How Wellan Montessori School is Using FLAIR's Technology to Drive Racial Equity

How Wellan Montessori School is Using FLAIR's Technology to Drive Racial Equity

Beth Black, Head Teacher at Wellan Montessori School
Beth Black, Head Teacher at Wellan Montessori School

What made you decide to sign up Wellan Montessori to use FLAIR’s product?

We were eager to collect DEI data from and about our school community, but with a lean administrative team we were having trouble making time to plan how to proceed. What appealed to us about FLAIR was its turn-key approach. We were able to roll out the survey quickly and easily because the FLAIR team had done preliminary legwork. They provided explanatory videos and templates for email messages that helped us inform our community members about the purpose and process of the survey. Using FLAIR gave us the momentum we needed to get started.

How did you go about administering the questionnaire?

We followed the steps in the New Client Guide, but varied the launch with staff versus students. Employees were introduced to FLAIR on a Professional Development Day. We showed the company’s video and ensured everyone had answers to their questions (such as “what is the point of the survey, is it confidential, where can I learn more, how will results be used). All employees received a link to the survey via email. They could complete it that day or within the following week on their own time. We followed very similar steps when administering the survey to our students except that we shared the information with parents ahead of time and, after providing an orientation to students, had them all complete the survey at the same time during school hours.

You decided to go as low as the 4th grade when rolling out the questionnaire. What made you decide to do so and how did the youngest children find the questionnaire?

We are a Montessori school, so students in grades 4-6 learn together in mixed age Upper Elementary classrooms. Each classroom is its own community in which the students discuss big ideas as a group. Given that daily interactions are within these mixed age groups, it made sense to include everyone rather than just survey two-thirds of the students in each UE classroom. We chose to administer the survey annually in the spring because, by then, a majority of the 4th graders are turning ten. We were sensitive to the emotional needs of all of our students when launching the survey, discussing it within each classroom community, We also suggested that parents talk with students at home afterwards in case completing the survey brought up any big feelings or questions for the students.

Your school is a relatively small school, so the sample size for the results wasn’t big. How did that affect the quality and interpretability of the results?

We have fewer than 100 students in grades 4-8 and just under 100 employees, but we were not concerned about that. We believe each individual voice and each person’s experience matters, so we knew we would take the results seriously even if only one person completed it. Though our sample size is small, the results helped us to identify areas to work on and track progress year over year.

We understand why FLAIR focuses on kids ages 10 and up. However, as a school with a large number of students in PK-Grade 3, we would love it if FLAIR were able to come up with a survey for parents of younger students that would give us more data about our school community.

What do you plan on doing with the results as your next step?

FLAIR provides recommended action steps and we have generated some of our own based on the results. Some of these are focused on curricular outcomes and others are focused on school operations.

What would you say to other schools considering using FLAIR?

Look into it! Schools can spend a lot of money on DEI initiatives including professional development for employees and curriculum development for students without knowing whether any of it really “sticks” and has a positive impact on the community. Few school leadership teams have time to design, introduce, administer, and interpret a DEI survey effectively. FLAIR can give you a baseline to start from and their team makes the process easy.

You’re a Montessori School. Can you tell us a bit about how your school’s Montessori values align with equity work?

Dr. Maria Montessori’s theory of human development, upon which Montessori pedagogy rests, is based on the belief that every individual is inherently worthy of love and respect. From an early age, students are taught to demonstrate empathy, treat others with dignity, seek to resolve conflict, and advocate for what they believe. The Montessori curriculum includes many lessons that align with DEI including the study of history, geography, cultural norms, world religions, racial and gender identity, social justice movements, and community-building. The American Montessori Society has an Anti-Bias Anti-Racism Certificate program that several of our teachers have earned.

At Wellan, we commit to supporting and challenging one another in our efforts to:

• Embrace all types of diversity,

• Implement and abide by equitable policies,

• Foster feelings of belonging through inclusive practices,

• Engage in community action for social justice, and

• Stand together against bias and racism.

Creating a school environment in which all faculty, staff, students, and families can feel safe and comfortable being who they are requires that each of us be willing to be both vulnerable and courageous. Engaging in this important work together will help to ensure that today’s students are prepared not only to thrive in a more diverse world but also have the skills to effect positive change that will bring about a more equitable and inclusive society in the future.