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

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

Part I of What’s The Real Plan for DEI was an overview of the key issues associated with building a comprehensive DEI program at your school. We identified four quadrants that illustrate both the strategic and programming steps, those explicit to your constituents and implicit to your community. Part II detailed the Strategic/Explicit quadrant — the visible, tangible strategic work. Now we move to the Strategic-Implicit to focus on culture.   

Both Quadrants I & II are focused on the long-term, but where the former is about the explicit measures, systems & policies, the latter is about people & culture. While systems, measures, and policies will support DEI work, cultures will not change without focused efforts on the people-side. We can have the most elegant strategic plans, but if people are not on board, those plans are meaningless. To build buy-in, leaders will need strong emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence skills to “read the room” and engage people in change efforts.

Quadrant II

A school is made up of many stakeholder and cultural groups. While we may be well-intentioned, societal norms of __-ism are affecting us. So we have multiple considerations around the school culture and the wider social culture:

  • How aligned are people within various stakeholder groups (e.g., board, admin, staff)?
  • How aligned are we across these various groups? 
  • Are people from marginalized groups present (diversity), do they have what they need (equity), do they feel like they are part of the conversation (inclusion), and do they feel this is their school (belonging)?
  • If there are few people from a particular group in any room, what is their lived experience (For example, to be the only Black person at the Admin meeting, to be the only openly Trans person on the board)?

While these are difficult questions, school leaders will quickly find that the Quadrant I work will go nowhere if the culture isn’t ready. 

Strategic/Implicit: Here, the focus is building relationships within the community, aligning stakeholder groups (e.g., DEI committee members, board, student leaders, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators). This quadrant is about the unspoken norms that shape the culture and the “way we do things here,” and the institutional emotional intelligence — moving away from a transactional, mechanistic model that might be a trap in Q1, Quadrant II is about people engaged in the long-term vision.

Key elements: Culture, strategic relationships (e.g., building alliance with the board and board committees), building trust. Recognizing the unspoken beliefs, ideologies, and cultural contexts that support or inhibit equity. Auditing of culture & norms, creating new norms via role modeling & relationship building. Assessments of cultural/relational factors such as belonging & trust.

What’s helpful: Culture has long-term effects, beyond any individual Head, Board Chair, or officer, so intentionally shaping the culture is key to sustaining DEI efforts. The level of trust across these strategic relationships is what will enable (or inhibit) commitment to the plans made in Quadrant I. If a leader’s job is to enroll people in vision, then work is central to leadership — coalition-building provides the energy and support to do all the other work.

What’s risky: By definition, this quadrant is less visible than the “explicit” side, so work in this area is often unappreciated if it’s not made visible. Work here can reveal deep rifts based on conflicting ideologies, and confronting areas of distrust is likely to be slow. Engaging in the implicit efforts without sufficient explicit work might lead to insufficient allocation of resources to DEI. One might also ignore the very real barriers in place from systems that perpetuate inequity (e.g., ways the school makes decisions on staff, curriculum, budget, discipline). In addition, “we don’t know what we don’t know” and so, without explicit learning, we might be simply perpetuating the same old assumptions.

Questions to discuss:

  1. Across our stakeholder groups, who are perceived as leaders toward equity (e.g., board committees, board, leadership team, alumni/development, outspoken current students and families)?
  2. To what degree do we have alignment among leadership groups (above) on the work of equity? 
  3. How is our culture supporting us toward equity, and, over the next three years: what would it take to strengthen our culture toward valuing diversity, being champions for equity, and nurturing belonging for all? 


Remember, culture is shaped both by the spoken and unspoken. The unspoken makes work on culture extremely challenging. At Six Seconds, we say, “Fish don’t talk about water,” meaning that what we take for granted is unexamined. So as you focus on the long-term, consider: What is the culture that will support the vision? Just as we can intentionally design systems and processes to support the vision, we can design the culture. Aspects of  “the water of your school” may be barriers or supports to equity? By focusing on the implicit strategy, your goal is to shape culture by removing barriers and strengthening supports.

Following is the video recording discussing Quadrant 2:

The next article in this series shifts the focus to the program (bottom half of the quadrants) but remains on the implicit side: Who feels the effects of marginalization and what are their feelings & experiences? In our various stakeholder groups, who feels that they have a voice in conversations around equity, and a responsibility to lift their voice? What would help them feel greater agency? To what degree do people who are lifting their voices feel heard, and what would help more people feel that?

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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