At Morgan Park Academy, where diversity is celebrated and inclusivity is the cornerstone, the importance of effective communication and inclusive curriculum cannot be overstated. Certainly, our dedication to diversity should be helping to create an environment where every student feels seen, heard, and valued.
This sentiment is at the heart of the work that MPA faculty and staff have been doing to ensure that our communication and curriculum works for all students.
On campus, I have led staff workshops on this topic, and this fall, I was invited to present at the annual conference for the Independent Schools Association for the Central States (ISACS).
My Middle School colleague Sandra Burgess and I started researching this topic in 2017, following a conversation with the parent of a second-grader. With a seemingly innocuous prompt on an assignment, a student was asked to reveal some trauma from his past. It caused us to wonder how many times have we, too, unknowingly triggered a trauma response from our students? When and where have we “othered” the children we care so deeply about?
My work began by acknowledging that the most effective educators prioritize students over the content they are learning. A student-centered approach plays a pivotal role in fostering a sense of community within schools. Teachers become not just purveyors of information, but models of social-emotional aptitude.
The overarching goal is to create environments, both in written and verbal communication, where students and their families feel welcomed and validated.
In my workshops with MPA teachers and at the ISACS conference, we discussed and dissected the following key areas:
Identifying problem practices and projects — Participants collaboratively identified instances where language and messaging inadvertently exclude certain groups, hindering the creation of an inclusive atmosphere.
Promoting inclusive language — We explored ways to identify and incorporate inclusive language that fosters a sense of belonging among all students.
Uncharted territory — Participants examined areas where inclusive language has not yet been created, fostering discussions on how to bridge these gaps.
In 2017, and again in 2022, I interviewed adults whose childhood experiences included being “othered” at school, either inadvertently or blatantly. I used the content of those conversations to provide anecdotal evidence of the pitfalls we are trying to avoid.
We discussed that schools do not need to “throw out” the cherished traditions of their school culture, but they do need to consider re-working those events and practices so that all students can feel a sense of belonging within our community.
In presenting on communication and curriculum that works for all students, I aimed to equip educators with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complexities of diversity and inclusion. By fostering a student-centered approach and embracing inclusive language, we can move towards the goal of creating educational spaces where every student feels a sense of belonging and safety, with the assurance of being known and having their feelings heard and protected.
By Heather Kurut
Mrs. Kurut is our principal for grades 4-8.