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September 1, 2021
Vol. 79
No. 1

Ask an ASCD Expert / DEI Change Agent Met with Passive Resistance

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Q: When I was hired by my current school, I was asked by my administration to be a “change agent” in the high school language arts department by bringing my knowledge of diverse texts and DEI work to departmental conversations to shift the curriculum away from being cis/white/male-centric. Although the department members seem open to the conversation, I see very little to no change in the actual curriculum—and often I’m seen as the outlier who gets additional parental scrutiny for adding in a book by an LGBTQ or POC writer. Whenever I bring my concerns to the department chair, she shrugs and says, “These things take time.” I agree, but no change isn’t the same as well executed, incremental change. What do I do? How do I best advocate for what I believe to be my diverse student population’s needs?
—Not Seeing Change in Virginia
A: Your question is important and all too common. To be authentically inclusive, your school must execute a multifaceted approach whereby teachers, parents, students, and the community are part of the conversations concerning not only matters of curriculum, but also family engagement, discipline practices, policies, procedures, and so forth. Without a shift in culture at the top—and commitments from key decision makers—real change will not be met.
In your case, asking one teacher to be a lone change agent is unrealistic and perpetuates the burden of hidden labor—unpaid work that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, and thus, unregulated. Here’s what I suggest.
1) Ask for help. Assemble a team of thinkers at your school that are committed to deepening their understanding of anti-racism and how it works and is sustained in schools and organizations. This team of teachers/content specialists must do their own work to study and learn about injustice, bias, and exclusion and how this harms all students. Additionally, tap into or create a network for support that expands beyond your school into the community.
2) Engage students in this work. Focus groups, “chat and chew,” and other gatherings can create opportunities to meet the needs and requests from students. 
3) Conduct a curriculum audit. Consider a series of questions crafted by the founders of #DisruptText to examine resources and assessments. (How does this text support or challenge issues of representation, fairness, or justice? What can I guess about the perspective of the writer? Which groups of readers might feel like insiders/outsiders? Who or what benefits from the power in this text)? Learning for Justice also offers a comprehensive tool called “Reading Diversity” that provides guidance and considerations. 
4) Design an evaluation strategy. Create a timeline with milestones, deliverables, and benchmarks for progress monitoring to hold the school accountable to the work.
5)  Identify and vet fresh, new, and inclusive texts. These texts, including oral, written, and video, should reflect authentic human experiences of students written by antiracist and diverse writers.
6) Align teaching, learning, and thinking experiences to standards and new frameworks.
7) Pilot the teaching of new texts using a lesson study model, inviting other team members to observe and provide feedback. 
8) Keep your administration connected to this work and progress. Be transparent and ask them for what you need. They should be the biggest and most active supporters of this seismic culture shift. 

Heidi O'Gilvie is Director of Leadership Development at Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Annapolis, Maryland, and national consultant specializing in literacy, instructional practices, and transformational leadership. With over 19 years of consistent and unsurpassed performance as an education researcher, administrator, lecturer, professional learning facilitator, and school transformation specialist, she has led many school redesign initiatives in school districts nationwide. Her expertise is grounded in areas of best practice including high-yield strategies, culturally responsive teaching, organizational structure and management in education, leadership development, and the theories of action, literacy, and coaching.

ASCD Faculty Expertise:

  • Literacy

  • Culturally Responsive Practices

  • Instructional Coaching

  • Leadership

  • School Redesign

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