Bridging 'Teaching & Learning' and 'Diversity & Inclusion' at #PoCC13 & #NAISAC14

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Chris Thinnes


NOTE: This post was updated from a post on July 9th, following the acceptance of workshop proposals for the 2013 NAIS People of Color Conference and the 2014 NAIS Annual Conference.


Last fall, in my final post as conference blogger for the NAIS People of Color Conference (#PoCC12), I asked myself some pressing questions about how best to “Bridge Conversations about ‘Teaching & Learning’ and ‘Diversity & Inclusion’.” I referred to an excellent presentation by Dr. Steven Jones at the fall CFEE conference, in which he forced the matter to a central question: We expect all students to demonstrate proficiency in math . . . Why not in cultural competence? (Watch the presentation here.)

I went on to describe the dilemma as I saw it at the time:

Somehow our collective conversations about diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice  – as teachers and leaders, as parents and children, as people of color and white folks — remain relegated to some ‘value added’ territory of affective, environmental, or ‘cultural’ conditions which are understood as secondary to the ‘real’ business of learning. Many of us continue to view ‘diversity’ as a matter having primarily to do with ‘cultural sensitivity’ (which implies that a normative, primarily white constituency, should be sympathetic to the ‘plight’ of people of color. Yuck.). What Dr. Jones urges us to do is to shift our collective conversation to one about cultural competency — a skill set that invites all of us to design intentional learning goals every bit as critical as those ‘twenty-first century skills’ we can all list off on 4, 5, or 6 fingers. . .

But are those of us engaged in the discourse on ‘twenty-first century learning’ or ‘schools of the future’ doing that? Or have we relegated ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ to another rung on the learning ladder, and left it off the table with some seemingly politer version of “that would be a lovely way to add some value to an excellent educational program. We’ll work on that too. Promise!”

Subsequently, I explored a number of related ideas deriving from the inspiration of Carla Rinaldi’s notions of the ‘pluriverse of learning’ and ‘educational-relational thinking’:

Cultural education is not a separate discipline, nor is it simply the illustration of the customs and religions of a country, though these are certainly important. It is more than this: it is primarily a style of educational-relational thinking. It is what we call ‘project-based thinking’ (pensiero progettuale), a way of thinking that is open to others, that is open to doubt and to the awareness and acceptance of error and uncertainty. It is the interweaving of multiple cultural codes, multiple language, ‘contagion,’ hybridization. It plays on boundaries, not as marginal zones (center versus boundary), but as places that generate the new that is born of contagion and interchange.

I still see in Rinaldi’s reference to ‘cultural education’ as ‘educational-relational thinking’ a paradigm that could transform our stakeholders’ understanding of the centrality of cross-cultural competence to our students’ learning. Dr. Jones has long urged us to shift our conversations about diversity from ‘sensitivities’ to ‘skills’; now it is time to identify those skills, and do everything in our power to develop them in our student and professional learning communities. And I hope to participate in that effort, in cooperation with a number of extraordinary leaders and mentors in these areas, by helping to develop a framework for that movement at the center, rather than the margins, of our educational programs.

Recently, a number of extraordinary thought leaders agreed to join a panel at the 2013 People of Color Conference, as a gesture in a larger project to provide a service to our schools. We just received the good news that the proposal was accepted:

“Cultural Competence & 21st Century Skills: The Intersections of Learning & Community” 

“We expect all students to demonstrate proficiency in math . . . Why not in cultural competence?” Dr. Steven Jones invites us to understand that in order to support more inclusive communities in our schools, we must shift our focus in diversity work from cultural sensitivity to cultural competency. We must support a deeper learning than ‘awareness’ or ‘tolerance’ implies; we must help students develop specific skills. Join a panel of diversity leaders to explore the intersections between learning and community; to learn about our work on a new project to inform a developmental and systemic approach for cultivating cultural competence; and to explore how cross-cultural competency is essential for all children to collaborate, to create, to think critically, to communicate, and to solve problems in our ‘schools of the future.’

It will be an honor to facilitate conversations with Gene BatisteSteven JonesRosetta LeeAlison Park, and Tim Wise at both the NAIS People of Color Conference and the NAIS Annual Conference this year. Our panel at #PoCC13 is scheduled for Thursday, December 5th at 3:45pm, at the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center in National Harbor, MD. Our panel at #NAISac14 is scheduled for Friday, February 28th at 1:30pm at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL. We look forward to inviting colleagues into this crucial conversation at both of these conferences, and to reporting on our progress as we collaborate over the course of the year on the development of resources and protocols to create a more intentional culture of diversity, inclusion, and cross-cultural competence in our schools.


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