on building trusting relationships. Simply increasing the diversity of its membership, programs, or committees, is not sufficient. It is also important to build an inclusive environment where people of different identities feel valued and heard. Building trusting relationships is key to creating a culture of inclusion. Recently ALAS recognized a need to build greater trust with superintendents to deepen engagement with them as partners in promoting math literacy among Latino students. As a result of engagement with superintendents, ALAS created a book about STEAM that featured historical perspective on the contributions of Latinos to the STEAM field. ALAS can gauge the extent to which the network is deepening trust with superintendents through qualitative ways — such as the conversations they’re having and the way superintendents show up in meetings— and quantitative measures such as increases in engagement among superintendents.

Create opportunities for diverse perspectives to contribute their voice to the work. In the spirit of “nothing about me without me”, some education networks are engaging diverse perspectives as co-creators of programs and offerings. For example, NAESP formed an advisory group to help the organization design and launch a network for principals of color. The advisory group—made of 7(?) individuals of diverse racial identities—advised the organization on what the value of such a network should be and what its shape, focus, and offerings could be. The advisory group also played a role in the formal announcement of the network at NAESP’s 2023 conference.

Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA) is piloting the creation of BBA Student Groups in order to center their perspectives and better understand their needs. By creating these groups, BBA is working to center community and connect schools and communities more deeply. BBA members assist community members to facilitate these groups as a way to leverage the strength of the community while helping local educators become more familiar with the community and the children they serve.

As education networks prioritize educational equity, many are realizing the need for a more diverse range of perspectives in their networks. While diversity alone is an important first step, equally important is fostering an inclusive environment where diverse participants feel valued and heard. Achieving an inclusive culture may require some internal work among network board and staff. Together, these steps can help education networks center diverse perspectives to help improve their programs and services to better support education professionals.

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