The Learning Accelerator Blog/TLA's DEI Principles: Committing to Action

diversity, equity, and inclusion TLA updates

TLA's DEI Principles: Committing to Action

by Beth Rabbitt on July 21 2021

While school is technically “out,” educators across the country are hard at work reflecting on the past and planning for the future. From catching up on essential reading, to taking over whiteboards in quiet district offices, to piloting changes with students during summer school, the summer months create the opportunity for imagination and commitment (or recommitment) to goals for the upcoming year.

Although we operate away from the classroom, this is also true for The Learning Accelerator (TLA) team. About a year ago, I shared an update that promised a concrete plan for how TLA would be building on our past internal and external work towards social justice. Prior to school closures in March of 2020, our team and board had been at the start of tackling our year goal of developing a revised diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy for our programs. The urgency of wanting to respond to the moment began to overwhelm a more authentic and inclusive process that tapped into the best thinking internally and externally. As a result, we doubled down on the work and timeline, asking you all as partners to hold us, the rest of the TLA team and our board, accountable for sustained effort and action.

While completing this work in late 2020, a key goal that emerged was to share our progress and learning openly and reflectively, moving away from opacity and perfectionism towards ongoing and honest conversations about where we are versus our desired destination.

As we take a breath after a truly exceptional year, we figured now would be as good a time as any to reflectively open a dialogue by sharing the commitments that we have made, which build from the work that we have already done, and the priorities that are currently in progress. In doing so, we hope that you will share your feedback and ideas for how we can make progress towards this shared commitment to creating a world in which every student receives the engaging, effective, and equitable education they need to reach their full and unique potential.

TLA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Operating Principles

DEI is a core value of TLA as an organization: “We actively advance a fair and inclusive future in which personal or social circumstances such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnic origin, economic circumstances, or family background are not determinants of educational or life outcomes.” The following principles and related commitments guide our team’s work and action in FY21 and beyond.

Principle 1: Strive for progress.

We won’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. We’re in it for the long game, actively identifying ways to make radical progress while also pursuing impactful, incremental change. We continuously reflect on our failures while also recognizing our ongoing growth. We commit to:

  • Take risks to advance equity, and transparently share tensions in decision-making as well as lessons learned. (Sometimes this will mean taking the risk of pausing and slowing down to reflect upon and address inequities in our strategies.)
  • Define measurable DEI project goals — for every project — upfront, and reflect on the impact of our work during strategic planning and stepbacks in order to become more ambitious over time.
  • Develop and invest time and energy into internal DEI capacity and culture by clarifying how each TLA team member will be both supported to reach and held accountable for organizational DEI progress.

Principle 2: Design for and with prioritized communities.

We center and co-design with the groups furthest from opportunity while also targeting system-level change and universal access. In working with communities that may be systemically underserved or discriminated against, we must approach this work from an asset-based perspective — we are not the heroes of this story. Rather, communities have resources, strengths, and goals that need to be understood and supported. We will:

  • Actively seek, listen to, and incorporate practitioner voices, input, and feedback, particularly from those who have been historically excluded. We are figuring out how to include more input, earlier in our work as well as at key decision points for projects.
  • Prioritize the needs and experiences of groups and communities based on historical disparities and oppression. To do this, we actually need to design products and programs in partnership with those who we seek to serve.
  • Make DEI explicit in all our work — including our products, initiatives, and partnerships — reflecting a multicultural and race-conscious approach. This means we need to define, articulate, and share our DEI commitments for each of our products and programs as transparently as possible to ensure that design and partnerships are aligned.

Principle 3: Work collectively towards systems change.

We pursue progress within our locus of control while also striving for collective action by strategically and consistently expanding both our networks and partnerships to advance equitable systems change. We will:

  • Analyze and leverage our individual and organizational power across relationships and systems. This will include interrogating and mitigating aspects of White Supremacy Culture across all facets of our work.
  • Target partnerships, based on type and purpose, to maximize equitable reach and outcomes, and push our partners to align with our DEI commitments. We need to actually map our sector stakeholders in order to prioritize equity in our efforts and impact.
  • Deepen and expand networks to learn and openly share DEI progress. In addition to continuing to expand our Remote DEI Collective, we are figuring out new ways to learn and share across organization and sector lines.

How We’ve Been Making Programmatic Progress in 2021

Beyond continuing to “practice” DEI in our everyday work together and with others in the field, our team is focused on building on our prior work with the following more concrete program priorities in FY21:

  • Build and integrate better tools for ongoing DEI reflection and improvement: We’re developing a set of internal TLA DEI tools to embed within all strategic planning and production processes, with a focus on impact (over intent).
  • Map our current and potential partnerships to execute DEI strategies that help us best learn from, design with, and support priority communities across activities, programs, and planning and execution stages.
  • Develop a strategy to cultivate and authentically engage a diverse network of practitioners that will continually inform our learning agenda and advance our work.
  • Publicly and openly share our commitments, thinking, and progress to create dialogue and accountability for this work.

On that last priority, consider this the first in a series of sharing ideas publicly for reflection and engagement. Over the next months, members of the team will be sharing more on what we’ve been learning. We hope you will join us. If you’re interested in providing feedback or ideas, please send them along to [email protected].

About the Author

Beth Rabbitt is CEO of The Learning Accelerator and a nationally recognized expert in education innovation and blended and personalized learning.