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Embracing this teachable moment

By Dr. Pamela Roggeman

As educators, we embrace the concept of learning as a lifelong endeavor. We look for teachable moments, both inside and outside the classroom.

The civil unrest that is playing out before us has provided educators with the opportunity to share what we know about diversity, equity and inclusion with colleagues, as well as turning the lens on ourselves. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher or you oversee dissertation research, educators impact the thinking of others.

As members of larger institutions that are responsible for educating the next generation, we must play a role to affect change by supporting social justice initiatives and promote diversity, equity and inclusion by making it a pillar of the pedagogy of teacher preparation.

Consider the following suggestions to instill diversity, equity and inclusion into the fabric of your institutions.

Teach the whole student

For teachers to better understand the wide range of student needs, they have to approach educating their students from an all-encompassing perspective. Educating the whole child requires a commitment to ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.

From childhood to adulthood, we are the products of our life experiences, and our backgrounds impact our perspectives. Educators need to consider that they have students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, mental health statuses, and more, that shape the way they experience the learning process.

Using the Whole Child Approach to creating a school culture and forming classroom expectations does not happen by accident. Districts who achieve this approach successfully commit to supporting and developing teachers to drive these practices. This support must be ongoing and embedded into day-to-day operations and suited to the specific needs of the context of each school community.

Educator preparation programs should consider planning proactive and deliberate measures to give their teacher candidates opportunities to work within communities that meet the needs of students from diverse populations. For instance, require a certain percentage of your educational field placement students to occur at Title 1 schools. Teacher preparation programs need to forge relationships with schools that serve diverse populations and introduce them to resources that will help them embed social justice education into their classrooms.

Make diversity, equity and inclusion a pillar of your organization

Teacher candidates not only need to learn how to embed the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their own classrooms, but they also need them to be modeled by their own faculty. Educator preparation programs need to establish expectations in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion and then measure themselves against these concrete, evidence-based expectations.

To start down this path, institutions must first determine the role that diversity, equity and inclusion will play as a foundational and philosophical framework. Start first with doing the research. Dive into the robust body of research in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

One way to do this is to create a panel of experts to serve as a council or committee charged with creation of a strategic plan related to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and actionable goals to keep all parts of the institution aligned. Use these insights to create learning opportunities through faculty trainings that align with these goals.

Follow that with an honest self-assessment of how aligned your programs are to what your goals are for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then create a plan to achieve your goals.

Work with other diversity-focused organizations

Many national organizations exist that are looking to work with schools to complete projects that benefit teachers and students from diverse populations. These types of relationships can lead to important research findings and implementation of materials that benefit students, teachers and entire communities.

Keep in mind that these relationships can look different for each organization, dependent on your goals. If you want to play a part in positively affecting social justice in K-12 schools, you may want to consider working with an organization who could help with the connections you do not have. I suggest looking for organizations who are agents of change that compliment your own work and research.

At the University of Phoenix College of Education, we worked with an outside organization to create a Social Justice Book List. Here we enlisted a network of state teachers of the year to create a list of resources appropriate for pre-K students through high school students (picture books for younger students to award winning pieces of literature for the older students) in the areas of social justice.  We found that establishing a relationship with an organization whose goals were similar to ours allowed us to contribute to positively affecting K-12 schools in the area of social justice.

While not all of us are educators by profession, each of us is a learner. We have the chance in this time of civil unrest to be part of the change within our organizational structures. As the grownups in the room, we have a responsibility to see those changes through to completion.

Dr. Pamela Roggeman is the dean of the College of Education at University of Phoenix