Moving the Dial on Equitable Access: Why Our Visions Matter
November 22nd, 2021 | Blogs
November 22nd, 2021 | Blogs
How Vision Intersects with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
We are witnessing a long overdue nationwide effort to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This work, though, is not new for many adult educators who have long been at the forefront of advancing equitable access for adults who face barriers that systematically exclude them from the very same opportunities that so many of us take for granted.
For 30 years, World Education has been home to a SABES Professional Development (PD) Center, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide PD to Massachusetts adult educators. In our SABES Program Support Professional Development Center (PSPDC), DEI is one of nine PD priorities that we support and that intersect to assist adult education program teams as they move their DEI work forward.
To maximize the effectiveness of our PD, our PSDPC team understands that we need to face our own gaps in understanding. We participate in formal PD as well as a system-wide SABES DEI working group to expand our individual and shared understanding. As part of this endeavor, we decided to revise our PSPDC Vision Statement so it would more clearly reflect the DEI principles that form the core of our beliefs and the basis for our work.
Why is Vision important? A well-crafted Vision evolves from an inclusive process in which all stakeholders contribute. We benefit from rich discussions fueled by many voices and multiple perspectives. On this journey to develop a Vision, we uncover places of shared agreement as well as our differences. Both matter.
Striving for an Inclusive Process
All members of our PSPDC team were involved and contributed to revising our Vision. We began with our own learning and also drew from discussions with our SABES DEI working group colleagues. After multiple revisions, we still believed we would benefit from more voices, so we asked our World Education US Division colleagues for help.
It took a leap of faith to ask others to provide input when we were invested in what we felt was already a thoughtful, well-crafted draft. We had to overcome our reluctance to impose on very busy people to set aside time to help us. Yet, we genuinely believe that our work is enriched when it’s informed by many voices, so we had to “walk the talk”.
Indeed, our faith in the process was rewarded. During a US Division meeting, people met in small groups, discussed the draft (sent in advance for review), and made suggestions. This process, which yielded nine specific places where we added or changed language, made our Vision better.
Why and Where to Begin
When they are authentic, these conversations are rarely easy, but they are critical to establishing a shared foundation for who we are, why we exist, and what we aspire to be. An inclusive process leads to shared ownership of the Vision, and of equal importance, shared accountability for making it a reality.
This experience can help adult educators address and advance DEI goals. If you decide to tackle this work, where might you begin? Some initial questions to ask could include:
It’s important to create conditions that allow those involved to suspend judgment so all voices can be heard and valued. Start by brainstorming and documenting all ideas, being careful not to immediately dismiss any of them. Affinity diagrams and dot voting (or Zoom polls) can help determine common areas of agreement or where to focus. Shared google docs allow people to suggest edits and build on each other’s ideas. Working in small cross-role groups can provide opportunities for different perspectives to inform the work. In adult education programs, a student representative could facilitate a discussion with classmates and report back their ideas.
Managing All that Feedback
With all the feedback we received, we could have written a chapter book! It was no small task to synthesize, prioritize, and integrate everyone’s ideas. We began by asking two fundamental questions:
One of our greatest challenges was finding the balance between making it long enough so we didn’t lose the most essential concepts while keeping it short enough so anyone would bother to read it. As we worked through multiple drafts, we considered:
When we finalized our Vision, we closed the communication loop by sharing it back with those who had contributed to it, with our thanks for their contributions.
What we Learned
We learned that a strong Vision isn’t about wordsmithing. It’s about creating a culture where honest discussions about our reality vs. our aspirations can thrive. It’s the inspiration that comes from recognizing our shortcomings even as we imagine what we could be. It requires respect, humility, and courage. What we gain is far more than what we risk.
Luanne Teller is the Director of the SABES Program Support PD Center. She is grateful for all she has learned from her colleagues and students over more than 30 years of work in the field of adult education. SABES is a project of World Education, funded by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.