Equitable leadership in education
The leaders of our education system strive to cultivate excellence from the students they serve, but they are fundamentally not representative of them. For example, within Ontario, “26% of students are racialized, whereas only 13% of educators are racialized.” Diversifying our leadership in all facets of education is necessary to ensure the equitable success of all students within Ontario. We cannot enact this change by appealing to tokenistic virtues. Instead, it must be implemented with the ultimate vision of creating a dynamic system where all voices that were previously left to the outskirts are not only incorporated in decision making, but are leading it.
Diversity is also the means by which we bring about systematic enhancements. A study published by Forbes Magazine demonstrates that “businesses with more inclusive teams make better decisions 87% of the time,” and the Ontario education sector is no different. The presence of differing backgrounds, experiences, and lived realities at the apex of Ontario’s education system makes for healthy dialogue and gives cognitive visibility to those who have previously not been at the forefront of decision-making. Inclusive decision-making depends on the representation of minorities, people of colour, women, and all people at every level of governance. This representation ensures that when budgets are allocated and policies are created, they are executed by teams who understand the nuanced realities they have jurisdiction over. The basis of inclusive education for Ontario’s 2 million students is predicated on its leaders representing their students’ varying needs, desires, and aspirations.
Within the classroom, the positive effects of having diverse staff are apparent, especially for minority students. It is noted that “having a black teacher especially between grades three to five increases the likelihood of pursuing post-secondary education by 29% for black students.” The effects of seeing one represented as an authority figure reinforces the reality that racialized students can thrive. This is essential in combating the achievement gap between racialized and non-racialized students in areas like applied course streaming, and heightened suspension and expulsion rates. These systemic issues can in part be traced to Ontario’s lesser-known past of administering pockets of segregated schools for black students, the last of which closed in 1965. Having racialized teachers and staff at all levels of education helps curb the historic traumas and discrimination African-Canadian students have faced.
Ultimately, the role of diversifying staff is to enshrine uniqueness and diversity into the everyday realities for students and for decision makers, so equity is not an afterthought, but rather the fundamental system of governance in our province.
Sally Meseret is a student trustee from the Durham District School Board, and Member of the OSTA-AECO advocacy working group. She founded a girl’s empowerment group and strives to make equality for all a reality.
Historica Canada. n.d. “End of Segregation in Canada.” Black History Canada. Accessed February 26, 2019.
Johns Hopkins University. 2017. “With Just One Black Teacher, Black Students More Likely to Graduate.” Johns Hopkins University. April 5. Accessed February 25, 2019. https://releases.jhu.edu/2017/04/05/with-just-one-black-teacher-black- students-more-likely-to-graduate/
Larson, Erik. 2017. “New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making At Work.” Forbes. September 21. Accessed February 26, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriklarson/2017/09/21/new-research-diversity-inclusion-better- decision-making-at-work/#50f4a01b4cbf
The Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators. 2015. Voices of Ontario Black Educators: An Experiential. Experiential Report, Toronto: Turner Consulting Group. http://onabse.org/ONABSE_VOICES_OF_BLACK_EDUCATORS_Final_Report.pdf