More inclusivity and less in-group bias at school—Our latest and best thinking


We care deeply about creating an inclusive environment and addressing in-group bias at The Forest School.

Why? Because we want everyone who enters our doors to flourish. In fact, our mission is that each person will find their calling and change the world.

We're by no means perfect at this, but we strive to be excellent. We've shared a glimpse into our approach below, and we welcome hearing more from you on twitter if you have questions, concerns, or ideas for improvement.

Just this week, we led a Socratic discussion in the Elementary Studio and—based on our overarching question of "What is culture and how is it created?"—asked the following series of questions, "What is something that makes your family cry, laugh, or celebrate? What differences do you see among families? What similarities do you see? As we bring our similarities and differences together at The Forest School, what will make us cry together, laugh together, and celebrate together?"

The first learner to respond said, "It should feel like family."

We love that aspiration.

In terms of how we foster inclusivity and address bias, we make use of the following mindsets and strategies:

  • we make enthusiastic diversity a key design anchor for the school and look to apply that design principle to every single learning environment 

  • we use processes and create systems that honor people's individual differences (race, culture, gender, abilities, etc.) and do not privilege one group vs. the other 
  • we set a goal to have religious, racial, economic, age, gender, and school-background diversity for each studio, for our staff, our board, and our advisory board
  • we use "liberating structures" to make sure every voice is heard and honored when making decisions, especially the upcoming decision regarding the Studio Contract, which will be the group's decision about how best to operate and treat one another in the Studio
    we make the following a part of our mission—How might we bring together students, Guides, and families from across lines of difference and inspire them to love and support one another and to find their calling and change the world?
  • our library will include a diverse set of readings including literature from white american, african american, asian american, american indian, and mexican/latino american authors and content (these purchases are in the works)
  • during daily reading time with our elementary Guide, we read stories from different cultures
  • in addition to birthdays, we look to celebrate (in various ways) the customs of all our heroes in the Studios
  • since our school uses the Hero’s journey as an underlying metaphor, we identify and share (over the course of each session) a diverse set of heroes during our socratic discussions, launches, and readings
  • we invite a diverse set of experts into our Studios each session
  • soon we will empower heroes with a feedback protocol so they can feel more comfortable sharing and giving feedback with one another
  • we hold respecting and honoring one another in the highest regard
  • we have made "learn to live together" one of our four pillars for a portrait of a Forest School graduate
  • we celebrate (with "shout outs") when heroes reach out and exercise inclusivity when dealing with other heroes

Moving forward, our elementary Guides are launching an inclusive Quest next week where we'll be exploring culture a bit deeper.

Hopefully the above list at least paints a picture.

Just this week in our elementary Studio we noticed separate groups forming at lunch based largely on gender and race. Later in the week, dissatisfied, one of our elementary learners took it upon herself to bring everyone together by pushing tables together and inviting all to join her. And they did.

For us, what this elementary learner did this week is a "heroic act," worthy of celebration. 

Bottom line—our heart is for each hero to "bring their fullest selves" into the Studio and flourish. We know it takes hard work to create the kind of environment where that can happen. And, as evidenced by this week's heroic act, we think the heroes themselves will be the ones to lead us all to "learn to live together."

banner image via

Tyler Thigpen