As you prepare for the new school year, create a mindset that lets this be the year you are truly open to new ideas about diversity and inclusion. Learning how to get along with and appreciate your students, families and co-workers from so many different backgrounds is a skill. And just like any other skill, we only learn it over time.
Think about how you learned to drive a car. When you were young, you may have thought there was nothing to driving a car. You were at Step 1. Then you sat behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition and everything looked amazingly different. You realized there was more to this driving thing than you thought. You were at Step 2. Next, Step 3, you learned to drive, but you had to think about it all the time: “Hands at 10 and 2. Check my rearview mirror.” Then, one day, you drove to the store and you realized you didn’t even remember doing it; your mind was completely somewhere else. You were on automatic. Your driving had reached Step 4.
Anytime we learn new skills, we start at Step 1. This is the stage where we simply don’t know what we don’t know. It’s the stage of “bliss.” You’ve heard that phrase “ignorance is bliss”? All of us are unaware of certain things especially about other cultures. But as we gain awareness, we can move up the steps.
In Step 2, we know that we don’t know. This can be called “the humbling step” or “uncomfortable step.” But we also can think of it as “the discovery step.” Step 1 may be comfortable, but we aren’t learning and stretching. Sometimes, we realize we have so much to learn about other cultures, we feel overwhelmed. For example, someone may point out one of your blind spots. It certainly isn’t comfortable. But set your mindset now to remember that this is growth; you are learning. There is no way any of us can know everything about all the cultures of the world. However, that doesn’t excuse our responsibility to learn as much as we can, especially about the students in our classroom.
If someone points out an insensitivity on your part, thank them and ask them to explain what you did that was offensive. When we’re at Step 2, we can’t necessarily do things differently yet, but, if we stay humble, our awareness grows.
When we reach Step 3, we consciously attempt to modify our behavior. The author of this model, W. S. Howe, called this stage “mindfulness.” We can make changes. We can perform new skills of cultural competency, but we’re self-conscious. We constantly need to think about what we’re doing.
At Step 4 we have practiced the skills so much we no longer have to think about them to use them. Step 4 is the “Just Do It!” step. The change has become a habit now. It’s natural; we’re on automatic. At this stage, we find ourselves comfortable with differences that previously sent us into a self-conscious panic.
With most skills including diversity, you don’t go up the steps all at once. Actually, the steps are more like an escalator. Especially in valuing differences just when we think we have gained the necessary awareness, we get feedback that we need to learn something new. We return to Steps 2 and 3 again and again. Just because we are familiar and comfortable with some areas of difference doesn’t mean we won’t have to become skilled at others. When it comes to understanding our similarities and differences, the learning never stops. Choose to become courageous this year as you become more comfortable with discomfort and increase your cultural competence.
To read more about The Steps Model:
- The Empathic Communicator by William S. Howell. 1982 Waveland Press.
W.S. Howell’s Step Model is the basis for the rubric measurement in the diversity curriculum: Kaleidoscope: Valuing Differences and Creating Inclusion — www.SusanOHalloran.com