Watch our virtual event to share the findings of a new research report from EXPLO Elevate examining the lived experiences of over 25 diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practitioners at independent schools. Learn what schools can do to support their DEI practitioners and hear about key factors that may promote or impede this crucial work.
Panelists: Sudipti Kumar, Director of Research, EXPLO Elevate (presenter) along with select DEI practitioners who participated in the research.
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Todd Brantley - Good morning, good afternoon all. We're going to get started in about 60 seconds, just give people a chance to trickle in. Thank you for coming, we'll get started soon. Well, good morning, good afternoon all, welcome. I see people are still trickling in. We're going to go ahead and get started. Thank you for joining us for today's event. Collective insights from DEI practitioners at independent schools presented by EXPLO Elevate. My name is Todd Brantley, I'm a Managing Director of Business Banking at First Republic and co-chair of the bank's racial equity advisory board, part of our DEI infrastructure. My tenure at the bank, I've had the pleasure of working with many nonprofits, including independent schools but at the bank as a whole we have the privilege of serving more than 300 independent schools across the country. And we focus on financial solutions, obviously, but our goal is really to provide unparalleled service and thought leadership forged from two decades of mission-driven partnership in this space. And as to that end that we're thrilled to introduce EXPLO Elevate, a division of EXPLO and an organization which helps schools design, build, implement and continuously improve the environments needed for all learners to thrive now and in the future. We are proud to support the incredible work at EXPLO Elevate and create a forum for discussion with our partners in the school community. I'm now happy to hand it over to Sudipti Kumar, Director of Research and Content Development at EXPLO Elevate and the researcher for this report. Sudipti will present her findings and will follow her presentation with a panel discussion featuring two DEI practitioners who participated in the research. Thank you again for joining us today and Sudipti I'll turn it over to you.
Sudipti Kumar - Hi everyone. I am Sudipti Kumar. I am so thrilled to be here today for the launch of our new report, Making the Hidden Visible: The Lived Experience of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Practitioner at Independent Schools. As Todd mentioned, I am the Director of Research for EXPLO Elevate, which he so eloquently described as an organization that is supporting schools in a variety of ways. We offer professional learning opportunities, we run weekly webinars and we offer a variety of research that is available to our member schools as well as oftentimes available to the broader general public hub who is interested in educational issues. So I'm thrilled to be here and I am going to go ahead and kick us off and share a brief agenda about how we're going to spend the next hour together. So we're going to start with a little bit of framing around the research questions and methodology that was used to create this report. And then I'm going to provide a little bit of background which includes some helpful data, at least in my opinion, and a timeline. And then we're going to go deep on some findings from the report. So I'm going to go deep on three, maybe highlight one more, and then you will be able to find information on all of the findings later on. So just so you all know, you will be getting a copy of the report after this webinar's over you will be getting a thank you email and that will have a link to the report. So you'll be able to dive into any of the findings that we aren't able to cover in this short hour that we have together. And then I'm really excited because we'll be moving to a panel from two participants in the research will be joining me to have a conversation about what their work looks like on the day-to-day. And so I'm thrilled to get there and so I'm going to dive right in. So the first thing I wanted to do was just high-level share the research questions that we wanted to explore in this study, you see them listed here. The first is opportunities and challenges, DEIJ practitioners at independent schools face and how they manifest.
How schools support or impede the DEIJ practitioner at the schools. So that includes leaders, the broader community, and in what ways do support or the lack of support translate to moving equitable practice forward in all facets of the school. So with those research questions in mind, our methodology included interviewing over 30 practitioners and administrators. The bulk of those were actually practitioners, so we interviewed 25 practitioners and then an additional set of administrators and other folks at schools who are deeply interested in DEIJ work and wanted to share their perspectives and provided a helpful context. Our schools that are included in that list of over 30 range in geography all over the country type. So we had some boarding, we had some boarding and day. We have all-boys schools, all-girls schools, some K-8, some K-12. So we really ran the gamut in terms of the different types of schools that were included in that overall interview set. We really wanted to balance both aggregate themes and individual perspectives. And so when you read the report and as well as in this webinar, you will see a mix of quotations that are individual representations of folks that we spoke to but we also shared themes based on the overall conversations. One practitioner's experience is definitely not the voice of all different practitioners experiences. So we want to highlight that and name that the themes really came from what the majority of practitioners were naming as opportunities and challenges in their work. In the report we go deep on implications as well. And that is based not only on the conversations with practitioners but additional research around how to support DEIJ practitioners in their schools. Some background data that I think is really interesting as I was conducting this research. One thing that really stood out to me is that 71% of independent schools do not have diversity directors or a dedicated person on their team that does dedicated diversity work. This data comes from NAIS and is as of 2021. So that number is fairly significant but what's really interesting is that there has been significant growth rate and DEI coordinator job postings on the NAIS career center.
So you see in that middle blue circle that just from last year 2020 to 2021, there has been 100% growth rate in DEI job coordinator posting. So I expect that that 71% will decrease at what rate and by how much will be remained to be seen. But I expect that in the coming years we will see a lot more schools adding diversity directors as part of their overall team at the school. Another interesting data point is that 2/3, almost 2/3 of practitioners are the first or second to hold the role in their school. This is also really exemplified in the research that I did. So some practitioner I spoke to were the first to hold their position, but they've been in that school for 20 years in that role. And then other practitioners were fairly new and we're really defining the school and the systems as structures that would support DEI work as the first or second person to ever hold that role in their school. This is a non-exhaustive timeline but it is something that we wanted to share to talk about the history of racial equity in independent schools since the 1960s. Again, it's not exhaustive. I just wanted to highlight a few points that I found really interesting as I was doing my research. So the 1960s is really where we can point to wide-scale integration happening at independent schools. In fact, from 1960 to 1969 the number of integrated prep schools jumped from 33% to 84%. From 1970 or to 1990 thereabouts, the number of non-white students increased at independent schools. And you see that by 1990, 21% of independent school seniors identified as non-white. Based on the research and some of the reading that I did, it was really interesting to look at how independent schools characterized diversity work in the '90s. And you see in that top blue rectangle, that in the '90s diversity was really defined as white students attending schools with non-white students.
So the conversations were largely, and this does not represent every independent school but many of them were around avoiding racial conflict, tolerance, courtesy, but not necessarily ideas like inclusion, respect, belonging, justice, right. So those conversations weren't necessarily part of how conversations were defined around diversity. And it was really focused on representation. By 2020, if you can see that 31% of independent school students identify as students of color. 2020 is also a pivotal moment as I'm sure all of you know, in independent schools, you know, following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests around the country and then the Black@ movement that really hit, you know, many independent schools across the country. There was a renewed fervor around looking at DEIJ initiatives across schools. The many independent schools had already been deeply looking at this work and thinking about this work for many years. That kind of can be exemplified through that data point I shared in the last slide, and I named here again that in 2021 there has been a significant rise in number of schools who are looking to hire a diversity director for the first time. So I'm going to jump to our findings. This slide is super text-heavy, as you all know, and I'm not going to be able to read all of it out loud, but we did have 10 findings across three categories. So the first is leadership and support, the second is environment and culture and the third is strategies and tactics. I'm going to highlight one finding from each of these broader categories and then that overall there's one finding at the bottom of number 10 that really cuts across all three. I'm going to touch upon that as well in our conversation. I encourage you when you get the report to read through all of the findings. I imagine some may resonate more than others and so I would really encourage you to do that and check that out. My contact information will be shared later on as well and I'd love to hear from you and hear any thoughts and perspectives you have. So the first finding I'm going to go deep on is this one, number one. I'm just going to read it out loud real quick.
Both explicit and implicit support from the board and head of school are critical. And so I'm going to go into this and as I mentioned, during this portion of our session, I'm going to share quotations from individual practitioners who we spoke to. And I'm also going to provide some commentary based on the overall theme that we are highlighting here. So I'm going to read this quotation out loud so that everyone can hear it together. "I think it's really important for schools "to take the time to say, why are we doing this "and why is it important for us "and how is it connected to our mission? "Equity is at the center of the work we do. "It's firmly in our mission statement. "And if we believe that our academic program "should offer equitable access "and opportunity for each student, "then let's make that a part of the work we do." So this quote I think really exemplifies this category of explicit support and is highlighted in this first row here. Most of the practitioners I spoke to discussed how important it is for DEIJ to be embedded in the mission and the vision of the school. Not only does it signify how important it is, but if there are questions around why are we doing this work, you can point to that document, you can point to that statement and you can say it's rooted in this and that really provides some gravitas and importance to why we're doing this work. So that came up over and over again, as a way to show explicit support. Another thing that came up is the practitioner being in a senior leadership role, ideally reporting to the head of school and that also signifying the importance of the roles. So the fact that they're on the senior leadership team, that they're part of the conversations across the school and that they're able to recommend initiatives that impact all aspects of the school, not just one component of the school. A third component of explicit support is around the board. So board-level subcommittees that focus on diversity, equity, inclusion was named as a really important way to identify that there is support at the board level.
Some practitioners spoke about a direct line between them and the board and just, you know, having real advocates on the board that they could turn to as needed. And how important that was to know that the board was deeply, deeply invested in the work for it to be sustainable over time. The next part about this is around implicit support. So I talked about explicit support and now I'm going to talk about implicit support. And I really want to highlight that for some practitioners explicit support was present but they didn't necessarily feel like implicit support was present in the same way. For other practitioners they felt like both were really present and they really spoke to how important that was. So that's why I really want to make the distinction between explicit and implicit support because it is important to name that those are two different parts of the puzzle. So I'm going to name this quote and say it out loud as well. "Even though I was part of the admin team, "there were conversations that were kept from me "because of protection, either for me or for the parents "by not bringing me into the conversation, "the message that you're sending to some people "is that either I can't do it or I don't want to do it." I have one more quote before I talk a little bit more about implicit support. "As a black DEIJ practitioner, "I feel like I'm always at risk. "And I also feel like I'm always compared "to my white male counterpart." So what does this mean? Implicit support can really be highlighted in three ways that practitioners talked about. One is faith and trust in the support of leadership. So trust is really this implicit trust that if something were to happen in the school, if an incident were to go awry that the practitioner really believes that their leader has their back, that their supervisor has their back and that there's that faith and trust in being able to have those conversations. Practitioners, and this really goes to that first quote I talked about in terms of protection, practitioners really talked about being involved in all pertinent conversations. And I want to name that that doesn't necessarily mean that they want to be part of every single conversation, but they want clarity around what conversations they wouldn't be part of and they want to have those discussions up front and be clear about why they wouldn't necessarily be included and be able to name that, and say, okay, yeah, you know, take that off my plate.
That's okay, I understand. Because, you know, as the experts in that space, as the people that should be, you know, supporting that work across the school, it's important to be part of those conversations and not necessarily just be taken off, even if it's well-intended to say, "Oh, we want to protect their time." Another thing that came up quite a bit was space for sharing challenges with their leadership. So some practitioners talked about just the openness and honesty that they have with their supervisors, being able to go to their room after a really difficult week and just being able to sit down and say, this was really hard and this is why. And just that openness and honesty meant so much to them and felt like it was a space where they could really feel supported by their leadership. The next finding that I want to highlight is number four in the environment and culture section. To do DEIJ work effectively is to be a disruptor in a space that is ready for disruption, which by disruption, we are defining as a school ready for institution-wide change. So the first part of that is to do DEIJ work effectively is to be a disruptor. And I think the best way to describe what it means to be a disruptor is through another quote. So I'm going to share this quote. "The other thing about independent schools "is that sometimes there's this niceness factor. "And when you have to be direct, "they don't know how to respond. "And this work, at its core, has to be direct. "We have to find the spaces to talk about the uncomfortable, "to talk about all that stuff "we've had hiding in the closet, "that we don't pull out. "You can do window dressing work and have food "and festivals and fun staff. "But if you were really doing the work, "you are making people uncomfortable." So many practitioners talked about this role as being a disruptor as pushing people towards discomfort. But that is essentially why they're there. To do this effectively is to do in a space that is ready for disruption. So it's extremely difficult and can be a tension that practitioner is named when they're trying to be that disruptor but the space isn't ready for it.
And so how I want to highlight this is through this table on the right. You'll see that in this table we have indicated different roles and responsibilities of a practitioner in a school that was articulated by them, including individual support. So working with student and faculty one-on-one, crisis response, which is a significant part of the job both incidents within the school, national incidents impacting the school community, supporting programmatic level changes, right, trainings, affinity spaces, student-led clubs, and then the importance of this fourth square, institutional and system level changes. And where there might be this disconnect is schools wanting to do this work but then focusing more on the programmatic, focusing more on the individual supports and not spending the time that is needed to do the institutional system level changes. Or on the flip, practitioners talked about how their school was absolutely doing the system level work and that they felt like that was building that sustainability and foundation for DEIJ work to really thrive and flourish in their school community. So just highlighting that, you know, if the practitioner is meant to be changing the status quo, then the status quo means changing the institutional systems and really going after that piece of the work. Another thing I want to highlight that's kind of a sub theme within this larger finding is this idea around adoption without necessarily understanding. This is a word cloud that we share in the report. In the report this is really meant to show all the different titles that different folks have, who do DEIJ work at schools. But I put it here and also added some additional words here because many practitioners just talked about the amount of language that's being used without necessarily people understanding what that means. So terms like anti-racist, terms like abolitionist, terms like multiculturalism and even terms that are very often used at schools like equity, right. So many schools, many practitioners talked about the difference between equity and equality in schools not necessarily knowing that or understanding that and the importance of defining those terms in order to make sure that everyone's on the same page.
So again, to do that disruptive work, to do that institutional level change, are the school's really aware of what it means to be an anti-racist school, and what does it mean to actually take the time to define that language before then putting it in action. The next finding I want to talk about is in the strategies and tactics section. So this finding is the work is multifaceted, complex and sometimes hidden to the rest of the school community. And I have a quote that I think helps to exemplify the multifaceted nature of this. "Sometimes working in schools, "people want to be like, the administration "needs to do this initiative, "we need to do this and this, "but what about your own internal work? "What about how those students feel in your classroom?" I think that quote really exemplifies this number one which is a sub-theme to this overall finding, which is also, you know, a finding with many words in it, but it talks about pushing forward people and pulling people along at the same time. So practitioners talked about the fact that there are almost four groups of folks that they're constantly kind of working with, right. Those who are ready to rush ahead, but might actually be ready to do that because they've done a lot of internal work and identity-based work. Those who think they're ready but might not be ready. And that quote I think I just shared really shows that tension, right. You know, saying, "Oh, we should do this and we should do this," but have you really thought about what you should be doing in your own classroom, what you're ready for? Then there, of course, there are folks at every school who are resistant and the practitioner needs to work with them. And then there's a whole group of folks who are in the middle that might be, you know, it's a spectrum. And there might be folks who are more ready to rush ahead and they're more resistant, but kind of on a spectrum. And so the practitioner is really working across those subgroups all the time. Another piece that came up, which I thought was super interesting was around critical hidden work. And the critical hidden work is really when practitioners talked about all of the aspects of their job that most people don't know about or don't think about and then they might be wondering, well, what is the practitioner doing?
Like, you know, "I thought that we should be rolling out X, Y, Z, "and we're not. Or, you know, "We should be doing this other thing "and we're not." And some of these things are, you know, exemplified through an incident response. So, you know, crafting an email after a national incident that might be set out by the head of school, but it's really on the practitioner's plate to craft the email. And that takes so much time and might require keening input from their network of other practitioners who they're in touch with. And, you know, really thinking deeply about that language and then passing it onto the head of school who then sends the email out. There's also this aspect of the emotional labor, right. That this is emotionally charged work, this is difficult work. And you know, enough cannot be said about that. And that is hidden. It can feel hidden when the practitioner is there every single day, putting in the time and the effort because that's their job but the emotional aspect of the work is actually work and it can feel hidden. The third piece that I just want to touch on is parent education. Parents are always an important subgroup for independent schools, of course. Practitioners talked about the importance of parent education alongside other constituents in DEIJ work and feeling like if that communication isn't consistent, if parents aren't supported and educated alongside students, then that can actually cause a breakdown in getting the work done in the long-term. So how do parents really stay apprised of what's going on, and in what ways is the school actually supporting parents and educating them as they're learning themselves? So the last finding I just want to touch on is around practitioner burnout. So it's listed here, it's practitioner burnout is real, and schools can provide supports that promote self-care and our energy restoring. So in order to kind of share a little bit more about this, that our report goes into more in depth about this one, but I did want to just share some quotes, which I'm not going to read aloud, but I did want everyone to kind of sit with them, is I just thought these were so powerful as all the quotes are.
All the practitioners of conversations I had were so powerful. So these quotes are also in the report and I just wanted to share what it looks like and feels like for practitioners on it on a daily basis in this work. I thought that I really appreciated how they spoke about their work and how important it is for them, but also, you know, what it feels like and how not only do they promote their own self-care but there are ways that schools can also do that. And some practitioners really talked about that and talked about the ways that their school really supports their self-care. And so we go more in depth in that in the report. And I am going to touch upon it a little bit with the panelists as well. The last thing I want to share before we move to our panel is just that the report also has an implication section. We organize our implications across the three main categories that the findings are part of, leadership and support, environment and culture, strategies and tactics. So I don't necessarily have the time to go through all the implications but I do encourage you to read through these, and, you know, there's also an entire implication section around the self-care burnout piece that I just discussed. So I definitely encourage you to read through it at your leisure. So those were just some of the findings and I would love to now turn it over to our panel discussion. I am going to introduce our two panelists and then I'm going to stop sharing my screen so we can have a conversation. So the first panelist is Mia Burton from the Flint Hill School in Virginia. She is the Director of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. And the second panelist is Flora Mugammbi-Mutunga. She is the Director of Community Building and Inclusion at the Town School for Boys in California. I have had some incredible conversations with these two. I'm so grateful that they're here with me to talk about their experiences and to shed light on their experiences as DEIJ practitioners in the work. And so what I'm going to do now is stop sharing my screen. And before I start with my first question, I just want to let everybody know that we will try to tune into Q&A from the audience.
So if you have questions about the report itself, I'm sorry, I haven't been able to check them yet because I was screen-sharing, but we will be looking at those, as well as if you have questions specifically for Flora and Mia, please do chat them and myself and I have some colleagues on my team from EXPLO Elevate or an amazing group of folks who've been super helpful to me and they will also help to feed me those questions so that we can be sure to get some audience questions. So I'm going to start by saying thank you again, Flora and Mia. Hi, how are you both?
Flora Mugambi-Mutunga- Doing well, thank you.
Sudipti - Great, great. So what I wanted to start with was a question around just the overall themes. I know you all have had a chance to look at the report more in depth prior to us releasing it today. And I'm curious if there are any themes that resonated or didn't, based on your own experiences as a practitioner in your school. So Flora, how about I start with you and then I'll turn to Mia.
Flora - Sure, and thank you again for this opportunity. Again, my name is Flora Mugambi-Mutunga, Director of Community Building and Inclusion at the Town School for Boys in San Francisco at K-8 day school. There were several themes, Sudipti, that resonated with me, but for the interest of time, the one that stood out the most was in the strategies and tactics that notes that practitioners in this industry have clearly defined skillset and they're also learners in this journey. Your report, which is fantastic, all 33 pages of them, notes that a vast majority of practitioners in this role are people of color. Institutions and organizations are therefore apt to immediately assume that we have every single response or answer to situations as they come up. It is true that we have a defined set of skills and yet we're all also on a cultural competency journey as we all should be. That skillset is refined with time as it also intersects with our own lived experiences.
Sudipti - Thank you so much, Flora, thank you. Thank you for highlighting that. Mia, what would you say to that?
Mia Burton - I agree with Flora that so many of the different themes resonated with me and I also have a background in counseling. So I think the one that I've felt really resonated was regarding burnout and the importance of self-care. When I looked at the quote that said, you know, "I feel like I can't take a day off," and, you know, we as diversity, you know, equity, inclusion and justice practitioners think about our work. You know, and knowing that it is very personal, very internal. And we think about the things that are happening in our various institutions and how we want to move them forward. I think our own self-care and our own selves can get lost in that because the work is never done. So we have to, again, you know, find a way to also integrate our own self-care and to set our own boundaries at time because the work is endless. And I think it's also a role you don't enter into because you are seeking approval from everyone all the time. So again, I think that that self-care, and learning to recognize those symptoms of burnout are very important.
Sudipti - Can you all talk a little bit about that self-care piece? It was a question I wanted to touch upon later, but, and I would love to hear, because I think one of the things that came up was around personal self-care and then ways in which the schools can provide self-care. And it's interesting because with some practitioners I said is there something the school can do? And they were like, oh, you know, I hadn't thought about that. Like, I didn't realize that that was something I could be thinking about or advocating for, thinking about in that way. But I'm curious about your own experiences or what you would recommend as a practitioner in terms of not only self-care but ways that schools can support practitioners and think of it in terms of like community care.
Flora - Sure, I'll answer that. And Mia, I'm realizing that I also have a shared background with you in counseling. So we could all this wonderful intersections that are coming to purpose as we get into this webinar. In terms of self-care, for me, 4:00 PM Mondays is a hard stop because that's when I do my bootcamp. And this bootcamp talking about the school support is sponsored by Town School. I didn't envision myself as a bootcamp kind of person, whatever that might mean. But what I found out that I was saving space to restore my energy physically, to clear my mind mentally, because there is an African proverb that says you can't give from an empty cup. So this time that I have at 4:00 PM on Mondays without fail, at the moment it's still on Zoom, before were in the COVID world, before COVID we were doing it outside. But I have still found a way to stay dedicated to it because it does refuel me. And it's the fuel that I need to do this work as Mia said, because there are long hours and it's multifaceted and it is complex. The other piece that I'm doing too is I listen to podcast. I might be doing some light housekeeping, I'm doing a lot of listening right now to the Hidden Brain, there are many other podcasts that are listened to, Dare to Lead with Brene Brown, many wonderful podcasts are out there. And those are ways for me to understand what else is happening outside my window of DEIJ work. It is not the only piece of work that we do, it is important work that we do, but you also need to balance that so that you're not constantly operating on the drain mode. I'll pass it on to Mia.
Mia - Great. Definitely agree with everything that you've just said and also, you know, working again to find balance and to set boundaries because this is work that you could do 26 hours a day, if there were 26 hours in a day. So I find for me that I really have to set boundaries on my time, you know, at seven o'clock I turn my phone over. And at night when I go to bed, I plug it in the other side of my room because for me, I have to make those clear distinctions of the time that is mine, you know. And I think at the beginning I would worry, oh my goodness, what if something happened? And it's like, someone will find you, if they really need you, they will find you. And you don't have to have that phone as a reminder of looking at emails or anything else. And again, doing those things to replenish yourself. I was at a workshop once and someone, you know, said that you should be giving from your overflow. So you need to build, you know, an additional reserve and that's what you're giving to your job or for your work. But you maintain that 100% for yourself and your self-care. So I've always tried to keep that in mind, that what I give is from my overflow. And I have got to learn to replenish myself and not have the work dip into my reserve for myself. And again, it's something that you have to practice and something you have to be deliberate about, you know, even like Flora if you have to make something that's scheduled at seven o'clock to make sure that you are doing it but you have to find a way to make sure you're incorporating some kind of self-care, some kind of boundary in this work, or it can be overwhelming and it can be very disheartening if you don't take that balanced perspective on the work.
Sudipti - Yeah, thank you. And that giving from your overflow. I mean, not only, I feel like that's such a visual image as well of like where are you and what can you give? So I just really liked that, that imagery of how to think about for myself personally. So, thank you. I'm curious, and, you know, Flora, I wanted to ask you about this because we talked about this a lot when I interviewed you. You mentioned that the support of the board and how important that is. So I'm curious about not only the support of the board, but the support of the head of the school and what that looks and feels like at your school and just generally what it would look and feel like, you know, for any school who really wants to do DEIJ work effectively.
Flora - Thank you. And we continue to be a work in progress. I will start with my relationship with the head of school. We do have a strong relationship and right from the onset of her tenure, we were co-creating and co-facilitating parent workshops, faculty development workshops, which signaled to the community that she was invested in this work and that the DEI person that was paid to do this work was no longer siloed in a space of, well you are informed, you therefore have to make sure that all the initiatives of the schools that are rolling out are in place. So I value that partnership. It does definitely signal trust in a collective vision around cultural competency as being important pedagogy. As to the boards, board members if you're here with us, thank you for joining. Boards need to own the shared vision around cultural competency and have some baseline DEI fluency at the very least. There was an article, Sudipti, that was published by NAIS in 2018. That title of that workshop was "Getting the Board on Board." And it's been note the following, while it's becoming more common to have a diversity and community board committee, some of the challenges independent schools are facing revolve around setting clear, clear strategic goals for this important work. We need to have solid strategic plans in place and annual action plan are important to keeping the work grounded and true to mission. So what might this mean then for your boards that perhaps during your onboarding process, perhaps during your recruitment processes, that you were paying attention to those conversations around DEIJ. And not during the recruitment and onboarding processes, but there are set times whether it's doing a board retreat, whether it's during your September meeting when you're coming together to form the committees, getting some training on boards to understand how is it that we forward this work together. In partnership with the board and with the leadership with the school, it sends a message to your institutions, we are in alignment. We're not perfect, no one strives to be, we're going to hit bumps but we have shared and collective language to advance this work forward.
Sudipti - Thank you. And that word around alignment came up a lot and so I feel like naming that, that we're in alignment is really helpful. So, thank you. Mia, I wanted to ask you, you are welcome to also answer that question, but I'm also going to turn another question to you because your title has institutional in it. And we talk about, you know, I shared a finding around the work being focused on institutional change and how that can be challenging for some folks who are in the role, for some schools actually transitioned to that. So can you talk a little bit about the evolution of your role and how you focus on institutional level change at your school?
Mia - Sure. And I am the first person to hold this position at my school. I've been at Flint Hill for about 16 years in a couple of different roles prior to this. And when this role was created and defined, it was defined as a director of diversity and inclusion. As we continue to commit ourselves to the work to the education and to really go deeper, I think it signaled a change in the work that I started doing. And focusing on that institutional piece, you know, I think that, you know, we know that diversity is not really in action, but we know that equity and justice work takes change, it takes looking at systems, it looks at your school history, it looks at your processes, your procedures. So I think what that title signaled was, was really taking a different look at this work from the institutional lens, to look at systems, to look at our policies, procedures, to again, make those connections to our mission and vision and make sure that all of those, both of those things were attainable to all students and not just one particular type of students. One of the things in our vision for students is to be yourself. So what does that really mean to be able to walk in an institution and be yourself regardless of identity, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, you know, what are those policies and procedures that we have that might be blocking students? What are the skill sets we need to develop in our teachers that make sure that they are making connections to those students as well? So again, I think, you know, in our experience, that was a way of, again, making sure that we are bringing in an active role to this work. We also have some coordinator level positions as well but I think it was a signal that we are looking at this, you know, from an institutional purview and our understanding that changes, you know, and actions are for this work.
Sudipti - Thank you. And I think when you've just named the coordinator level positions, speaks to another finding in the report about a team-based approach, right. That institutional-level change can really happen when you have a team of folks who are really doing this work across the school. So, thank you.
Flora - I'll just add too, I think, and also, you know, in the previous questions about making sure that you have that relationship with the head of school and the board members and board chair, because, you know, it's like, you know, the DEIJ practitioner may be the person who has that in the title but it's everyone in the school's responsibility. Everyone has to understand that they are a part of the work. And again, with that being, you know, modeled by the leaders in the community to understand that the work itself is about all of us at the school.
Sudipti - Thank you. I do want to turn to some questions from the audience. We have some incredible ones. So I'm going to start with this question and I'm going to read it out loud so we get it right. How do we help our community understand the definition of being an anti-racist? When many of our community families do not understand the concept of both socioeconomic privilege and even white privilege. I wonder if we are putting too much on our communities to do education about something we have little training for. Flora, do you want to start there? And then Mia, I'll turn to you.
Flora - I think I would offer a suggestion of understanding the groundwork that you school have done. The word anti-racist came into full view, I think in 2020. And it became quickly adopted by many institutions and by many individuals. But what foundation have we set in place? What does our curriculum look like in terms of cultural competency beginning in kindergarten, if your school begin in kindergarten all the way to whether it's eighth grade or 12th grade? What trainings have we put in place? Have we brought the faculty in tandem with the changes that we espouse? And as we're doing that have we brought the parents on board as well? It is one thing to bring in a speaker for a session and then off they go, and then we think that we've done the work and that we think we're ready to do it. We're not, we're just beginning to scratch the surface. There's a lot of history within our institutions that are yet to be unpacked. And as we do that work courageously and with humility, it begins to open conversations. What I do know is this, that I will treasure curiosity more than certainty, that I leave space for that, that I find opportunities to connect with people through stories. Because when you know my story, then you have no fear of me. As much as I know your story, I have no fear of you, but before we move into huge leaps of what we want our institutions to look like, what work internally have we done beginning with your administration, faculty and trustees? And then begin to bring the parents along the process. I hope that answers the question that was asked.
Sudipti - Thank you, thank you. Mia, would you-
Mia - No, I agree wholeheartedly and especially, I think that, you know, at a school that internal work of the individuals and also those conversations, those relationships, you know, peer-to-peer, colleague-to-colleague of understanding and building community in that way is part of that foundation. And I think also in the educational side of it is making sure you have, you know, a common understanding of the vocabulary. For some people they can understand what it means to be anti-racist but there are people who still don't understand what racism is and how racism can replicate in systems and procedures. So I think a lot of it is about, again, laying that groundwork and being aware of where your school is, because I know my school is not where Flora school is, you know, and we're all in different levels of the work and you have to address your school where you are and not feel that push that, okay, everybody's anti-racist now so we have to say, we're this when we haven't, don't even have that foundation to have the conversations or the education around some of the current topics that are emerging.
Sudipti - And that came up with some other practitioners as well that there was a, almost a desire like, "Oh, the school down the street is doing this, "so we should be doing it too." And it's, you know, not necessarily recognizing where every school is and where your individual journey is. So I feel like naming that. Okay, I'm going to go to another question. This is about parents, parents advocating. So I'm going to say the question aloud. There's a strong sense that our school is checking a box by having our children of color on pamphlets and data points. However, the curriculum has never mentioned as needing an overhaul. How do you recommend parents advocate for this type of change when the head of school is not bringing it up? How do we push that the teachers learn how to discuss DEI and current topics? They avoid talking about anything in general that they think, you know, potentially certain groups of parents like white parents might dislike.
Mia - I would say to that, you know, and again, just hate to repeat myself, but speaking the head of schools, speaking to those heads of division or division directors in language that reflects the vision and mission. And if this type of work is required by our vision and mission, and if there is a statement that shows your commitment to this work, understanding the full scope of what an institution's commitment means, it doesn't mean that we're tracking people or we have more of this category and more of that category. It is again about, you know, looking deeper, looking deeper again at that educational experience. And again, a huge part of that is the curriculum and the content that's being delivered and how it is being delivered. And those two pieces can not be overlooked, you know, in this space of work.
Flora - I would also add, thank you, Mia. I would also add that, think about the portrait of the graduate that's matriculating from your school. Whether it's a K-8 school or a K-12 school. By the time they matriculate is the portrait of which that they are holding at their living reflective of where you want your institution to be. In other words, how does this dovetail or doesn't dovetail with your strategic plan? The strategic plan doesn't guidepost which means we're looking at all tenants of the school, including the curriculum. When was the last time we had a curriculum overhaul? What was the goal behind it? What subjects did we look at, which ones were not part of the conversation, and why was that? Might this then be an opportunity to start looking to see where we can continue to grow in our work around cultural competency incrementally. As you're doing that, bring the parents along. But it needs to be framed and housed around your strategic plan to see if it continues to be in alignment. There is that word again, Sudipti, in alignment with who you espouse your portraits
Sudipti - Thank you, thank you. It was such incredible question. So I was just looking at them, to kind of see which other ones I could ask you both in our short time left. I wanted to ask, one person asked a question which I think is a helpful one for folks to hear. What are a few examples of the progress made in advancing equity on your campuses?
Mia - No, I would say, you know, I think sometimes your advancement comes in these big, huge accomplishments and some times just these little inches and inches of progress. And then there are some things that are just always a work in progress. And I would say some of the things that, where we found success is number one, you know, making sure that we have, you know, our DEIJ goals and initiatives included in our strategic plan. And that it's a part of the ongoing conversations, completing a curriculum audit, to shine the light on where we're not having diverse voices and perspectives as being interwoven in our curriculum. Also around hiring, we have, again, taken a very different approach to hiring and have been very deliberate about making sure that we have a diverse applicant pool. And so, again, there are so many kind of small steps that we've taken but with each of those things I've said, we're still doing more work in them. And again, it's not ever finished. It's always continuing to be refined. And again, there's so many other things that we're continuing to have ongoing discussions and ongoing training and review, but I would just say those are a few of the areas.
Flora - Yeah, I would mirror some of those too, Mia. Sudipti in your report you mentioned 71% of independent schools do not have a dedicated DEI person. So I think for us, a small win is that we have a dedicated DEI person. In the early years of this role, and this is perhaps common in many schools that have this role, if it's your first time or the second time, especially if you're entering the school for the first time, you become the one-on-one and be all where I was supposedly known for the curriculum or check into little parts of student life. But now the wins that I see, it's more, I share the role of a thought partner, of a consultant with our faculty team. I am so incredibly grateful that our academic admin team in partnership with me and with a head of school, we begin to look at the curriculum to see where are the gaps that need to be filled? What is it that we need to draw back into? I think for us, another, a small win as we've gone around our work is implementing student affinity spaces. We started with one grade and upper school and eventually made our way, we're still in the upper school zone at this point, but we made our way incrementally making sure that our students would have a voice and place to be part of who they are, to have that full experience of belonging. There are big initiatives, there are small initiatives and there are some that you don't even notice until later on you look back and say, "Oh wow, okay, we've actually achieved something here." And to Mia's point, the work is ongoing.
Sudipti - Thank you so much. I think we have one more question and then I think we will have to wrap up. So I will ask you what is one thing that you wish people knew about your job? What is something that you wish people really knew about it?
Mia - Would you like to go first, Flora?
Flora - Am looking at you to see who's going to go first. So the job care blessings and burdens. Blessings that your role is heavily relational with constituents of our institutions and that you are a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on and a voice of hope for change. Equally if you are a person of color in a practitioner seat, you carry your backpack of lived experiences along with a constant need to be in tune with current events that may be happening so that you may be prepared to engage with difficult conversations as they arise. The hours are long and they can hinge on people's emotions.
Mia - And I think, you know, I think that I wish that, you know, people had a deeper understanding of that hidden part of the work. You know, I think sometimes when you are, again, pushing an organization forward, or you are the one disruptor in a conversation but the school isn't ready to move in leaps and bounds, understanding that that's the role is to push and sometimes where they're still not going to jump off the diving board even when we've pushed, but the importance is the push. And I think that understanding what institutional change looks like. And I think that, again, I think as people we want things to happen now, we want things to happen quickly when we know this is the right thing but that's not how change happens. And that, you know, to echo Flora, again, this is hopeful work. This is the work that we are doing that we know may not benefit ourselves but may benefit those who come after us. And so there's no self-serving part of this work because the changes that we're working towards we won't be here to see, probably. So again, I do would like to share that there's a hidden piece of this work that your DEIJ person is doing that you can't put into words, that level of commitment that has to be there to be part of the push.
Sudipti - Thank you, thank you so much. There's so many more questions that are here. I apologize to the folks that we didn't get to your questions, they're incredible questions. And I think we will at least get them on our end and weigh through them and figure out ways to continue these conversations in additional spaces. But Flora and Mia, thank you so much. This has been incredible. Every opportunity to speak with you, both, is incredible for me so I appreciate it so much. And I am going to share our screen one more time and turn it over to the president of, hold on one second. Hopefully this is, I hope everyone can see that. I'm going to turn it over to the president of EXPLO to close this out, Moira Kelly. So I think Moira Kelly will be here in a moment to close this out.
Moira Kelly - Well, Sudipti, I don't know if people can hear me or not, because I'm not sure if the video is working, okay.
Sudipti - We can hear you, I can hear you. I assume everyone else's getting too.
Moira - Okay, well, I have to say Mia and Flora, thank you so much. I love the notion of you as thought partners. And what was so clear today is that you both have a tremendous amount of wisdom that you shared with us all. I kind of want to sit here the rest of the afternoon and get more of it. And you've enabled us to have a conversation that I think a lot of people have wanted to have and it's been reassuring for many folks as they go along what can be a really difficult journey at times. I will tell the rest of you who are here, if you found this research helpful, we're actually coming out soon with a new research report starting in institutional research function at your school. And one of the things that I think is very important about this institutional research function is in particular we are seeing some real overlap with doing good work in DEIJ. So that will be coming soon. We are also doing another research report that will be coming out in the not too distant future on being future ready. So preparing students for thriving in a future shaped by the fourth industrial revolution. And I think this ties to some degree to the notion of the portrait of a graduate, because to be ready for this future means that you need to be culturally competent and have a sense of literacy around DEIJ issues. So those will be coming. Finally, I just want to say thank you so much to Todd Brantley and to the First Republic Bank for hosting this event and our research. And they have been fabulous partners with EXPLO for over, I can't even remember how many years, just absolutely wonderful. And I am so glad that they are seeing that this work is important as I know that it is given what they're doing in the bank and also conversations that I've had over the years with First Republic. So I thank you all for joining us and we'll be having more webinars in the future, likely around this topic also, because it is work that we have to be curious about and think about and act on over time. So I thank you again, and I hope that we see you sometime in the not too distant future. Bye-bye.