Crossing the Chasm: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Across Our Work

Introduction

As an education design lab, we are privileged with the opportunity and challenge to build a transformational learning experience for ALL kids and teachers, across many contexts. But, what does that really mean? How do we design experiences that are truly equitable and inclusive for all students? What does this look like in practice?

The past year has brought deep reflection, action and opportunity for our team to build muscles around designing with and for equity. Back in April, my colleague, Meaghan, wrote a blog post about 2Rev’s involvement in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Accelerator (organized by Promise 54) in which we participated in 2018. As our organization has been highly committed to building internal capacity around our DEI values, this past year also provided an opportunity to formally “cross the chasm” from internal DEI capacity-building to discovering the ways in which DEI is integrated across many partnerships. As our internal 2Rev team leans in to reflection and action around DEI through focusing on diversity and recognition of implicit bias, increased transparency, and organizational inclusion, we have leaned into the DEI challenges that are present in our work.

While DEI is central to most partnerships across our organization, my role with 2Rev currently has me deeply involved in partnerships with Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), and the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) in Chattanooga. In each of these partnerships, the challenges of (in)equity are central to the work we are doing and have been opportunities for our team to apply lessons we are learning through internal DEI capacity building to the work we are doing externally. The following profiles offer insights into each of these partnerships.  

Virginia Beach City Public School (VBCPS)

The VBCPS Superintendent, Dr. Aaron Spence, provided this formal invitation to innovation for all network participants as a way to inspire teams to think outside the box in inspiring innovative solutions for all students.

The VBCPS Superintendent, Dr. Aaron Spence, provided this formal invitation to innovation for all network participants as a way to inspire teams to think outside the box in inspiring innovative solutions for all students.

What’s happening in VBCPS?

In VBCPS, we have spent the past year partnering with the central leadership team and the broader community to identify systemic challenges to transformational learning opportunities for all students (see a post by my colleague Rachel to learn more about this Carnegie Corporation funded initiative).

How is DEI prioritized in the work?

One of the two topics that were prioritized as focus areas for the year-long prototyping networks includes the challenge of improving access to equitable opportunities to specialized programming in the district. The VBCPS community is courageously addressing this challenge head on, exploring the root causes for which this challenge exists, as well as diving into two solutions, with the potential for scale across the community. The team is using design thinking methodology to prototype and test 1) the development of community liaisons, as well as 2) early intervention programs to help address the equity gap before students step foot on a VBCPS campus. The group is exploring how the creation of liaisons or “coaches” across the community can help ensure that families and students are informed about the opportunities available and are able to actively engage with VBCPS. The goal is to create a bridge between families and schools, to ensure that educational opportunity is accessible for all students. The early intervention prototype will address student agency and support by working with families of young children to connect them with (and train them on how to use) the various community-based early intervention resources that exist, including early childhood programming. Both of these prototype solutions will be tested and refined over the next few months as the network team creates a set of recommendations for the VBCPS central team consideration for broader implementation.
 

DEI Insights

Tackling the challenge of inequitable access to opportunity while being intentional about innovation and system integration (stakeholders working collectively to eliminate redundancies, streamline communications, and connect people and projects together around a common purpose) has presented exciting opportunities to explore and practice community-based transformation that we can apply across many contexts. The broader community has been central to the development of their own solutions in addressing equity gaps and ensuring that educational opportunity is truly accessible for all VBCPS students.

Tulsa Public Schools (TPS)

The Tulsa Beyond design teams engage in reflection and empathy to help inform the creation of their new school aspirations.

The Tulsa Beyond design teams engage in reflection and empathy to help inform the creation of their new school aspirations.

What’s happening in TPS?

Our TPS colleagues are working in partnership with XQ Super Schools to redefine the high school experience across Tulsa. Through the Tulsa Beyond initiative, four high school design teams are deeply engaged in designing learning models that are guided by an anchor (design principle) of ensuring equitable options for youth.

 

How is DEI prioritized in the work?

Using equity-centered design (the liberatory design process), teams have been engaged in thoughtful observation and reflection of the ways that systemic oppression can be redesigned to create equitable options for Tulsa students. The Tulsa Beyond staff has had teams engage with months of discovery data (interviews, focus groups, and surveys) to help design teams hear and empathize with the experience of their community. Through the XQ Super Schools partnership, they also engaged in an equity report activity, where teams analyzed student transcripts in an effort to look at data around student journeys and the implications for redesign that are embedded within the patterns they identified. The teams have also been purposeful about embedding empathy work across all stages of their design work - actively seeking input along the way. Tulsa Beyond has also created “equity pauses” (a process coined by EquityXDesign) in the work, where teams pause and reflect on their designs and push on opportunities to consider students on the margins of opportunity may experience the new models.
 

DEI Insights

The work in TPS has inspired our internal 2Rev team to revisit the ways that we intentionally embed equity within our design process across all of our work.  It has urged us to consider how we can play an active role in working with communities to redesign schools that are grounded in anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive experiences for all.

Howard County Department of Education (HCDE) - Chattanooga, TN

The Howard Connect Academy (HCA) design team members engage in discussion and brainstorming around design principles for the new school.

The Howard Connect Academy (HCA) design team members engage in discussion and brainstorming around design principles for the new school.

What’s happening in Chattanooga?

In Chattanooga, the HCDE Opportunity Zone leadership team has been working diligently to open a new and innovative middle school (Howard Connect Academy - HCA) within a diverse community navigating shifting demographics. Through working with HCDE and a community-based design team, we are tackling the design challenge of: how might we create a new and innovative school model that will meet the needs of an extremely diverse community?

 

How is DEI prioritized in the work?

The design team has been diligent in trying to understand the needs of their community through intense empathy work over Fall 2018. Through better understanding what students, families and community members across Chattanooga need and want in their school experience, the design team has been working hard to create an innovative HCA graduate profile and school model grounded in project-based and personalized learning for students. We will continue working with HCDE to support and build capacity of the new school team as they work to create an experience that is transformational and deeply rooted in equity for students across the community.

 

DEI Insights

HCA will open in August 2019 and may provide an opportunity to disrupt school models by inspiring new ways to think about equity and access to opportunity for students across HCDE. The intentionality with which the HCDE team has focused the design of the new school on meeting the needs of a diverse community has been inspirational and has provided opportunity to “design at the margins” for students across varying demographics. Drawing on the Equity Design Collaborative’s work, this opportunity has inspired our team to think about how we can inspire radical change through embedding principles of equity (such as designing at the margins) within our work.  

Conclusion

Clearly, DEI is (and has been) central to work across our many partnerships. As our country continues to push against the inequity in education that has resulted from years of systemic oppression and lack of opportunity for marginalized groups, we are energized by the opportunity to create the conditions for inclusive and equitable innovation in education.  While our 2Rev team continues to flex our equity-centered design and coaching muscles, our shared commitment to DEI has allowed us to approach the work with confidence and increased capacity. We look forward to the year ahead and to the opportunities that await in creating transformational opportunities for ALL students.