A key part of inclusion in schools is “seeing” the whole student so that the whole student can thrive. To this end, Inclusion Factor’s own Kalyan Balaven offers a guide to understanding the hurdles that need to be overcome in order to create a culture that champions the whole student. In it he writes:
This succinct paper gets to the heart of what these three challenges are, examines the critiques citing classical theorists, educational pundits, and uses a key teacher journal to offer practical feedback in service to whole student education.
This translates as “Have a blessed Ramadan,” and in the vernacular it can be taken as “Happy Ramadan.” Take from this greeting the following three truths:
Ramadan is a happy occasion.
You do not have to be Muslim to say or receive this greeting.
We Muslims generally view it as a time of great blessings; the traditional response to Ramadan Mubarak is “Ramadan Kareem” or “Have a generous Ramadan.” The generosity of this month on both a physical and metaphysical sense is definitely part of the experience.
Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic Calendar. Muslims who are able to do so fast during this month from pre-dawn to sunset. Ramadan is on the lunar calendar and lasts for 30 days and shifts in relation to the Gregorian (solar) calendar by about 11 days a year. For example, when I was 18 years old and became a Muslim, it was in December (the fasting days in the Northern Hemisphere were shorter then), and this year it begins in April.
We fast from food and water and in/for the professional spaces we are a part of this cultural shift can create awkwardness, so to help professional communities navigate this month here are eight points of intercultural fluency around Ramadan to help create connection in this Holy Month.
Yes, you can acknowledge the Ramadan in the room. Ramadan Mubarak is the way to welcome it with your colleagues.
There is no need for shock and awe when you find out about the fast and how long it is. We are well aware of it, and if we choose to fast, we do so mindfully and have taken on the preparation to do so.
Ramadan is not a diet. I have heard the variation of “I can stand to lose a few lbs.,” over the years from well-meaning colleagues in response to the discovery that I fast during Ramadan and the reason this is an awkward comment is because it assumes that we fast for weight loss, and the reasoning for our fasting is much deeper and more spiritual; comments like this diminish our religious self-worth within our professional community.
Ramadan is not a game; there is no need for you to hide your food. Your fasting Muslim colleagues may still sit with you while you eat and participate in conversations. On the flip side, don’t insist that we have a drink or eat some food.
Muslims are not a monolith. We are varied by our cultures and religious interpretations, and there are nuances to how we may fast, when we start our fast, and when we end it. If you have a strong relationship of dialogue with your Muslim colleague, feel free to ask them how they participate in Ramadan—so you can understand. If they have not opened up to you about their faith or identity in this way, refrain from imposing Ramadan on them.
Muslims may not fast this month for a variety of reasons, all of which are personal. Many of the reasons can be medical and interrogating a colleague as to why can be violative of their privacy.
There is absolutely no need to feel sorry for us—and at the same time if possible, flexibility in the work schedule, with some deadlines, and the opportunities for breaks are welcome accommodations. If you are a supervisor, don’t assume we don’t want accommodations; have a conversation about what those might be with us, if at all.
A solidarity fast is something that is fine, if invited—the idea that a colleague can participate for a day or more can build community in the proper context but can also create disconnect if it’s approached as a tourist experience in someone else’s faith.
For me Ramadan is physically challenging, but metaphysically. I enjoy the fast and love the perspective I gain when I refrain from food and water throughout the day. I love the mindful control I develop over my body and the growth in my spirit in charity to end global thirst and hunger through the organizations I belong to. I also love the family time, and the multi-ethnic iftars we have—and even through a pandemic, I can appreciate how we still build community spirit over Zooms and socially distant potluck events. This is a month of warmth and gratitude where empathy and love reign supreme. Whether at home or at work, it is a month where generosity abounds, so I sign off with:
Kalyan Ali Balaven, JD.
K. A. Balaven is the Dunn School Head Elect and Founder of Inclusion Factor and the Inclusion Dashboard Consortium. He serves on the CAIS Board of Standards and ISEEN Board.
What does it mean to include the whole student? This is the question at the heart of this interview with Kalyan Balaven for the Inclusion Factor and Professor Heidi Mirza.
In this interview Dr. Mirza covers what it means for institutions to include the whole students. She gives an example of a school that seems to have done it and explains why, she explores the culture of brochurism in independent schools and universities and talks about what real representation looks like, and finally touches on the impact for diversity in faculty.
“Professor Heidi Mirza is an icon—for over 4 decades she has been a champion for inclusion on a global level as the pre-eminent scholar for Black Feminist Studies, Intersectionality, and the role of Education in relationship to Diversity and Inclusion in the world. I met Heidi in 2013, in Brighton, UK, after she had finished addressing our group of diverse global educators on what the real challenge of inclusion was, specifically speaking to the cost paid by the individual being included, when they became an exemplar or token for the institution, but could not thrive as a full community member due to the way they were being included. I was struck by the sophistication of her presentation, the nuance she provided, and the guidance she willingly shared. I approached the podium to share my gratitude and was surprised to find a kindred spirit, one who I still call my sister, and reveled in how many connections we had beyond the topic at hand—later I invited her to America, where she visited the school I was working at, and she single-handedly helped us move forward in leaps and bounds in our understanding of the complexity in the intersection of identity, within an eduscape, our responsibility as educator’s therein.”
Inclusion is not a special interest. Inclusion as a principle applies to all—and in a school it extends to all students, faculty/staff, and community members. True inclusion deals with identity but does so in a holistic and intersectional way. When inclusion intersects with whole student education a beautiful thing happens; students are empowered to contribute their voices and experiences, to go below the water line of their icebergs, and share from the well of their identity from faith to politics, to race, gender, and sexuality; such that they expose each other to the full spectrum of each, and how these identifiers nuance, problematize, and inform the others such that they make us who we are. When students are exposed to diversity in this manner and fully embraced for all that they are, this affords the entire community of students the opportunity to become culturally fluent across these identifiers, thereby serving their interests in matriculating as whole students prepared to build community in the worlds that they enter.
This is a sophisticated calculus and requires a school mission or vision wholly centered on the whole student with a program to build institutional capacity for inclusion. This is also increasingly hard in a polarized world, such that members in a community can react to a singular data point, a facet of a person’s identity, or even a false perception and build walls instead of engaging in discourse and understanding, i.e. building bridges. It is the role of community leadership in these moments to model dialogue, self-awareness, privilege recognition, and empathy in order to build towards cultural wisdom such that understanding displaces ignorance. We have more to learn from each other than from any particular discipline and schools that optimize their ability to include will provide students with the greatest skills in connecting with each other that are needed to help them achieve their full potential as responsible leaders in the world.
This can be particularly complex when trying to navigate the spectrum of political discourse prevalent today while also attempting to be inclusive of identities feeling challenged by particular political positions. When handled masterfully, faculty can bring a class forward in a sophisticated understanding on an issue, empower each student with their own unique perspective to be more eloquent in their own views, and help build a respectful community of dialogue. In order to get their classrooms to this level of mastery, teachers who feel as if they navigate emotional safety minefields in relationship to political perspectives should focus on the following 10 key strategies:
Have self-awareness around your own identity, beliefs, and values, and wear your educator hat first and foremost in the classroom so that you can be an objective facilitator of a conversation as opposed to a participant.
Create parameters classroom around hate speech, i.e. that which may be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic/Islamophobic, in order to create a safe space for discourse in the classroom.
Remind students that there is a line between political arguments that may be anti-immigration, anti-refugee, pro-gun, anti-same-sex rights, anti-abortion/pro-life, versus language that is ‘phobic, racist, and sexist. We should allow for the discourse of the former, but the latter is unacceptable and is a clear safety issue (emotional) for our students who would be impacted by such language.
Make sure all perspectives on issues are discussed and if there are blind spots or voids in the room due to a lack of perspective, as the educator, voice that perspective.
Rely on primary sources – with full context, seek to complexify issues as opposed to simplifying them, thereby allowing students to reflect on how they feel about what they are seeing/hearing/reading in relationship to who they are in the world they are in.
Check in with students who are in the minority in your classroom, to make sure that their emotional safety is being considered and that they have had an opportunity to have their perspective shared.
Check in with students who have been the most vocal and reflect with them on what they observed and how they felt their ideas were received.
Note that conversations that start in the classroom may not end there and may spill out into the school day or on social media, so checking in with students is important, especially since these other conversations may happen without the facilitation of a culturally competent instructor.
Do a private written check-in, to make sure students are processing their ideas respectfully outside of class as well.
Finally encourage discussion and respectful debate, reminding students of the importance of #2.
Let students become the facilitators of conversations as the year progresses, and model what it means to explore all perspectives on an issue so that they too understand what that looks like and can lead a conversation in this way.
When the whole student is in focus, then it is imperative that blind spots are named, and bias is called out. Whole student education ceases to serve the whole student if certain perspectives or views are disallowed—a true discourse of ideas needs multiple perspectives in order for the intellect to thrive, along with the heart, and the body. A successful student in an inclusive whole student model does not necessarily graduate in the mold of an institution or a teacher, but as a better version of themselves, with the skills needed to be true global leaders in a diverse and multifaceted world.
Kalyan Balaven is the founder of the Inclusion Dashboard Consortium and regularly contributes to the Inclusion Factor as a writer and member of our founding board. Formerly a Dean of Equity and Inclusion at The Athenian School, he has been named to be the incoming Head of School at the Dunn School in Los Olivos, California.
Maria Montessori and Kurt Hahn were right. Educators of a forgotten era, who live on as symbols; both railed against the idea of industrial education and posited the idea that the whole child or whole student needed to be developed as this was the highest purpose of education.
Many schools invoke their names, while others have adopted the language of the Whole Child or Whole Student, but only to keep up with the Jones’s, so that they appear to be holistic in their approach. Rarely, if ever do these schools center Whole Student as the core idea behind the purpose of their school. Even in the rare instances that schools engage in Whole Student education, they fail to realize how revolutionary this approach is in terms of inclusion. In a world peppered with schools trying to get students into the most competitive colleges–Whole Student education is seen as a dinosaur.
Whole Student is not limiting in terms of college options, but a school solely focused on college rarely takes care of the whole student. Maybe this is why schools are roiling from feedback that they truly are not places of inclusion. Sadly, the schools still doing Whole Student Education (and not just paying lip service to it) are part of a small cohort of schools seen as a dying breed, but these are the very schools championing a methodology for total inclusion, the very thing that the college preparatory bunch are now searching frantically for in the wake of critique of their exclusion.
Inclusion programs in most schools are often constructed as special interests that focus on one aspect of a person’s identity, or deal with it in pieces… serving BIPOC students, or the gender spectrum—but in these schools by only focusing on a facet/ facets of a student and not the student as a whole, the best efforts towards inclusion are basically Band-Aids for the exclusion felt towards one’s identity as opposed to a holistic approach of inclusion inherent to the core mission of the school that takes care of a student as a whole.
The key ingredient is the Whole Student Coefficient– in order to create Whole Student Inclusion.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is a professional basketball player. He played for the National Basketball Association (NBA) for nine years (Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, and Vancouver Grizzlies) and was a prominent part of several playoff runs when he played for the Denver Nuggets. He also played overseas and recently has been lighting it up in the BIG3 basketball league.
Mahmoud is much more than just a professional basketball player.
While Mahmoud was Steph Curry before Steph Curry was lighting it up beyond the arc, adding bling to his fingers, and giving swagger to the Bay. He was also Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick, but for him there weren’t any t-shirts, logos, or shoe deals coming out of his stand protesting the oppression of Black and Brown in this country by sitting for the anthem. Instead he was fined and struggled professionally as a result of using his platform to voice his political beliefs.
I sat down with Mahmoud to converse over Zoom on behalf of the Inclusion Factor, a repository of free resources available to schools to promote inclusion, and asked him the following three questions:
1. Right now, mainstream media is covering news about athletes protesting the extrajudicial killing of Black people, and have gone back to mention Colin Kaepernick, but have failed to note your notable protest or that of brother Craig Hodges—why do you think this is?
2. In independent schools, there is a growing Black@ movement, which revisits the experience of Black students never truly being included. This is interesting in that all these schools promote diversity. The NBA and other professional organizations champion diversity as well—do you think that they are truly inclusive as they need to be in consideration of the psychological impact of violence towards unarmed Black people, and the trauma triggered for Black athletes in relation to national events, and if not, how can they be?
3. What is your message for this generation of students who are processing the pandemic of disease, while also dealing with the long-lasting pandemic of hate?
Mahmoud spoke to these questions and gave powerful insights. Some nuggets were how we process international oppression and give voice to the plight of those being oppressed overseas. He brought up his interaction with members of the NBA leadership as they reached out during his protest and tried to invite empathy with him by sharing their own struggles and perspectives as members of the Jewish community, and how he respectfully differed as a Black man in America. And he also spoke to the idea of representative figures like Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama as not indicative of our society having arrived in terms gender or race and talked about how much work we must do. All of this should provide ample opportunities to discuss and build capacity for inclusion in educational institutions, and for students to find their own voice, like Mahmoud did, in terms of inclusion.