By Angeline Aow and Sadie Hollins
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work is change management work. Embedding DEI practices in one’s institution requires knowing what accelerates change, and what impedes it. In this article we draw on Lippitt’s Managing Complex Change model and Powell and Powell’s NFI Inclusive Toolkit, to introduce a Total Inclusivity Change Components Model.
A new model for DEI
This model can help your school identify six areas of whole school development and consists of the following components:
- Aspirational vision of total inclusivity
- Consensus and commitment
- Mindsets and skills
- Agency and motivation
- Strategy and action plan
When a school ecosystem has all of these components, the school will have a greater chance of tackling the complexities of DEI work. By considering all aspects of the model, there will be fewer disruptions to efforts to create change, less disheartenment, fewer isolated interventions, and a greater use of resources such as staff and their expertise, school PD budget, physical resources and learning spaces. The goal for the school is to continuously improve so that DEI-driven values will prevail.
The impact of a missing component
Let’s consider the implications on your DEI change initiatives if one of the six components is missing.
Aspirational vision of total inclusivity
Lack of clarity about the school’s aspirational DEI-related goals results in pockets of advocacy, isolated bandwagons, absence of shared understanding and language.
Consensus and commitment
A lack of buy-in from key community members results in subversive behaviour, absence of commitment, open and covert sabotage, inadequate resources and disheartenment.
Mindsets and skills
Limited intercultural competence skills and beliefs/values that do not align with DEI aspirations results in distrust, a sense of hopelessness and an overall feeling that the work is impossible.
Agency and motivation
Lack of self-driven engagement to deepen understanding of DEI-related advocacy results in emotional disengagement and poor intrinsic motivation.
Without sufficient human and material resources DEI-driven development is hindered, resulting in poor upskilling and lack of shared community understanding.
Strategy and action plan
Lack of defined strategies and priorities results in a lot of talk and meetings that result in false starts, lack of data or evidence of success and missed steps resulting in criticism, cynicism and complacency about DEI initiatives.
Result: False starts and stagnation
As you will notice, these components are closely interconnected, and multiple components may be in need of attention at the same time. Using the model can help your school understand why DEI transformation may not be working, and can also help illuminate areas that may be missing and require intentional action.
The following learning stories are anonymised accounts of challenges international schools have had with DEI change management. In these examples, we have identified a missing component to show how this model can be used (adapted from Becoming a Totally Inclusive School by Aow, Hollins and Whitehead, 2022). As you read these scenarios, consider the change model, what components may be missing, and the lessons you can transfer to your own context.
Learning Story 1
In one K-12 international school, a part-time DEI coach led 22 educators and a student group on a variety of DEI-related initiatives. They were supported and celebrated by leadership when initiatives aligned with school-wide plans. The DEI committee had an aspirational vision; however, committee member initiatives were not prioritised in school-wide and board meeting agendas. Political and increased media narratives about equality and justice raised parent concerns about the DEI work done in the school and 5% of them were against the work being done in the school. The school board reacted by publishing a statement that all DEI work will be paused as the school re-evaluates the work of the committee. The DEI committee was not consulted and felt that their work over the last three to four years was devalued.
Key components missing: Consensus and commitment.
Without commitment from the leadership team and school board, the commitment from the staff and students was not enough. One action from governance and leadership can single-handedly sabotage efforts to move DEI values forward.
Learning Story 2
A high school had been in the news as alumni formed a #BlackatSchool Instagram page to share stories from students who experienced discrimination. This was picked up by a local news outlet and the school received some negative press. Students attending the school were empowered by the actions of alumni to form a #BlackLivesMatter group and had meetings with interested students. The student group planned on hosting a courageous conversation circle to discuss the anonymous alumni stories. They approached a maths teacher that they trusted, and asked if they could use their classroom to host the event after school. The school had hosted DEI training sessions since the news broke but teachers had not heard about any antiracism or DEI-related initiatives in the most recent three months. The maths teacher was unsure what to do next. Whilst the school had made efforts to support growth in this area, the maths teacher was in their second year of teaching at the school and was wary of making waves as their contract was up for renewal.
Key components missing: Aspirational vision of total inclusivity, and strategy and action plan
While grassroot initiatives such as student-initiated actions foster learner agency and service learning, without a clear overall vision for the school, strategic priorities and a plan of action members of a school’s learning community are not clear about their roles. This leads to confusion, false starts and stagnation of efforts.
Using the change model
As exemplified by these two stories, it is important to pay attention to all six aspects of change. For school leaders on their DEI journey, here are three key tips to consider:
- Co-create your vision of total inclusivity as this vision will belong to every member of your learning community. You cannot further DEI values without alliances with teachers, parents, students, leaders and governors.
- Value the individuals you work with. Listen to their perspectives and identify what colleagues need to further their understandings and DEI-driven mindsets that underpin their behaviours and decision-making processes.
- Plans are not perfect. They help us make progress. Successful plans are responsive and are also in a state of constant change. Do not wait until you have all components of the change model in place until you take action in your school. Be aware of what components need attention and take steps towards addressing it.
Using the Total Inclusivity Change Components Model is one step towards identifying what your international school may need to address next. As initiatives happen, it is important to revisit this model to help identify areas to strengthen as you embed DEI values throughout your learning ecosystem.
“The goal for the school is to continuously improve so that DEI-driven values will prevail.”