By Kym Ward Gaffney, Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Avenues: the World School
Educators know that empathy, patience and compassion are necessary to create environments where students can thrive. Schools also have a role in breaking down barriers defined by race, culture, physical ability, socio-economic background or other measures of identity and embracing access for all–both in and out of the classroom. In this article, Avenues’ global director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Kym Ward Gaffney, reflects on some critical questions a family may want to ask when exploring a school’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Is there a mission which adapts to the ever-evolving identities when discussing diversity?
Years ago, many schools did not have the affinity groups that we have today. While school clubs may have been organized around shared interest, many may not have been focused on key identifiers for individuals. Mission statements should provide inspiration, vision, anchored around the school’s values and yet fluid enough to allow for identities to emerge. When you look at the mission statement, does it resonate? Is it reflective of your values? Is there flexibility so that your child is able to be themselves?
Is the school committed to safeguarding your child, solely dedicated to ensuring that your child is physically safe while in school?
We are all clear that a physical structure of a school should be safe. We consider the building as the safe envelope that we take our children to learn, explore and become critical thinkers. Safeguarding children is beyond the physical structure and protecting your child from physical harm. Safeguarding is also protecting the dignity and self-esteem of children. A school which does not tolerate hate speech or acts of unkindness which can hurt one’s spirit is a function of safeguarding. It’s a holistic approach in that all children have equal rights to be protected from harm of their bodies, minds, and spirits so that they are healthy and emotionally unafraid.
Does the school have a dedicated, experienced DEI practitioner?
The work of DEI is just that work; it takes time and energy, commodities that are precious for everyone. It is difficult to be in a position of influence when it is a part of an assignment. A practitioner has had experience in developing cultural intelligence, knowledge of tools, credentialing and experience in shifting cultures. Having a fully dedicated person demonstrates the school’s commitment to have the courageous and informed conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.****
Does professional development include a DEI lens?
Investment in infrastructure is great; investment in people is essential. Schools who continually invest in their leaders and educators developing in the art and skill of teaching serve as the heartbeat to engaging all students in their learning. The ability to develop relationships with their students, understand pedagogy within their area of focus and proactively embrace a curriculum where representation of identities, characters, perspectives are recognized and celebrated - that’s an inclusive approach to development. This can only be done when developing people is a school’s priority.
How willing is the school desire to have courageous conversations?
Courageous conversations are a part of the work needed by all schools to create a just, inclusive, safe environment for all. A school which expands conversations from an exchange of ideas to conversations which respects moral, intellectual, social and emotional sharing gives us the practice to be courageous. Margaret Wheatley captures the impact of these conversations: “Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change–personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive. We share what we see, what we feel, and we listen to what others see and feel.” This type of learning provides inspiration and aspiration to help students believe, “I belong here.”
You may click here to learn more about Avenues’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Kym Ward Gaffney is the global director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Avenues: The World School. Kym joined Avenues with more than 20 years of coaching and consulting experience with leading global companies in varied industries. Kym also sits on the board of MESA (Math Engineering Science Academy) High School and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Institute for Transformational Leadership. She holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Howard University and an MBA double major in international business and marketing from NYU Stern Graduate School of Business.