New View EDU Episode 30: How Equity and Well-Being Work Together in Our Schools

Available November 15

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Schools exist to help prepare students for the future. But in a society that prides itself on equality, how can we create equitable schools that prepare students to enter a world where inclusion is crucial? And how does focusing on the well-being of our school communities go hand-in-hand with building inclusive environments? In this episode of New View EDU, two school heads with deep expertise in leading diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work join host Tim Fish and special guest co-host Caroline Blackwell for a conversation about equity, well-being, and the future of inclusion efforts in independent schools.

Jessie Barrie and Kalyan BalavenJessie Barrie of the Bosque School (NM) and Kalyan Balaven of the Dunn School (CA) talk with Tim and Caroline about the inspiring innovations they’ve helped launch, such as the Inclusion Dashboard and the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network; how they are leading in their school communities to improve DEI work; and what they see as the strengths and pitfalls of equity and inclusion efforts in education.

Acknowledging that DEI can be a polarizing issue for communities, Kalyan and Jessie discuss how they engage community members in conversation about their efforts. Kalyan points out that to see and acknowledge differences among people is not inherently bad, but reticence to engage around issues of diversity can lead to marginalizing members of the school community. Jessie recommends leaning into conversations with curiosity about what motivates concerns about inclusion efforts. Both agree that DEI is not about creating specialized segments of a community; it’s about seeing every member of a community for who they are and what they need, and addressing their ability to feel safe, seen, and supported at school.

Key points shared by the panel include the importance of weaving DEI efforts throughout the entire school community and its way of working, from mission and vision to board governance, curriculum, classroom procedures, and parent engagement. With a full integration of DEI work into every aspect of the community, schools can also avoid a personality-driven version of the work, which can quickly fade away when a single champion moves on from the school and no one else is prepared to take their place. Kalyan also points out the inherent drawbacks of superficial DEI work, such as implementing a single tool or program, which can allow schools to believe they’re engaged in equity and inclusion while still leaving some students and faculty behind.

Jessie and Kalyan agree that humility is one of the key elements of DEI work, and it’s also one of the greatest pitfalls. The ability to make mistakes, learn from them, grow in humility, and make space for truly hearing and understanding others’ lived experiences is a lifelong process. Yet in the name of competency and expediency, too many leaders are unable or unwilling to model these virtues. But the world students will enter after they leave school is only becoming more diverse and requires greater understanding, empathy, communication, and sensitivity to others. School leaders owe it to students and communities to lead by example and equip them with the skills and understanding they’ll need to thrive in a diverse and expanding world.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim, Caroline, Kalyan, and Jessie explore in this episode include:

  • What is the purpose of school? How can DEI work enhance a school’s purpose?
  • How and why should school leaders embed DEI into the academic curriculum?
  • How do you handle discussions with community members who believe that DEI work in schools is discriminatory?
  • What is the importance of mission in a school community, and what can school leaders do to ensure that their missions are inclusive and equitable?
  • What are some common challenges or pitfalls school leaders may face in doing DEI work within their schools?
  • How do DEI and well-being go hand-in-hand?

Episode Highlights

  • “We compete in speech and debate, we compete in sports. We can compete in all these different ways, but we can't compete in inclusion because when we compete in inclusion, that's exclusion by nature.” (6:29)
  • “I think the nature of this work is so foundational to everything we're trying to accomplish, whether it's student academic outcomes, whether it's student social-emotional health and wellness throughout the day. The only way to really effectively do equity work is to ensure that it's embedded in the foundational documents, philosophies, values of your school, and in every element of how you lens everything, from assessment to book selections, to hiring practices, to evaluation practices.” (8:41)
  • “Oftentimes you'll find students at schools. You actually find them on the brochure. You'll find them on the website, because they represent some sort of visible diversity. And if you really interview some students … who are visual representations of difference at a school and say, ‘Did you take full advantage of it? Did you participate in that outdoor ed program? Did you go on that international trip? Did you go on the college visits and the college tours?’ And the answers that we get back are not the answers we want to see. That's not inclusion. Inclusion is all those students thriving and finding a way for themselves, to see themselves in the mission of the school as achieving those things that are the promise of the school in relationship to the world they're entering.” (16:15)
  • “The first definition of discriminate is to differentiate, to distinguish, to discern, to see difference between each other. Seeing difference is not a bad thing, inherently. The bad thing is when a school, and I imagine the school has a view of all the students, and in the view shared of all the students, certain students are getting lost.” (22:16)
  • “We can only learn by opening our hearts and opening our ears to the experience of others and to the realization that we never will truly be able to understand the experience of others. All we can do is have the gift of someone's trust to share with us their experience, and to be able to try and listen really intently to that experience and look for the opportunities within our own biases, within our own defensive reactions, for growth.” (39:53)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

About Our Guests

Kalyan “Kal” Balaven is the head of school at Dunn School (CA). Kal has spent 20+ years in education and as an administrator in both public charter schools and independent schools. He spent 13 years at The Athenian School teaching classes in the humanities and served as both the dean of equity and inclusion and the director of teaching and learning. He holds a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in history, a J.D. from U.C. Davis, and certificates for data science from Haas Business School and educational leadership from Harvard. Kal founded the Inclusion Dashboard Consortium and Inclusion Factor, both of which remain key think tanks for schools centered around inclusion. He also created the Santa Barbara Inclusion Lab, the first public-private partnership around inclusion in the country. He is the host of The Whole Student podcast and author of 3 Key Challenges To Whole Student Education. Kal currently serves on the boards of the Northern Light School (CA) and the California Association of Independent Schools. He loves writing, poetry, and spoken word and has been known to “spit a few bars” from time to time. Kal loves comics and graphic novels, long slow runs, and is a diehard 49ers fan.

Jessie Barrie became the fourth head of school at Bosque School (NM) in 2019. Jessie has devoted her career to independent school education, working for both the Dunn School (CA) and Albuquerque Academy (NM). Jessie is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in experiential education and crisis management, and she is president of the New Mexico Association of Independent Schools. In addition to her work in schools, Jessie helped found, create, and run the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN). Originally from Toronto, Jessie earned her undergraduate degree from Acadia University in Nova Scotia before completing her master's and doctorate in educational leadership and organizations from U.C. Santa Barbara. Jessie's interests include horseback riding, skiing, playing tennis, traveling, and spending time with her husband and three children.