CEO Notebook |
So many high points of the 2020 NBOA Annual Meeting, held two weeks ago in Orlando, are fresh in my mind. Soledad O’Brien’s keynote address on diversity, education and never giving up is top among them. As we in the independent school world advance deeper into the enrollment season, one of her stories seems particularly timely.O’Brien recounted the experience of a friend who recently navigated the independent school admissions process with her husband. An interracial couple, they noted how each of the six schools they visited presented its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work when they visited together. When the wife, who is white, returned to tour those schools alone, however, only one school shared information about DE&I work with her.
The lesson for school leaders, said O’Brien, is that when we fail to check our biases, we may miss out on an opportunity to attract new families and create an inviting environment for everyone. She also urged schools to set the tone at the top and develop processes for tracking and measuring DE&I work to ensure intentions are met with actions. It’s critical to be honest about what your school is doing and to be realistic about the work that still needs to be done, she said.
O’Brien chose independent schools for her four children. She recounted how when her son Jackson was kindergarten, he struggled to keep up in the classroom and stopped wanting to go to school. But the only thing he could communicate to his parents was, “I don’t like it.” A thoughtful teacher, who suspected he couldn’t hear instructions, recommended a routine hearing test. In fact, he had lost about 80% of his hearing. Today, hearing aids help Jackson immensely, but O’Brien is still sensitive to how his challenges affect his mood and sense of belonging.
The lesson: Don’t assume every member of your school community feels a sense of belonging. Instead, ask questions, seek answers and continually ask yourself the question: What can I do to help others be advocates for themselves? What can I do to support a culture where everyone feels like they can show up as their most authentic self? With smaller communities, independent schools are well positioned to take this approach, which may be one of the most important pillars among our value propositions.
These efforts require attention, energy and resources and, as your professional association, we all have work to do. To that end, NBOA Board Chair Chuck McCullagh and the entire NBOA Board of Directors have been working for more than a year to define what diversity, equity and inclusion means to our association, and to determine the association’s role in explicitly demonstrating our commitment to these essential perspectives and actions. As a result, he announced during the 2020 NBOA Annual Meeting that the NBOA Board unanimously approved the NBOA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement:
In principle and in practice, NBOA values and seeks inclusion and diversity within our community. NBOA is committed to providing a welcoming and equitable environment with opportunities for engagement regardless of an individual's ability, age, appearance, ethnicity, gender identity, geographical location, national origin, professional level, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
It truly is a source of great personal pride to see the NBOA Board take ownership of a thoughtful and powerful DE&I statement that clearly states our intention to welcome members and others who engage with the association with the same respect and dignity that our students and families expect from our schools.
The importance of this statement is in how we, as members of NBOA, intend to come together as an association and foster the community for current and future members. It’s also important to note that this statement is the starting point. The Board’s DE&I working group is currently drafting guiding principles that will inform the work of the NBOA Board and staff so that we fulfill the expectations expressed by this statement to the best of our ability.
NBOA’s DE&I statement includes following definitions and values as a starting point to a shared understanding. They were adapted from definitions developed by the American Society of Association Executives:
To support this effort and advance our work in this area, NBOA member schools will receive a brief demographic survey in the spring to help us better understand who we represent today and begin to chart our path to the most diverse and inclusive NBOA community possible.
Unlike most surveys you complete, you won’t need your audit, payroll register or enrollment numbers — it’s all about you, who you are, and what you are willing to share with us about yourself. The whole survey should take only 10 minutes, but it may be one of the most important surveys of the year. Please help support this effort and complete the survey as soon as you receive it.
We expect the outcomes of the research and the work that follows it will be of great interest to everyone who contributes to the organization — the NBOA Board of Directors, NBOA professional staff, members, business partners and volunteers — and we look forward to sharing the results. Thank you in advance for your support. And as always, if you have any thoughts on these matters, don’t hesitate to let me know.
5 Minutes with Derrick Gay: Mirrors and Windows (Jan/Feb 2020 )
Mission & Motivation: Uncomfortable in a Comfortable Place (Jan/Feb 2020)
Diversity: the Business Case and Beyond (web-only, Jan. 2019)
Where Diversity Meets the Bottom Line (web-only, Aug. 2019)
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