How Teachers Can Offer EDI Leadership for Schools

Based on the article “Teachers can help create schools where everyone matters“, published for the Alberta Teacher’s Association, September 25, 2023.

Teachers as EDI Leadership

It seems as though there is more awareness about the need for EDI as student and staff demographics shift while gaps in learning access and opportunity become more widely known. Yet at the same time, we are in a moment in the education system as well as broader society, where we are experiencing a backlash to the recognition that some groups experience unfair barriers:

  • The pushback against “woke” content in educational institutions and workplaces;
  • The banning of books and even language supporting gay, trans and racialized stories;
  • The US Supreme court undoing affirmative action programs and other equity policies;
  • The discrediting of any equity education after the recent suicide of a Toronto principal.

It’s easy in times such as this to step back and shut up: essentially, to avoid upsetting the status quo.  But if we wish education to be equally accessible to ALL students, now is the time that our efforts toward equity are needed more than ever.  Here are three steps any teacher can take to tangibly support efforts toward more representative, accessible and inclusive schools.

Represent all of your students

Collect data, don’t assume.  Send out a survey (or get your principal to) asking students or their guardians to share (if they choose) their culture, holidays celebrated, family members and racial/ ethnic identity…or better yet, complete an organizational audit to make sure you can collect and consider this information over the long term. With this information you can adapt curriculum, use inclusive language and represent student identities often rendered invisible. 

For example: if you know you have two Muslim identifying students in the class, wish them Eid Mubarak, ask them if they would like a space to pray during Ramadan, and/ or share about the Eid holiday in class (perhaps a family member might like to come in).

Initiate conversations with colleagues

Change happens one conversation at a time, eventually accumulating in a tipping point moment.  Suggest trans, Black, Muslim or other marginalized identity speakers for professional development days.  Host a book discussion series with books like Deep Diversity: A Compassionate Scientific Approach to Achieving Racial Equity which break down systemic discrimination into easily understood chunks.

Use challenging moments as case studies to discuss and learn from collectively. For example, if the n-word is used by a couple of students in the school, discuss as a staff what can be done to address it within the school culture as a whole.  All words and behaviour happen in context.

Normalize mistake-making

As educators, we know that any learning process has to involve practice and that making mistakes is a necessary part of the process. Think about teaching algebra to students for the first time! The same applies to learning about students and colleagues who occupy an identity we are less familiar with.  We will say and do awkward things, we may put our foot in our mouths, we may misstep—we need to be accountable for ways we could have done better, and then we need to let it go.  Creating inclusion should feel inclusive not like a prison we fear being locked into.  Compassion is the underpinning of all sustainable change.

What do I do next?

We know that change isn’t predestined: it’s a choice. An inclusive future is one where all students—not just those who are well-off, white and culturally Christian—have equal access to belonging, learning and success (in exactly that order). But teachers don’t have to do it alone.

Anima Leadership has over 15 years of experience working to help schools and other educational become more diverse, inclusive and equitable—and we can help you too.

Anima Leadership CEO Annahid Dashtgard seated looking at the camera in a red blazer.

Annahid Dashtgard

CEO and Co-Founder, Anima Leadership

As a seasoned change-maker and non-fiction author, Annahid has worked with hundreds of organizations and leaders to create more just and equitable futures. She’s a first generation immigrant woman of colour whose inaugural book—Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation documents her journey identifying and healing from racial trauma. Her latest book Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World is a set of poignant, humorous and timely stories translating everyday racism to ordinary life.

Annahid has a Masters in Adult Education and has trained in various psychological modalities to understand the root of systems change in human consciousness. She has spend more than two decades consulting, educating, coaching and writing on EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) issues across both public and private sectors.

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