I have facilitated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings in schools, municipalities, and the private sector, and, like many of us, I’ve also attended several DEI trainings at school. During a training I recently attended, I noticed a concerning trend: Equity-minded faculty listened with rapt attention, asked questions, and reflected in groups on the insight they gained. For them, it was an exciting opportunity to learn more about improving their craft and honoring student identity. Faculty who were not equity minded were silent, their disinterest palpable, doodling on sticky notes and waiting for time to pass. For them, it was yet another obligatory and uninspiring meeting.

While no training reaches everyone, equity is too critical for training to be an exercise in preaching to the converted. The following strategies will help schools get everyone on the same page when it comes to DEI.

6 Keys for Effective DEI Training Programs

1. Differentiation and vertical alignment: Faculty are at various stages in their equity journey, so it can be helpful to establish shared language. Start at the beginning with absolute basics, which will serve as a point of reference when more-sensitive or complicated topics are addressed.

As training advances, topics and approaches can be differentiated or personalized based on content area, role in the school, and areas of interest. Training on personal growth is both foundational and ongoing, and continues even once faculty begin delving into building a more equitable class and school community.

2. Inclusivity: When I was a middle-grades English teacher, it was often said that “everyone is a reading teacher.” Kids wrote lab reports in science, read and annotated articles in math, and drafted essays in response to document-based questions in history.

Equity and equity training requires a similar “all in” model, because it’s a healthy message to faculty that they are part of the equity journey and are empowered to be leaders in different ways. Every school has faculty who could lead a session on making content relevant, auditing the curriculum to be more inclusive, or redesigning a classroom to show the value of representation.

3. Open discussions: Creating a space for meaningful, engaging conversations with an expectation of participation can be the single most effective method for moving equity efforts forward.

As you begin preparing staff for DEI initiatives and discussions, it’s important to recognize that DEI-related conversations rarely have finality. The more complex the topic, the less finality there is. It’s a process. Unconscious biases we developed since early childhood will not be undone in one session of even the best professional development.

If the group (or the facilitator) is especially apprehensive, or concerned about keeping all the participants engaged, you may consider using an established protocol.

4. Opportunities for reflection: Effective equity training offers a mirror through which people begin to see and interrogate the way they think about and interact with others. During a recent training, a colleague who viewed color blindness as evidence of not being racist discovered that color blindness is deeply problematic and contributes to erasure of others’ identity. She was uncomfortable and defensive, but this is the work of deeply meaningful DEI training: seeing, unlearning, learning.

5. Connection to a bigger strategic plan: Training should have clearly defined objectives and accountability measures aligned with the school’s DEI plan.

Based on the strategic plan, administrators should decide on prioritized DEI goals and training topics for the year. Be transparent about the plan and how it relates to the goals of each training session.

These goals may include the following: dismantling ability groups, modifying grading policies, incorporating restorative practices, posting images with people from underrepresented groups, improving interaction with all students, creating a culture of belonging, and improving student outcomes overall.

Once objectives are created, decide how best to hold faculty accountable for their part in moving toward having an equity-oriented school. At my school, each faculty member and I codesign an annual equity plan for their class, indicating how they will create an equitable curriculum and class environment. It offers buy-in and accountability because it’s their own plan that they create for their class. Below are some other possible accountability methods:

  • Brief assignments between trainings
  • Participating in professional-learning communities
  • Forming reading groups that require faculty to read, engage with, and discuss equity-related texts

6. Prioritization: School is a busy place with new initiatives coming down the pike all the time, which means scheduling decisions are always complicated. Ultimately, spending time on something is how we demonstrate to the community that an initiative is being prioritized. Examples of ways to show a commitment to equity include the following:

  • Equity practitioners can visit classes and, based on what they see, give feedback or provide additional materials, which further personalizes the professional growth.
  • When the schedule is packed, as school schedules often are, I use part of a meeting that’s already established as a check-in, rather than creating another meeting for people to attend. Faculty meet in small groups and discuss how their equity efforts are going. This gives faculty an opportunity to discuss goals and plans, give one another feedback, share ideas, and troubleshoot. While this cannot replace traditional training, it’s a very helpful check-in between trainings.

Every child, faculty and staff member, and family deserves an equitable school community. A well-designed and effective DEI training program is an essential part of creating that ideal.

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