What’s the Real Plan for DEI? Part I | DEI Vital Signs Framework | 5 Min Read

By Joshua Freedman CEO, Six Seconds and Michael Eatman PCC, Founder, Culture7 Coaching

This is the first article in a five-part series that explores planning for DEI programs. Each article of the series will be supplemented by a webinar led by our distinguished authors. Part I is an overview of the planning process and identifies the key elements in the form of a four-quadrant chart. Subsequent articles will focus on one of the four planning quadrants illustrated in this first article.

Ask three DEI professionals for the best way to implement and you’ll get five conflicting answers. Whether it’s called JEDI, EDI, DEI, DIB or something else, they’ll have a shared goal, but dramatically different ideas and skill sets necessary on how to move toward it. 

In talking with school leaders about DEI, we’ve found they feel an urgency to take action, and often are trying to drive DEI in an ad-hoc way and without meaningful institutional positioning or systems … so they’re working in a reactive approach. For example, in summer 2020, the death of George Floyd reignited the Black Lives Matter movement. Schools and other organizations immediately issued statements on their websites regarding their positions on DEI. These position statements, which were criticized by many for simply being words, were followed up with training workshops in the fall of 2020. 

Once schools recognized that the challenges associated with DEI were numerous and complex (and closely tied to SEL), they chose to focus on a single element of the broad program. For some, professional development focused on anti-racism, following the recommendations of Ibram Kendi’s recent book. Other schools looked at inclusion strategies for all school activities, given the socio-economic and racial diversity at the school. In most cases, there was no well-defined plan for moving forward nor was there a tactical vetting of the spectrum of delivery ranging from internal growth through structured interactions to incorporating external concepts and applying them to one’s life challenges. The short-term goal was to demonstrate that schools were listening to the voices of protest and that their position on DEI was consistent with the values of the school. Schools with a longer-range perspective will consider gaining information through climate assessment data. This critical information helps to shape the strategy and informs the metrics necessary to facilitate forward movement for institutional change.

In discussions with DEI professionals about those problems, we identified a simple matrix that illuminates underlying assumptions about DEI and will help DEI professionals, educators, and especially Heads of School in designing comprehensive solutions.

What’s Important in DEI?

To start, consider these two questions:

Q1: Do we start DEI work from a plan, or from action?

Q2: Do we implement DEI work through internal growth or by teaching specific, external concepts?

The real answer to these, of course, is: D) All of the above… but even seasoned DEI professionals forget this truth, and often attempt to push for change using one point of leverage. 

To clarify, consider the same two questions as scales. Q1 is the vertical axis, Q2 is the horizontal:

The vertical axis is about focusing on the long-term plan (Strategy) vs immediate action (Programming). The horizontal axis goes from the internal, relational work (Implicit) to specific content, knowledge, policies, etc. (Explicit).

To illustrate these scales, if a DEI professional is prioritizing each end of each scale, here’s what they might say:

Strategy: “There’s no point in starting on a prescription until we’ve done a good diagnosis”

Programming: “We have to take action now to teach the skills and facilitate the conversations —  a plan will emerge”

Implicit: “The heart of DEI is a tremendous level of personal development and relationship building”

Explicit: “We don’t have time to do the internal work, we need procedures, vocabulary, and visible tools today”

None of these is wrong. They’re all well established, valuable approaches in working toward equity. And, when taken to an extreme, each represents a dangerous pitfall — especially for school leaders.

Four DEI Traps for Heads of School

As we look at the matrix above, we can see four quadrants on the graph. Each quadrant represents opportunity, but each also provides a significant risk — especially for a Head of School. In planning your DEI approach, keep these in mind. Think about where your school currently falls in the matrix and where you would like it to be in 12 months, 24 months, etc. Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine each of these quadrants more closely so you can determine where your school is strong and where it needs to do more work in an effort to move the community to greater understanding and appreciation of socio-economic and cultural differences.

Part II focuses on Quadrant 1, the Strategy/Explicit Quadrant that examines specific strategies and the associated metrics to measure success.

Go the the next part of this series.

Part 1: Overview of “What’s the Real Plan for DEI?”

Part 2: Quadrant 1: Strategy/Explicit — The school focuses on strategy and metrics.

Part 3: Quadrant 2: Strategy/Implicit — The school focuses on building relationships within the community.

Part 4: Quadrant 3: Programming/Implicit — The school focuses on the “heart work” — developing inner resources.

Part 5: Quadrant 4: Programming/Explicit — The school focuses on teaching concepts, behaviors, and skills.

About the authors

Joshua Freedman CEO, Six Seconds
Josh is one of the pioneers in the field of emotional intelligence; he cofounded Six Seconds in 1997, is the bestselling author of At the Heart of Leadership and five other books and six validated psychometric assessments on EQ, and contributor to many EQ programs including Coaching Equity Essentials. He’s also an instructor at Columbia Teachers College SPA administrative credential program; he is cocreator of the world’s largest social emotional learning program, POP-UP Festival ­— in partnership with UNICEF World Children’s Day, bringing skills for emotional wellbeing to millions of children & adults in 200+ countries.

Michael Eatman PCC
Founder, Culture7 Coaching
Michael is an experienced inclusion strategist, educator and coach. His credentials include Certified Diversity Professional for Organizational Leadership from Diversity Training University International, Preferred Partner and Certified EQ Advanced Practitioner from Six Seconds EQ Network, and Advanced Certified Personal & Executive Coach by the College of Executive Coaching. He’s also an instructor at Columbia Teachers College SPA administrative credential program and a leader in the Coaching Equity movement.

DEI Vital Signs Framework

Six Seconds Educational Vital Signs tools equip your school or district to answer essential questions: What is the current social and emotional climate in your classroom, school or district? How does that impact learning? Are the perceptions of the key stakeholders – teachers, parents and students – consistent or divergent? And how can you leverage EQ to create a thriving school climate?

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