Identifying Strengths and Allies

Sowing the seeds for long-term change, leading to greater safety, equity and inclusion in our schools, is a rewarding yet difficult and challenging endeavour. (See Bullying Prevention and Equity and Inclusion.) Our Equity and Inclusion module discusses the likelihood and inevitability of resistance to change in schools, as in any setting in our society. Fear of backlash is legitimate and realistic for teachers who are nonetheless motivated to speak up and take action for change. As teachers, those of us who identify with a socially marginalized group may feel and be particularly vulnerable to backlash.

Discussing homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination while working toward their prevention will likely be controversial. Teachers, administrators and other school staff need to plan for resistance to change and develop strategies to counter this very real human tendency. (See Strategies for Positive Action.)

One key strategy to mitigate the impact of resistance is to identify allies or potential allies in the school environment. Parents and caregivers who express and demonstrate openness to equity issues can offer pivotal support should the need arise.

Parents and caregivers from marginalized groups with leadership skills and abilities may welcome the opportunity to work toward a more equitable and inclusive school environment. At the same time, members of marginalized groups should not be expected to take on and be responsible for equity work. They may be disproportionately vulnerable to backlash and resistance. We need to respect their possible reluctance to take a stand and become involved.

When parents and caregivers who can represent the experiences of certain marginalized population groups do make the choice to speak out and become involved, it can provide precious perspective and valuable direction. It is crucial to give them the necessary space and time to ensure that they have a voice.

Our Equity and Inclusion module identifies various policies and legal instruments that can serve as underpinnings to our work in this area, particularly when we encounter resistance. In particular, board policies can stand us in good stead and it can be a useful preventative exercise to explore your school board’s policy stance and gain an understanding as to how this might back up our efforts when needed.

It is worth noting that board policy often establishes a positive vision of equity and inclusion that can sometimes get lost in the rush and chaos of daily school life. Highlighting the connection between these two dimensions can provide valuable insight, direction and leverage. Teachers – with support from allied parents, caregivers, administrators and other school staff – can initiate an audit process aimed at examining how and to what extent a school’s practice reflects the school board’s vision and policies.