The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly releases The Condition of Education, which details a changing dynamic in U.S. classrooms. In 1972, only 20 percent of public school students were considered to be part of a racial or ethnic minority group; by 2009, that number had grown to 45 percent. According to 2009 statistics, Hispanic students represent 22 percent and black students make up 15 percent of public school enrollment; other minority group populations have increased from 1 to 8 percent.
The same report noted that between 1979 and 2009, the number of school-age children who spoke a language other than English at home grew from 3.8 million to 11.2 million (21 percent of school-age children).
There is no doubt about it: We live in an increasingly diverse world. In spite of the diversity that surrounds so many of us, the faculties in our schools have remained largely white and mostly female. Administrators are even more predominantly white -- and most often male, especially at the secondary level.
Those facts alone point to an especially important challenge that confronts today's school leaders: celebrating the many faces of diversity.
"BRAVO principals -- principals who Build Relationships with Actions that Value Others -- incorporate actions every day that
--- encourage diversity involvement on campus;
--- integrate diversity throughout the curriculum; and
--- advocate for all students.
BRAVO Principals Encourage Diversity Involvement on Campus
One of my aspiring principal students recently asked his high-school students to write about their school. As he read through their responses, he immediately became aware of the disassociation of his Hispanic students. Most of the Anglo students in the class began their papers by saying, "In my school, we..." but many of his Hispanic students began their papers by saying, "In this school, they..."
He considered the racial identity of the school and realized that on his campus only five or six of the more than 100 teachers were Hispanic. Immediately, he went to his principal with an idea to form a group of teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, business leaders, and students called "The Hispanic Forum." The group created a mission, vision, and goals statement with an emphasis on building community within the school. The students in The Hispanic Forum even organized a series of classes for teachers -- taught by the students.
Another principal involved his school in a new program called LINC (Learning for Immigrant New Comers). The program was designed for students who are recent arrivals to the United States, do not speak English, and are not familiar with the U.S. educational system. Too often, those immigrant children are confused, even frightened, in our schools. The LINC program shelters those students until they become familiar enough with the language and the school culture to be successful on their own.
BRAVO Principals Integrate Diversity Throughout the Curriculum
Principals model respect for diversity when they engage their faculties in addressing issues of identity so that children have successful role models that represent all ethnic groups. Diversity can be integrated across the curriculum by encouraging faculty to seek out guest speakers who represent different ethnicities and to incorporate literature by authors of Hispanic, African American, American Indian, Middle Eastern, and other origins. Another way to ensure a curriculum that reflects the student body is to involve faculty in evaluating texts; do they include a broad range of historic events, not just those that are Eurocentric? Still other principals lead faculty book studies that include books, such as The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, We Can't Teach What We Don't Know, Other People's Children, and The Kite Runner.
BRAVO Principals Courageously Advocate for All Students
It is the responsibility of principals to commit to seeing that all children on the campus have an equal opportunity to experience success. That means providing tutorials for students who are falling behind before they fail.
Another way that principals advocate for all students is to simply acknowledge their successes. That doesn't mean just noticing the student who is a gifted athlete or scholar. It also means noticing improvement and acknowledging it publicly and privately through notes to parents, or a simple handshake and comment: "I saw that you brought your math grade up this six weeks. Good job!" Do you display the artwork of a child who can draw even though she is wheelchair-bound? Do you invite the child who plays a musical instrument to play a song over the public address system even though he speaks English haltingly? In those small ways, principals help children who might be considered "different" assimilate more smoothly into the school population.
A lack of appreciation for diversity is often the root cause of bullying or peer harassment. Research confirms that the kids who are most likely to be bullied often represent different ethnicities, have special needs, come from different economic backgrounds, or are considered "just different" by other students.
Have you heard the song Rachel Delavoryas by Randy Stonehill? Its recurring theme, "She'll never be one of us," illustrates just that point.
Principals who take a stand and advocate for all students build relationships with our "different" students and make them feel part of the school community. At the same time they take a giant step toward establishing a school atmosphere that reduces bullying and values diversity.
Principals who build positive relationships with faculty and students do not limit their concern for diversity to ethnicity. They are aware of other aspects of diversity, including young people who are questioning their sexuality, overweight, or of different religious or economic backgrounds.
In our schools today, many faculty and students come to school more aware of how they are different than how they are alike. BRAVO principals who are concerned about Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others celebrate diversity when they notice the level of engagement of all students and faculty on their campuses, when they ensure that the curriculum celebrates our diverse heritages, and when they advocate for all students.
In short, they see beyond differences. They see people.
Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president said, "You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world..."
I think President Wilson must have been talking about BRAVO principals who celebrate diversity.
Article by Sandra Harris
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