When students enter our classrooms for the first time, teachers may unconsciously judge them based on where they sit. Did they choose a seat front and center? They must be eager to learn and participate. Did they sit in the back corner? They’re probably going to be disengaged or even disruptive.
When I attended my first edtech conference, I was faced with the same decision of where to sit. Looking around the room filled with people, I spotted the empty seats, but I also noticed the lack of diversity. I grabbed a seat in an empty row and began to plan the sessions I wanted to attend. Scrolling through pictures of the keynoters, spotlight speakers and workshop facilitators, I also noticed who had been invited to grace the stages.
Just like where a student sits in a classroom sets an expectation, who attends a conference and those who are invited to speak also sends a message. While many white educators may see only empty seats, educators of color tend to see who’s in the room. Similarly, on the stages, the lack of diversity and representation sends a message to people of color that they’re not welcome, their voice is not important or they provide no value to the to the edtech community.
The case for diversity and equity in all spaces is well established. The current challenge is taking action instead of simply expressing platitudes. How do we create spaces where educators of color have opportunities and feel welcome and safe in all educational spaces? The Canadian government offers one example.
Government projections indicate that by 2031, close to one-third of Canadians will belong to a racialized group. As the demographics in Canada change, public servants are becoming increasingly mindful of the diverse communities they serve.
That desire prompted a government task force to issue a report of 43 recommendations for improving inclusion in public services. Many of those recommendations can be applied to the educational space, regardless of where in the world you’re teaching.
Here are some highlights that education leaders across the globe should consider:
Diversity training. Mandated training in diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias not only during the onboarding process but during all required trainings ensures that training will not be one-off, but active and continuous.
Focus on leaders. Developing a diversity and inclusion lens is framed in the recommendations as a leadership competency where “consideration for diversity and inclusions in all decisions … by default [is] a forethought and not [an] afterthought.”
Integrated inclusion. All of us can integrate inclusion into our work by asking three simple questions:
Who is not included in the work we do?
What could be contributing to this exclusion?
What can we do differently to ensure inclusion?
Taking an equity stance requires a conscious effort, courage and a willingness to fail. These are traits we encourage in our students, but are we modeling them?
We’re all on this journey together and all of us bring a unique perspective to the conversation.
The report concludes with wise words: “With today’s global political context, including its divisiveness and the recent inward turn toward homogeneity and nationalism, Canada … must lead by example, embrace its people and make strides toward a better, brighter and more equitable future.”
Shouldn’t educators do the same?
Jason Trinh is a hybrid teacher digital lead learner in Toronto. He’s passionate about edtech, equity, inquiry and STEM. Follow him on Twitter @jasontries.