In my job as the director of community and inclusion at a secondary school in California, I’ve been excited to witness the success of an internal professional development model for staff and faculty: minicourses.
Our institution values a welcoming and inclusive environment, and to help us further advance and achieve our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mission, I brought together a team of faculty members and asked them to prepare three to five lesson plans for DEI minicourses grounded in their passions and taught with an overlay of antibias, antiracist pedagogy.
The objectives for implementing minicourses were multifaceted: to extend the reach of my work as director; provide relevant and unique professional development (PD); encourage faculty and staff to get to know people they might not otherwise interact with; establish cohorts for ongoing learning; and meet individuals where they were in their understandings of DEI issues.
The process, described below, is replicable across schools and topics, offering a fresh approach to professional learning led by adults in the school community.
Getting Started with Minicourses
To create and administer DEI minicourses, we invited faculty to design three to five lessons over the summer, in anticipation of faculty orientation. Facilitators used Liza A. Talusan’s book The Identity Conscious Educator—our summer reading selection of the year—as a lens for cultural competency.
Teachers created courses on varied topics; for example, “A Pop-History of Asian America” addressed Asian cultural visibility in American popular consciousness. Despite a rise in Asian representation across media in recent years, this course revealed a persistent cultural education gap and highlighted a need to better support Asian students when creating an inclusive community at school.
Another course, “Black Faces in Green Spaces,” explored environmental racism and access. The workshop focused on historical relationships between the Black community and national parks, examining erasure, underrepresentation, and trauma within the U.S. National Parks system.
“Self-Discovery and Healing Through Art” explored art as a reflection of society and culture. By creating art together, participants explored similarities and differences, discovering new ways of understanding. And “The Police and Pop Culture” examined a justification of police militarization in media, taking a deep dive into episodes from popular TV shows through a cultural lens.
Each designer aimed to create engaging and thought-provoking courses to spark important discussions and promote deeper understandings of equity, inclusion, and cultural humility while offering multiple entry points for engagement through varied subjects.
During orientation, facilitators introduced their minicourses (eight in all), and administrators, faculty, and staff signed up for those that most interested them. Initially, each facilitator planned to arrange meeting times according to cohort availability; however, participating teachers preferred to have minicourses during regular faculty meetings to ensure that the time commitment was integrated into their schedule, which our leadership permitted. Though participation in minicourses was not mandatory, nearly every community member enrolled, thanks to the embedded nature of this time commitment.
Upon completing our pilot year, we surveyed participants to assess the program’s impact. Results were overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting increased awareness, knowledge, and understanding of DEI topics. Many participants also reported feeling more connected to colleagues across departments and divisions, as the courses offered opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, validating the efficacy of professional learning guided by members of the school community.
Faculty members who participated in DEI minicourses applied their learning to practice: using new vocabulary to guide class discussions in Spanish, researching alternative historical narratives to share with students, offering moments for students to share personal stories of identity, and infusing into U.S. history lessons new information about the state of policing in America.
The courses also helped teachers approach students and colleagues more intentionally, considering how their identities affect their interactions—bringing into conversation topics like cultural capital, pop culture, and nonverbal communication in relationship-building.
Next Steps for Professional Learning
As our professional community plans for the next round of minicourses, we will continue to incorporate participant feedback to improve course offerings and explore other ways to expand DEI learning opportunities beyond this model. But we are heartened by our initial results and drawn to this framework as a way to ensure teachers’ consistent considerations of DEI, rather than offering standalone workshops that don’t usually facilitate the same level of learning and carryover into classrooms.
By providing opportunities for learning that are both engaging and relevant, we can encourage continuous growth and development in this relevant topic and continue to build a more welcoming and inclusive school environment. And by leveraging the expertise of our community members, we present opportunities for faculty to showcase their skills while promoting cultural competency.
I share this story for its replicability; our results demonstrate the power of in-house professional development and the accessibility of the minicourse model, offering a transferable framework for other districts looking to freshen and deepen their approach to DEI and other PD topics that might similarly fit into a minicourse model. By leveraging and expanding existing expertise, we can build community, collegiality, and cultural competency in tandem.