More inclusive debates require debate facilitators, particularly those in positions with more power, to be aware of their own blind spots and biases.

  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. Stay in the room when discomfort hits.
  • Steep self in training in cultural competency, diversity, privilege and social-justice training.
  • Learn the history of inequities in your community and organization, as well as the history of your expertise in education in terms of marginalized communities (e.g., the history of busing nationally and in your specific community, the history of standardized testing).
  • Engage, personally and professionally, in the community. Surround yourself with diversity in private life. Attend events that are not White dominated. Relocate personal/social routines. Attend a different church and/or patronize businesses with owners of color.
  • Become aware of your own knee-jerk biases. Try not to assume ulterior motives and take people at their words.
  • Make oneself vulnerable. This holds especially for the official leading the dialogue. This self-vulnerability can create space for a deeper dialogue about structural racism, but it must be paired with a sensitivity to language as the conversation unfolds and misunderstandings inevitably transpire.

Practices: Facilitating Conversations and Building Trust

Improving dialogues about race such as racial achievement disparities center around making connections and building trust in all the constituent communities. Approach facilitating conversation about disparities holistically.

  • Appreciate the messiness of what true inclusion will mean in public community dialogues and plan for disagreement and even vitriol.
  • Rethink locations of both formal and informal meetings/hearings.
    • Host public meetings outside of government buildings that might be difficult to access or intimidating.
    • Partner with community centers to have listening sessions on important issues.
    • Use Periscope or Facebook video to live stream and archive videos of meetings/hearings.
    • Hold “office hours” in community spaces, such as a local hangout in a marginalized neighborhood. Encourage specific community members to join you and advertise your presence on various Facebook pages or via Twitter hashtags. Drop the mindset that people know how to reach you.
    • Hold regular conversations about race in atypical formats such as monthly community book clubs.
    • Organize community tours, where representatives of the neighborhoods can introduce you to people and help you build relationships organically.
  • Think about barriers to participation and ways to encourage more participation. Be mindful of and challenge identity constructions that inhibit participation:
    • With constituents, engage in casual conversations that help you understand their perspective. Invite them, one-on-one, to participate in other school events.
    • Provide child care, translators, and transportation.
    • Involve people of color throughout the dialogic process. School districts might consider hiring people from the neighborhoods they want to reach to help recruit for attendance to important hearings.
    • Leave time for informal dialogue. Remember that some find the hearing and/or interview format intimidating.
    • Encourage alternative input from community members such as short videos or Snapchats.
    • Review how you ask questions. Questions might get at underlying values and structures that might be causing people to think one way but answer another.
  • Address participants by their name, treat them as citizens and not as problems.
  • Consider people such as activists of color as bridges to other communities; use them as informants into communities of color. Develop partnerships and collaborations with community members, ethnic media, churches, etc.
  • Connect with new networks via online platforms: Have neighborhood or other niche Facebook pages dedicated to parts of the discussion. “Friend” community leaders. Participate in discussions in social media pages and hashtags.
  • Follow through. Send links to meeting decisions. Thank them for participation. If you know they will be unhappy with the decision, take time to explain why and acknowledge how their input helped.

Practices: Crafting Communications

The ways we choose to name problems or solutions frame how others think about the causes of those problems and can sometimes close off discussion and limit deliberation. Official language can marginalize some people. The goal in these practices is to actively create a communication environment in which every constituent feels empowered and included through the information the school is providing.

  • Communicate all incidents regarding race, no matter how small, and then follow-up on what the school is doing to resolve it to the entire student community.
  • Tell stories about what is happening in the school district instead of reverting to “data dumps.” Academic language won’t connect with all citizens. Relay to administrators, especially people like community liaisons, social workers, teachers and mediators to use lay-person language.
  • Challenge semantics.
    • Complicate easy categories such as “achievement gaps.” Be open to “opportunity gaps” or “disparities” or “education debt” or just have a conversation about their kids.
    • Note how words such as “minority” or even “diversity” serve to make some groups of people seem like an “other.”
    • Avoid phrases such as “the black community,” which assume one opinion from a very diverse set of people.
  • Put reports/documents/memos online with annotations from experts, translations (such as into Spanish), and commentary options. Send links to highly networked citizens of color asking directly for their perspective. Ask for communities to help in gathering stories about an issue, building a dataset, or parsing documents.
  • Note which students/programs/schools/groups you showcase as success stories. Make sure students of color are included in end-of-year slide shows, for example, and welcome orientation videos, etc.



Built-in inequalities make it difficult to see problems. Accounting for and making changes to the way institutions are structured can provide more perspectives.

  • Ask outside consultants and community leaders to review the work of the district. Send out surveys, such as to all the parents of students on IEPs, to gain feedback about specific programs.
  • Be aware of the ways in which your administrative routines inadvertently leave community members out.
  • Hire more people of color into your organization in various capacities. Consider internship programs training young persons to consider careers in education administration.
  • Use newspaper articles, proposals, events or reports about disparities as an opportunity to look at patterns, structure and systemic disadvantages. Ask deeper questions that go beyond the report.
  • Account for power differences among your various communities. Think about who is speaking, who is being heard, and why. For example, ask whether habits and/or spaces of listening, such as forums’ formats, locations, and language (as discussed above), are privileging some voices over others.
  • Don’t rely simply on the press and media to tell you about the community. People of color distrust media at high levels and, as our research showed, often are not comfortable speaking with reporters.
  • Provide social justice/privilege/cultural relevancy training for everyone in the schools, including administrators and teachers. Designate spots on the board or other advisory roles that must be filled with people of color.