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What Does Inclusion Mean to You?

By Doline Ndorimana
What Does Inclusion Mean to You?

Reflections of students and educators recorded by Doline Ndorimana. More reflections coming soon...

Over the past few years, international educator, Doline Ndorimana, has opened honest and vulnerable conversations with the students and colleagues she has encountered regarding what inclusion means based on different life experiences. These conversations began as a way to listen to, learn from, and engage in vulnerable discussions geared toward empowering change and creating a culture of inclusion. As an introduction to her question and answer series, What Does Inclusion Mean to You?, Doline shares in a brief interview with TIE editor Shwetangna Chakrabarty a bit about her motivation, process, and hopes for creating an environment where all students can take ownership of their learning and feel like they belong.

As an educator, you have been coaching and mentoring students to drive inclusion. What has inspired you to initiate and continue this work?

It's my students and my own kids, to be honest. Children spend most of their time at school, so it is important that they feel a sense of belonging and that their school is a place where they feel safe to be their most authentic selves. Kids can easily show up as themselves when they’re young, but it becomes complicated when they hit puberty and even harder in their teen years.

The purpose of doing inclusion work is to make our students feel seen and one way to make anyone feel seen, especially kids is to ask them: What do you think? How do you feel about this? How can we make your experiences in this school better?

To me, it is common sense that we need to include students’ voices when making decisions about them, especially when thinking about creating a culture where each child feels a sense of belonging. I don’t think that I can do my job well and have the impact I want to have on students without their input.

It is not possible for me to know what inclusion means to you unless I ask you. Much less knowing how a 16-year-old student navigating a world that is so different from the one I’ve experienced as a teenager, feels. The best thing we can do as educators is to ask them, coach them on how to share their ideas effectively, amplify their voices, and leave space for them to use it. You will be amazed at what they can do.

There are many educators who strive to empower students. What would you advise them?

One thing that students appreciate is a teacher who is “real,” as they like to say. If you are honest with them and model the behavior you want to see, they will trust you and feel safe to do the same with you.

When I was a grade-level leader and I happened to have an idea or an initiative, I would gather a very diverse group of Grade 11 students, and I would run the idea by them. If they were interested, I would encourage them to drive and lead the initiative because they always came up with additional ideas that made the initial idea great and more relevant for them. They would own the idea, brainstorm, and make changes that they felt would benefit the cohort most. We would then meet during lunchtime to work on whatever projects we had, and I would serve as a coach. We ended up doing lots of fun and important things together, one of which was five amazing webinars on inclusion, live streamed to all high school students and their advisors during advisory time throughout the year. All of these projects were student-led, which started great conversations in our school.

It is important to see your students as partners and believe that they are change agents who can bring transformational changes in your school. If they see and feel you believe in them, they will bring their full selves to the table.

Why did you think of collecting these student reflections? Tell us the story of how you managed to collect these beautiful insights.

It was through my conversations with students that I realized that they each had their own definition and view of what inclusion meant to them. There was a clear difference between “What does inclusion mean?” and “What does inclusion mean to you personally?” The differences were in their varied lived experiences. This is what gave me the idea of running the different webinars with our diverse student community from Race and Privilege, a conversation with our LGBTQ+ community to defeating the odds webinar with our neurodiverse students, and finally hearing our students’ thoughts on gender equality. Through these conversations, the different meanings of inclusion and what this meant to our student community were highlighted.

I was learning so much from my students and their reflections that I gave myself the task of collecting as many voices as possible on inclusion and its meaning. At first, it was just for my own research and learning. I have always seized the opportunity whenever I had the pleasure to work or talk to any student whether it was face-to-face or online to ask them the question “What does inclusion mean to you?” I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do with this material until I recently led a course with heads of school. In this course, I shared these voices and I saw the impact they had on these school leaders. In that moment I recognized that these voices need to be shared and that we can all learn from these amazing students' reflections.

How can international educators learn about DEIJ work from student reflections?

You learn why it is hard for them to show up as themselves. From there, you, together with students and other shareholders can think of systems and structures to put in place that can make students feel safe to be their authentic selves. Through their reflections, you can learn what makes them feel seen and how their differences, individuality, and hypervisibility (for some) can be a force. I don’t think that I would be the educator that I am today had it not been for the enriching conversations I’ve had and continue to have with my students. They’ve taught me so much, more than they can imagine, and I can only invite each educator to create a safe space for students and share power with them. You will be amazed by how much you will learn and grow as an educator, a parent, and simply a human being.

If any of my students or any student I’ve had the pleasure to meet read this, I want to thank you. Thank you for sharing your voice and thank you for trusting me.


Doline Ndorimana is a passionate educator dedicated to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) and advocating student voice and agency. She is a DEIJ workshop leader, middle years program language consultant, an accreditation evaluator for the Council of International Schools, and a member of the TIE editorial team.

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08/11/2023 - Ru
I like this and i have really learn form it.
07/30/2023 - Say No to Identity Politics
Please let me quote from this article:

“'What does inclusion mean?” and “What does inclusion mean to you personally?” The differences were in their varied lived experiences. This is what gave me the idea of running the different webinars with our diverse student community from Race and Privilege, a conversation with our LGBTQ+ community to defeating the odds webinar with our neurodiverse students, and finally hearing our students’ thoughts on gender equality."

Notice how it always comes back to race, gender, sexual preference, etc... Always.

I am not saying that people don't deserve dignity and respect. They most certainly do.

I am certainly not denying past discrimination. It certainly happened. Nor do I deny that discrimination now.

But international schools are not cesspools of intolerance. So it does a disservice to students to tell them they are either oppressors or monsters, and it's all about power with different groups, and nothing about being a better person.

But people deserve these things because they are individuals. Period.

What does inclusion mean to me? In short: speech codes. It means that you have to hold certain ideological positions; otherwise, you are not being "inclusive".

The DEIJ ideology can be traced back to the ideologies of Marxism and Postmodernism. This is not a blind assertion. It is a fact. The intellectual lineage is very clear. Moreover, these ideas have a totalitarian bent, so they have to be rejected for that reason alone.

So bless the Australian educator who said the following about the meaning of inclusion: "It is the feeling that I can hold and offer - respectfully - a perspective or opinion that is different without the fear of being called all kinds of names. I have felt excluded by those who advocate for inclusive practices."

Thanks to the unnamed Australian educator who pointed out that true inclusion means giving people of different backgrounds and different characteristics AND different ideas and points of view a place at the table.

07/21/2023 - Satya Sivanadh Yendamuri
The Inclusion idefination is excelent, I like this artical. Thank you for sharing to me.