Person climbing stairs.
Contributed by Kate Wheeler and Jake Schmitz.
How to Foster a Strong DEI School Culture

Schools have always been interested in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but the work has taken on renewed meaning as student populations grow increasingly diverse in every way—in relation to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, special needs, and more. Research shows that children and adults alike thrive in diverse, equitable environments. But how do educators foster inclusivity successfully?  And where do schools begin?

Setting Standards

When conducting quality reviews, SchoolWorks measures the effectiveness of each organization’s current systems against SchoolWorks School Quality Criteria (SQC) – a research-based set of standards describing effective practices linked to positive student outcomes.  Because research demonstrates that sound DEI policies, practices, and resources correlate with effective teaching and learning environments, SchoolWorks has revised this set of standards to add a research-based indicator focused specifically on DEI:

Dimension 2.2 – Students’ Learning Culture: Does the school foster a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The indicator consists of the following criteria:

  • Criterion 2.2.1: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are embedded in the school’s mission, philosophy, and core values.
  • Criterion 2.2.2: The school’s leadership and staff are engaged, supported, and involved in a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Criterion 2.2.3: The school’s pedagogy and data systems foster a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Criterion 2.2.4: Students encounter and are involved in a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Criterion 2.2.5: The school facilitates the participation of families, parents, and community members in a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Criterion 2.2.6: The organization’s leadership and institutional supports are guided by strong principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Because it’s human nature to focus more on outcomes that are measured rather than outcomes that aren’t, this new indicator will help maintain a steady focus on DEI; clarify the elements of a school culture that fosters DEI; and encourage all schools to adopt effective practices.

Starting The Work

SchoolWorks teams have already used the SQC’s new indicator in visits at schools for several projects, including Detroit Children’s Fund, Denver Public Schools, and Compass Charter School (Brooklyn, NY). School leaders have expressed gratitude for the focus and feedback on diversity, equity, and inclusion; but are often still in the beginning stages of shaping their visions and implementation plans. When schools begin prioritizing DEI, early efforts often involve one or more of the following:

  • Helping students learn about themselves and various aspects of their identities.
  • Encouraging students to learn about their classmates and/or communities.
  • Building strategic relationships among students and staff.
  • Analyzing relevant data such as discipline outcomes for various racial groups.
  • Providing staff development on topics such as privilege, implicit bias, and reactions in times of stress.
  • Selecting curricular texts that reflect students’ backgrounds.

These are all good places to start, but continuing the work requires deeper and broader efforts.

The SQC can serve as a helpful guide for schools in directing their work. Criterion 2.2.1 and 2.2.2 are particularly good places to start because—as when implementing any program in a school—you must first define the vision for DEI at your school and engage leaders and staff before working to ensure that students experience this culture.

Learning Alongside One Another

SchoolWorks knows firsthand that this is difficult work. That’s because we continually work to make our own corporate culture more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Our DEI Committee meets regularly to discuss relevant professional development; and operationally, we work to increase the diversity of our school review teams to better reflect the student populations of the schools we serve. In the coming months and years, we will continue to prioritize this vital work and learn alongside schools who are doing so.

Seeking Help

One of the best ways to get an honest assessment of your school’s culture—including the extent to which your school’s culture fosters DEI—is to schedule a SchoolWorks School Quality Review. During a review, the SchoolWorks team examines multiple sources of evidence in order to understand your school’s performance in relation to the SQC’s four domains: Instruction, Students’ Opportunities to Learn, Educators’ Opportunities to Learn, and Leadership and Governance. At the end of the review, the SchoolWorks team facilitates an action-planning meeting with school leaders and key stakeholders so you can celebrate strengths and develop a prioritized improvement plan, which may involve ways to strengthen your school’s culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Find out more about SchoolWorks School Quality Reviews.

What are you, your school, and your district doing to promote DEI? We’d love to hear what’s working. Please leave a comment below or tweet us at @SchoolWorksLLC.



by: Camille   on: 07/09/21

The article was very informative. It has awakened the desire to use DEI in my classroom more so than before. Truly educational.

by: Sarah Thomas   on: 03/08/22

Hi there, I’m a parent on the DE&I Committee for my kids’ elementary school. I’m curious whether you have models of protocols for dealing with DE&I issues (including race-based bullying) appropriate for elementary school kids? Our school is trying to develop them for how kids/parents can alert the school and protocols for how staff/the school should respond. Thanks in advance for your help.

[…] have a diversity initiative going at SchoolWorks, and I think of this as a way to ensure that we are having conversations which […]

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