Co-Creating Inclusive Environments
Understanding the self — USING PRACTICES THAT ENABLE DEEP REFLECTION AND DIALOGUE
Fostering more inclusive environments starts with the self. To truly create the space for others, we need to deeply understand our own lens by inquiring into our personal beliefs, values, and mental models. This reflection and vulnerability is challenging because we’re oriented towards competition, fighting for resources, and advocating for our own ideas.
We need to break down these norms in order to think differently about what it means to come up with solutions together. By reflecting on our own experience, we can understand more deeply the why behind what we believe. This reflection opens the door for us to actively listen to others’ points of view and be willing to change our own perspectives based on what we hear and learn through conversation.
UNDERSTANDING THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND LIVED EXPERIENCES OF VARIOUS ACTORS IN THE SYSTEM
New programs and policies affect many individuals who play different roles and have different life experiences. When we fail to recognize these realities, we force people to expend energy figuring out on their own how to adapt—if indeed they can. For example, a strategy to promote new instructional techniques has implications not just for teachers, but also for how principals lead their schools, how parents and guardians support their children’s schoolwork, and how students think about their own learning.
Approaches for achieving equitable outcomes for all students should create inclusive environments and be informed through the engagement of people with diverse perspectives. This requires efforts to identify the various actors in the system (and the relationships between them), understand the constraints and imperatives within which they operate, and determine alongside stakeholders what supports they require. Such understanding allows for creating solutions that actually fit with, and improve, people’s varied circumstances.
Shifting Structures and Power Dynamics
While we know that leaders are incredibly important to any improvement strategy, developing an inclusive environment might mean rethinking what leadership looks like and how it operates. Instead of being stuck in old structures of top-down leadership, we need to explore ways of generating energy and capacity to act at all levels so as to increase the agency of individuals within the system.
Distributed leadership is not about delegation. Instead it looks to remove barriers to power by encouraging people to take initiative and collaborate. This allows more people in an organization, agency, or system to have input into the decisions being made. Fostering a more democratic decision-making culture allows those closest to the action to make the decisions that can drive positive change in the system.
Developing more inclusive environments doesn’t mean that everyone always has to participate all of the time. It’s about championing a culture in which stakeholders not only have clear ways to share their thoughts and ideas, but also feel confidence that their voice will be listened to. By employing more accessible, inclusive practices, we can strengthen our ability to be responsive to the needs and strengths of all students.