The Monthly Recharge - March 2018, Diversity over Ability

"We design experiences for the people who create the future of teaching and learning."


In our work, we build capacity, create conversations, and make connections.


Follow us on:  Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook

Plan your professional learning adventures with L+D in 2018. 

Leadership+Design Bootcamp
March 29-30, 2018
Minneapolis, MN

An opportunity to expand your human-centered design skills and mindsets and develop your leadership capacity through a real-world, community based design challenge.

Wonder Women!
June 25-28, 2018
Moses Brown School, RI

Uncover and develop your signature  leadership presence.

Santa Fe Seminar
November 4-7, 2018
Santa Fe, NM

Reflect. Renew. Reconnect.

L+D Board of Directors

Ryan Baum
VP of Strategy
Jump Associates, CA

Matt Glendinning  (Secretary)
Head of School
Moses Brown School,  RI

Trudy Hall (Board Chair)
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Forest Ridge School, WA
Brett Jacobsen (Vice Chair)
Head of School
Mount Vernon Presbyterian , GA
Barbara Kraus-Blackney (Treasurer)
Executive Director
Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS), PA 

Brenda Leaks
Head of School
Seattle Girls School, WA

Marc Levinson
Principal, Independent School Solutions, CO

Karan Merry
Retired Head of School
St. Paul's Episcopal School, CA

Natalie Nixon
Figure 8 Consulting, PA

Kaleb Rashad
High Tech High School, CA
Carla Robbins Silver (ex-officio)
Executive Director
Leadership+Design, CA

Matthew Stuart
Head of School
Caedmon School, NY

Brad Weaver
Head of School
Sonoma Country Day School, CA

L+D Fellows

Peter Boylan
Dean of Students
Turning Point School, CA

Tim Best
Science Teacher
Science Leadership Academy, PA

Michael Coppola
Academic Dean/Dean of Faculty
Chestnut Hill School, MA

Liam Gallagher
Director of Making and Doing
Upland Country Day School, PA

Jeremy Goldstein
Director of Washington Program
Episcopal High School, VA

Lisa Griffin
Humanities Teacher
High Tech High School. CA

Derek Krein
Director of Professional Growth
Tabor Academy, MA

Mike Molina
English Teacher
Gillman School, MD

Tom Taylor
Upper School Director
Breck School, MN

Kate Turnbull
Science Department Chair
Metairie Park Country Day School, LA

Chelle Warbrek
Lower School Head
Episcopal School of Dallas, TX

Emma Wellman
Director of Extended Day Programs
University of Chicago Lab Schools, IL

From Critical Mass to Critical Impact
Carla Silver, Head L+Doer

If  there is one message we hope you get from this month's Recharge it is this: in 2018 diversity is not just a "nice to have" quality for schools, but rather it is an essential condition for any school preparing students to thrive in a global economy and rapidly accelerating world.  The social, political, and environmental challenges of the future will require diverse teams of problem solvers who can leverage the skills, talents and perspectives within their groups in order to develop impactful solutions. While diversity is partly about who has a seat at the table, it is increasingly about how each individual at the table is valued, given an authentic voice and how their motivations, values and perspectives are incorporated into the conversation.  The diversity conversation is no longer about numbers or achieving critical mass - its about harnessing the diversity that already exists in your community and leveraging it.  And the ability to work collaborative with people of different backgrounds, cultures and values is increasingly essential, highly effective, and ultimately, more joyful.

In our year-long exploration of Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeffrey Howe, we have reached the seventh principle - Diversity Over Ability.  (Click here
to check out all our newsletters to read about the other six principles.)

The articles in this month's newsletter reflect on how this theme of diversity plays out in the author's schools and organizations and in their experiences leading diversity work. The authors share how, in their experiences, the richness of diversity enables breakthrough thinking and better ideas. I loved these articles so much and struggled with what I could contribute to the dialogue. So I am adding "three things" to the conversation which I hope will "Yes And" these authors who have teed up this topic so thoughtfully.  So here are three thoughts about to move your school community beyond conversations of critical mass and more towards conversations (and actions) around critical impact.

1) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.    Anyone who thinks group life of any kind is easy and should be free of conflict should look no further than their own family gatherings to know even homogenous groups are fraught with tension and discomfort.  Group life is "messy" as our collaborator Ryan Burke often reminds us. Add to the mix a diverse set of cultures - which might mean different core values and ethics. As caring communities, we too often look for ways to bring comfort and ease into conversations that are not simple or easy.  When you are dealing with divergent cultural values, motivations and perspectives, there is bound to be friction and tension, which may never be resolved but rather understood and respected. Sometimes the temptation is to resort to our own corners and our "affinity groups" because that is where we can feel safe and comfortable.  Adopting a posture of curiosity and wonder about our peers and colleagues is much more helpful in moving us closer to equitable communities where everyone feels like they have equal membership and authentic voice. It's okay to get messy and not get it right all the time. In our cultures of "being right" we miss out on how sometimes being wrong or always just being curious gets us further and makes us better.

2) Beware the diverse school with a monoculture.   We often share our diversity statistics on our websites in a well-intentioned effort to welcome and attract even more families of diverse backgrounds.  "We have 41% students of color." "Our families come from 12 different zip codes." "25% of our families receive financial aid." But sometimes that data only tells a very small part of the story. I routinely see schools that have achieved a very high level of racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity but still display a "monoculture" where it feels much more like the dominant culture has invited other cultures over as dinner guests.  There are insiders and outsiders and this can play out in very subtle ways and can be made even more invisible when minority cultures use code switching and covering in order to fit into that mainstream or dominant culture. Doing a holistic "culture audit" can be a place to start identifying ways to transform your school from a mono-cultural community to a truly multicultural community. What do you audit? Space (Are your classrooms and spaces reflective of one culture?  What hangs on the walls in public spaces?) Time (How do you use time in your school to consider students and faculty who come from far away? Is there regular time in your daily or weekly schedule dedicated to conversations about race, identity, sexuality?) Curriculum and Pedagogy (How are many cultures represented in the curriculum? Whose stories are being told? Who are the heroes that students are learning about? Are they represented in these stories?) Community events (Who comes to events?  What time are these events being held? What's the theme of the event? How much does it cost to attend?) It's no fun to be a "partial" member of a community or to have to cover in order to pass for the mainstream culture. It's so much better for everyone and so much richer when everyone brings their "uncovered" selves to the dinner party that is more of a potluck than a hosted event.

3) Strive for "pluralism" not "diversity."   My colleague, friend and collaborator Christian Talbot, the founder of Basecamp (and definitely sign up for his newsletter), believes we may be striving for the wrong goal in our communities when we use the word "diversity."  Instead, he suggests that striving for pluralism in our communities will ultimate result in greater equity and a collective culture rather than a monoculture. E Pluribus Unum literally translates to "out of many, one" and offers a more integrative approach to building a unified community from many different cultures.    There are schools that are grounded in pluralism like Pluralistic School One (PS1) in Los Angeles and this philosophy is deeply ingrained in the design of every aspect of the school.  But for the rest of us who have been using the term diversity and have actually made some progress on the numbers, shifting the narrative from diverse to pluralistic, might be a more accurate representation for what we are really trying to accomplish as a community.  

Once again, if one of the primary goals of school is to prepare our students to be contributing members of society, then we need to be providing opportunities for students to be part of hard conversations, to get curious about cultures other than their own, and to work collaboratively with people who have different stories, values, and perspectives than they do. If we want our democracy to survive, we need future leaders and citizens who value pluralism - a founding principal of this country.  While diversity is a lovely thing to have in a community, it's what you do with it that actually matters. 


Carla Silver
Executive Director

PS - Despite rain and snow around the country, we have actually reached spring which means summer is around the corner! We're offering Wonder Women!, a chance for women leaders to actively discover and experiment with their own signature leadership presence.  And registration is open for the November 2018 Santa Fe Seminar, which provides an introspective and supportive space for school leaders to examine their own practice and plot a course for experimentation in their lives and careers.

Secret Sauce 
Ryan Burke, Upper School Head, Allendale Columbia School, L+D Co-Founder
Whether by watching too many cooking channel challenges or just sheer obsession with great food, I can't help but think about this month's topic using a cooking metaphor.  At L+D, we often get asked, "What makes your organization different? So, here it is...the recipe for one of our secret sauces, however, unlike most grandma-guarded secrets, this one needs to be shared.   

As many of you know, at L+D, we have taken this year to focus on the book, Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe.  Each month, we focus on a different chapter, and we make connections to our work in schools.  This month, I want to build on what Ito and Howe discuss in their chapter outlining how diversity often outshines ability.  If you have read the book, they do a nice job of showing how the field of crowdsourcing has changed the way certain complex problems are solved, and they show evidence that certain problems are better tackled by the crowd instead of the trained professionals with fancy letters after their names.  For example, they tell the story of  InnoCentive , a company that outsources their problems to the internet, and allows the power of crowdsourcing and the growing movement of citizen science to go to work. Their findings show that about 85% of their problems get solved, impressive given the complexity of the problems. But further, of those solutions, about 40% of them come from untrained individuals who would never be invited to the problem-solving-table if not for companies like this that are embracing this concept.   

More relatable for those of us who are food people, we all know the difference between five stars on Yelp with 2 reviews and 5 stars on Yelp with 2000 reviews. Much like IBM's Watson, the simple power of adding to the diversity and computing/people power via the internet leads to all sorts of problems that can be solved better and more quickly.  This is exciting in and of itself and has huge implications for schools. The ivory tower era is dead, and it is time that we open up our school problems to more people from different backgrounds.  I am not trying to take away from the gravity of this finding, but I see one glaring issue that L+D spends a good portion of its time addressing, and this issue happens to be present in every school we have worked in partnership with.    

That issue is that Ito and Howe's concept of crowdsourcing is built on the foundation that these citizen scientists or genius plumbers working out of their basement labs on behalf of mankind never have to meet each other and collaborate.  As long as they can help solve the problem without having any human interaction beyond posting their solutions to an online board, this model works. If they did meet, I often think a little bit about how that meeting might go. My guess is that they would struggle in the same way that you see your students, faculty, staff or board struggle when they bump into people that think differently than them.  This asynchronous collaboration has a place in our schools, and I hope we consider how we can leverage it more. But what about those of us collaborating with a growingly diverse group of thinkers in schools together, in person?

Click here to learn what is in the secret sauce and what you can do immediately to get cooking.     

What is in Your Tool Box?
Jennifer Finch, Ph.D., Team Finch Consultants
These days it is difficult to find an independent or innovative school that doesn't tout the inherent value of Diversity (capital D). Diversity is central to our mission. We celebrate diversity of all kinds. Yet when Ito and Howe recommend Diversity Over Ability in Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future, it's likely that many of their readers aren't sure (a) what exactly "diversity" means, OR (b) whether diversity is truly the be-all-and-end-all of successful outcomes 12 .

Diversity is a modern day Rorschach. The inkblot looks like gender to me, race to you, socio-economic status to your colleague and sexual orientation to your department chair. We think of diversity in terms of various identities. However, when Ito and Howe recommend diversity over ability, "the claim is not that identity differences produce benefits directly but rather that they do so through the diverse cognitive tools that the various identities foster." The idea is that your life experience--- which is profoundly impacted by your identities--- contributes to how you see and interpret the world. Experience determines what ends up in each person's toolbox of capacities.

More tools, different tools, better toolbox, right? That depends.

Thirty years ago one of my professors in graduate school invited me to join him on a consulting job. The client, a huge global advertising company, wanted help training middle managers to lead their teams more effectively. There were 60 participants from around the world, representing multiple nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, languages, races, genders and ages. We randomly assigned people to small groups,  gave them a 20 question multiple choice quiz on principles of leadership, and videotaped them working on their task.

When the groups convened, participants quickly recognized the quiz as one they had completed individually the night before and had handed in at the beginning of the day's session. The familiarity of the task elicited laughter and an easing of anxiety. Several groups finished the task in just 10 minutes, though others complained that 30 minutes allotted was not enough time. Regardless of how quickly or slowly they worked, most groups were dominated by 2 or 3 participants (typically white, American or European, English-speaking men) while other members were ignored or remained silent.

Click here to read what managers learned from this experience.

Brighter, Smarter, Better
Mark Silver, Head of School, Hillbrook School
Recently, I facilitated a focus group exploring the creation of a bus program to serve our local public schools. The town, in collaboration with the school district, is looking to pilot a program that would help mitigate traffic around the schools. While the primary program under consideration is a traditional school bus model, the town staff also was seeking feedback on programs that might utilize existing public transportation.

"What would people think about that?" I asked. "You mean students would ride with the general public?" someone asked for clarification. "Yes, the system would be open to anyone who was willing to pay the fare." "Seriously?" one person scoffed. "Come on. No one would be willing to let their child ride a bus that included the general public." Other focus group participants nodded their heads in agreement. "Would anyone be willing to let their child ride on public transportation?" No one raised their hand.

While not necessarily shocked by the response, I was struck by how different the responses might have been if we had been in a different setting. I suspect that if we had been in a major urban center with active public transportation networks - New York City, San Francisco, Boston - parents might have offered a much more measured response. Certainly parents might have been wary of young children riding a public bus, but middle school aged students and high school students? I'm suspect that many, if not most, parents would have expressed no concerns.

As schools, we continually espouse the importance of diversity and inclusivity. Historically, the argument has often centered on the importance of addressing social inequality and providing access to historically underrepresented groups. In more recent years, we have also come to understand that there is an academic argument for how creating a diverse environment benefits all students. Indeed, a growing body of research has emerged in the past few years arguing that diversity makes us smarter. An article by Katherine Phillips in Scientific American in September 2014, " How Diversity Makes Us Smarter," for example, described a series of studies that show that individuals respond differently to ideas when they come from diverse individuals. In one study, for example, university students were asked to discuss a social issue for 15 minutes. Researchers then wrote a dissenting opinion and had it delivered by a white or black member of the group. Phillips writes, "When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us." Viewed collectively, the studies in Phillips article make a compelling case that "we need diversity -in teams, organizations and society as a whole-if we are to change, grow and innovate."

Click here to continue reading about why this all should matter to you as a school leader.


PO Box 33153
Los Gatos, CA 95031 



Follow us on:  Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook