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DEI Matters at MAC: November 2023 Update

DEI Matters at MAC: November 2023 Update
Montessori Academy of Colorado

We were fortunate to host Dr. Vanessa Santiago Schwarz at our most recent professional learning day during which she shared her expertise on topics around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Dr. Schwarz is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the department of Equity, Bilingualism and Biliteracy at the University of Colorado, and has extensive experience guiding organizations in their efforts to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. This school year, she has guided MAC in professional development planning for staff and will work with the Board of Trustees to ensure a parallel learning journey around anti-bias education. Dr. Schwarz led an engaging discourse for MAC staff on 10/13/23 that touched on the four core goals of anti-bias education, the importance of using humanizing language in everyday situations and how to have brave conversations when differences and discomforts about race, gender, ability and more arise.

Our staff spent time reviewing the following four core goals of anti-bias education for adults and children, along with corresponding goal statements:

  • Identity - We demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride and positive social identities.
  • Diversity - We express comfort and joy with human diversity; accurate language for human differences; and deep, caring human connections.  
  • Justice - We increasingly recognize unfairness, have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts.
  • Activism - We demonstrate empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and/or discrimination.

These goals provide a framework for the practice of anti-bias education with children, with each goal building on and strengthening the others. Collectively, they offer tools for countering biased behavior toward others. We will continue to spend time at each of our professional learning days developing a deeper understanding of the four goals and practical ways they can be a guide for both the adults and the children in our community in developing an inclusive and equitable mindset.

Our professional learning also covered the importance of words and phrases in everyday discussions and why choosing people-first language is one step that can be taken to create a more inclusive school environment. We deepened our understanding of what it means to use humanizing language vs. language that’s deficit-oriented and why it matters. People-first language acknowledges people as individuals first, before any other words are used, rather than referring to them in terms of any generalized traits or conditions. An example of “people-first” language is to say “Person who uses a wheelchair” instead of “wheelchair bound,” or to say “a person living with diabetes,” instead of “a diabetic.” Our staff practiced this linguistic etiquette, expanding our collective awareness of its importance in creating a more intentional practice of inclusion at MAC.

We spent time discussing the importance of having brave conversations surrounding DEI topics, focusing on ways to engage with mindfulness, curiosity, respect and empathy. Dr. Schwarz shared a useful protocol with our staff for engaging in these types of conversations. Our staff practiced using this protocol by role playing real situations that have caused discomfort and sharing different ideas for working through them. The practice provided an important foundation that can be drawn upon when it feels necessary to engage in a brave conversation. Though difficult, these conversations can be an important step toward creating an authentic culture of inclusion and belonging. Staff was very engaged during the interactive session with Dr. Schwarz. Toddler Assistant Teacher, Ryan Bliss, shared his takeaway following the session, “It is important to recognize that these conversations can be incredibly difficult and potentially uncomfortable but approaching them with a mindset that is both aiming to be helpful and educational is essential in order to be productive. In many instances, these encounters can be beautiful learning moments for both adults and students, even though these conversations can feel potentially daunting.” We are grateful for our staff’s participation and engagement as we continue on this learning journey together.

Our next professional learning day will take place on January 2, 2024 during which we will deepen our understanding of the first core goal of anti-bias education, identity. We will provide our next update on this work in December!

  • DEI
  • Schoolwide