The more educators have learned about students’ learning styles and needs, the more we have come to understand how much students’ backgrounds influence those traits. Where they’re from, their economic status, family stability, cultural assets — all of the things that make a student’s personality also contribute to the ways they learn.

That idea is at the core of the ways educational leaders employ the tenets of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their schools. By recognizing and understanding the value of each student’s different funds of knowledge, strengths, needs and traits, educators can create programs and teaching practices that reach students more effectively.

A program like the online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) prepares graduates to be effective, insightful educational leaders with a thorough understanding of the myriad factors that affect the quality of an educational environment for all students. They will be able to advocate for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices, as well as foster an inclusive, caring and supportive school community that engages community members in a respectful, empathetic manner.

Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is one of the most commonly used DEI-friendly techniques in schools. Online teaching resource Resilient Educator defines CRT as a method that “seeks to empower students educationally and to expand their capabilities in other spheres including social, emotional, and political arenas by making students’ own skills, languages, and attitudes meaningful in the classroom.”

Educators are always looking for ways to reach their students more effectively, and cultural connections is one way to do this. By including language or attitudes that are relevant to students in classroom practices, educators also help promote positive attitudes around traits specific to those students.

School principals are often responsible for spearheading DEI and CRT efforts. They help set the tone for teachers and students, from establishing rules and guidelines to cultivating a positive atmosphere. Here are some strategies principals can apply in different areas of their work to better create their own culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Incorporate Cultural Understanding Into Teaching Training and Methods

According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), “it is incumbent for the principal to lead and coach instruction so that effective culturally responsive teaching and learning happens” in the classroom. Principals should lead the charge in preparing teachers in the school to be culturally effective educators.

One easy way principals can do this is by offering, highlighting and supporting professional development and training opportunities in this area. Creating a library of resources such as research reviews and books on the topic is another easy way to make these tools available. Principals should be active trainers in this area, given the importance of cultural understanding.

Promote a Positive, Respectful Culture

An inclusive educational environment benefits all students, as Resilient Educator notes. Principals can help establish this kind of atmosphere by emulating respectful behavior and making efforts to include all students in positive ways.

Resilient Educator also notes that successful inclusive cultures “(accept, understand and attend) to student differences and diversity, which can include physical, cognitive, academic, social, and emotional” needs. When principals set good examples of this behavior, teachers and students will follow their lead.

Develop Ways to Measure Success

Being able to track progress toward inclusivity goals is crucial to accomplishing them. Principals can conduct engagement surveys to understand teachers’ feelings of inclusion and identify areas that are successful or in need of improvement. By establishing a baseline, they can track these efforts over time. Students and parent perceptual data can also be collected and used to reflect on and improve practice over time.

Build Relationships With Families and Community Members

Students’ families and other school community members are integral to their well-being and significantly affect their ability to learn and feel supported. Therefore, principals should establish a clear set of guidelines for interacting with community members regularly, including community members in decision-making roles and forming plans of action for helping students. The NAESP also writes that it is critical to be ethical and empathetic when working with families.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program.