Many schools, organizations, families, and individuals want to be more inclusive and welcoming. And many spring to action when there is an incident of discrimination with approaches ranging from restorative relationship practices to denial.
As a school leader, I have been on a decades-long quest to make schools safe spaces in every way that can be imagined and to do this intentionally and inclusively such that everyone contributes. I’ve found something in my search that works.
A few years ago, we began working with VISIONS, an organization that has nearly four decades of experience developing approaches and tools for individuals and institutions striving to do better at inclusion through diversity, equity, and antiracism.
When we began our partnership with VISIONS, its founder, Valerie Batts, shared with us nine guidelines for having multicultural dialogue. She and her team made a bold claim that if everyone were to practice these guidelines, we would positively change the lived experience of every member of our community. For us at the International School of Geneva (Ecolint), that means impacting our 4,500 students and 1,300 members of staff who come from 140 countries and speak 85 different languages.
We have created our first iteration of these guidelines translated into a set of questions matched with a brief description of each guideline and we are sharing them with the world.
What’s powerful is that you can start using these right away. Try them yourself and see, through the guideline of self-focus, if they positively impact the way you think, act, and feel, especially when having a difficult conversation with another person on the subject of inclusion through diversity, equity, and antiracism.
VISIONS GUIDELINES AND DESCRIPTIONS:
1. QUESTION: How can I feel, think, or experience the same as the person I am speaking to? How would that change my perspective?
- “Try on” another person’s experience.
- Consider another person’s ideas, thoughts, or feelings to understand their perspective.
- You don’t have to accept the ideas, feelings, and thoughts of others, but you should always TRY them ON.
2. QUESTION: How would my narrative shift if I spoke using “I” statements instead of using “you,” “we,” or “they?”
- Use “I” statements instead of “we” or “you” when speaking.
- Referring to yourself in the plural can impact inclusion by shifting the focus away from what YOU think and feel as an individual.
- Use “I think,” “I feel,” …
3. QUESTION: What would this conversation be like if both sides of this conversation keep their truth?
AGREE TO DISAGREE
- The energy for change often arises from conflict, so respectful and healthy debate should be embraced.
- Respectful disagreement can drive innovation and inclusion.
4. QUESTION: What changes if I use “and” instead of “but” when I speak?
PRACTICE BOTH/AND THINKING
- Helps us acknowledge that there are multiple world views operating when we take a multi-cultural perspective.
- The goal is to increase collaboration, improve problem-solving and innovation.
- Using AND rather than BUT helps combine multiple perspectives and ideas to reach the most appropriate and inclusive solutions.
- It shifts away from the stale either/or, right/wrong thinking; it allows multiple truths.
5. QUESTION: Is there equality in speaking time? Are you encouraging others to speak up?
MAKE SPACE TAKE SPACE
- Encourage wider team participation, linked to “Try On.”
- Ensure everyone has a chance to contribute to discussions.
- Making space allows room for others to take space; taking space ensures your voice is heard and you are included.
6. QUESTION: How do we learn to stop blaming, shaming, or attacking ourselves or other people when we are in dialogue?
IT’S NOT OK TO BLAME, SHAME, OR ATTACK SELF OR OTHERS
- Blame, shame, and attack damage trust, cause people to disengage, and they make it much harder to collaborate.
- Blaming anyone affects everyone.
7. QUESTION: What is the process in which we are discussing certain topics or content? Is it peaceful? Respectful? Disruptive?
NOTICE BOTH PROCESS AND CONTENT
- Content is what we say and process is how and why we say or do something.
- Content = the what: agenda, the product, the end result we want to achieve.
- Process = the how: the way people interact, how a group works together to achieve goals.
- Focusing only on process means nothing will get done, focusing only on content negatively affects relationships and the end goal.
8. QUESTION: How can you build more trust with people you converse with?
- Confidentiality with regard to personal sharing
- You can talk about the feelings and thoughts that got evoked for you, the lesson you learned, not the details of what others said.
- “I learned today that these words and deeds can really hurt someone” is OK.
- “Mary shared how X hurt her” is not OK.
- It is not up to you to tell anyone else’s story, even if you have good intentions.
9. QUESTION: How would this dialogue change if you held space for impact instead of focusing on the intention?
BEWARE OF INTENT VS IMPACT
- Your intent can be positive AND the impact can be negative.
- Even the most well-intentioned people can say hurtful things without realizing it.
- Be open to feedback about the impact of your words or actions, even when you meant well.
- Assume positive intent from others (benefit of the doubt) and help them realize when their impact was negative.
To access the Questions and Description slides: https://drive.google.com/drive/mobile/folders/1ge_DDmCBZql9ujmz1E01lzZ5B5jw97Iy?usp=sharing
For more information: www.visions-inc.org
To contact VISIONS: [email protected]
David is the Director General at International School of Geneva.