RPIC ICS Implementation Digital Module 3: Engage in Identity Development
© 2015 to 2023. Elise M. Frattura and Colleen A. Capper. School Modules for ICS Equity. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce, modify, or distribute this work without written consent from the authors. Please email [email protected] to obtain such permission.
1. Current Practices Based on Common Assumptions
Many districts wish to begin their equity journey by jumping into identity development work. Though well intentioned, these same district staff then experience difficulty when trying to apply or translate their identity development efforts into actual changes in school structures and classroom practice. Ironically, we can become comfortable identifying our stereotypes, biases, and assumptions about individuals different from ourselves, yet continue to educate students in ways that perpetuate inequities.
We advise that teams complete the Digital Modules sequentially. Thus, School and District Leadership teams should begin the identity development work in this Digital Module only after they have completed all of Digital Module 1 and Digital Module 2 as this module builds on the previous Digital. Modules. By the time teams are ready to work on Digital Module 3 and their identity development, they will have already engaged in several months of conversation and facilitation of Digital Modules 1 and 2 with staff. All the activities and content of Digital Module 1 and Digital Module 2 best prepare staff to be ready to engage in the identity development work of Digital Module 3.
In this Digital Module, we address the following:
1. What is identity development?
2. Why is it important?
3. What are ways to development it?
4. How long does it take to develop my identity?
5. What are some cautions with identity development work?
6. What are some basic concepts related to identity development?
7. Self-Reflection on Where We Are
Though we have developed Digital Module 3 focused on identity development, importantly we also thread identity development through all the ICS Equity Digital Modules/Steps. In Digital Module 1/Step 1, we learned about the history of public school marginalization which included some history of education students of color, students who are multilingual, Indigenous students, and students labeled with disabilities.
In Digital Module 2, Shifting from Deficit to Assets-Based Thinking, Language, we practiced this shift with students and families who identify as experiencing poverty. Reading and completing the activities in Digital Module 2 may have shifted forward our identity development related to poverty.
In Digital Module 4, Apply the Equity Research, we will listen to Norm Kunc discuss the right to be disabled. Hearing Kunc and learning about the related research may advance our identity development around disability.
In Cornerstone 3 – Transform Teaching and Learning, we will learn in Digital Module 9 about Identity Relevant Teaching and Learning and learn the importance of advancing our own identity development as a prerequisite for developing identity relevant lesson plans.
What is Identity Development and Why Is It Important?
Who we are as a person, the aspects of ourselves that are most meaningful and important to us refer to our identity. We all have identities related to our sex, race, social class, language, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, ability, and their intersections. We may also relate to identities such as roles (e.g., mother, husband, wife, partner), geographic location (e.g., southerner), interests (e.g., Packer fan, athlete, cook), among others (e.g., university alumni, parent of a child with a disability, cancer survivor). The importance of these identities can shift and change over the course of our lives.
Who we are as a person has an impact on our immediate spheres of influence such as a classroom, school, or district office; which then, in turn, has an impact at the district level, and then an impact at the community level (see Figure 1 below). For example, we can only advance racial equity in our classroom, school, or district to the extent that we have advanced our own racial identity development. We cannot lead our school/district toward racial equity beyond where we are personally with our own racial identity development.
Figure 1: Identity Development Toward Systems Change
Activity #1: Understanding Our Own Identity: Identity Circles (Be sure Community Agreements have been established for the group prior to this activity, including confidentiality).
On tablet size paper, draw 3 circles within each other. In the inner circle write the identities that you relate to most significantly at this point of time in your life —identities that you think have the most impact on your life. In the second circle write the identities that are important to you at this point of time in your life but not as important as the inner circle. In the outer circle, write the identities that are important to you at this point of time in your life, but not as important as the second circle (allow 5-7 minutes for this activity).
After this activity, you will share what you feel comfortable sharing with your elbow partner, all in confidentiality (allow 4 minutes each for this activity).
We list examples of what you could include in the circles below, though there are many other possibilities:
- Race, sex, ethnicity, social class, gender, language, ability, sexual identity, ethnicity, religion, and their intersections.
- Role (personal or professional): Mother, father, husband, wife, partner, sister, educator, principal, leader, etc.
- Interests: Runner, Packer fan, cook, writing music, etc.
- Geography: Southerner, Wisconsinite, rural childhood, etc.
- Life circumstances: cancer survivor, parent of a child with a disability, etc.
Large group share out: What did you notice about your identity circles or the identity circle of your partner?
Activity #2: Understanding Our Own Identity: What’s in a Name? (adapted from Shannon Chávez-Korell, formerly of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
In a small group of 5-7 individuals, complete the following activity, each person takes 3 minutes with a timer.
- Introductions: Share your full name with a small group.
- What is the origin of your name?
- What does your name mean to you personally, professionally, and with your friendship and family network? (first name, surname, entire name)
- How does your name relate to your cultural heritage? (first name, surname, entire name).
Whole Group: How did it feel to share? How did it feel to hear from others?
Our own identities and the identities of others that are critical to advancing equity related to race, sex, ethnicity, class, ability, gender identity, language, sexual identity, religion, and their intersections. Identity development along these dimensions typically accelerates at adolescence, but in fact begins at an early age and continues throughout our entire lives. That is, our understanding of ourselves and others begins at an early age and then evolves over time influenced by biology, family, and social and historical context (Chávez-Korell, 2016). In Activity #3 that follows, we can see how children’s understanding of race begins at a young age.
Activity #3: Understanding Identity Development: The Doll Studies
- Watch this short video on children’s understanding of race.
- Journal in your equity journal your thoughts or emotional impact of this video. (3-4 minutes)
- Share what you wish with your elbow partner about your thoughts or emotional impact of this video. (3 minutes each)
- Large group shares out: What struck you most about this video?
For many of us, we have had held an understanding about race as a child and over the years have learned more about our own race and what that means in our lives and therefore our understanding of the racial experiences of others of different races has evolved from what we understood earlier in our lives. This is what we mean by identity development – that our understanding of our own identities and the identities of others evolves over time.
How Can I Deepen My Identity Development?
According to Chávez-Korell and the research, we deepen our identity development by what Chávez-Korell terms “encounters” – that is experiences that jolt us or impact us in a way that we understand ourselves and individuals different from ourselves in new ways.
Though our understanding of identities may develop over time, we can further this development intentionally – that is, more purposively create “encounters” for ourselves in many ways. For example, we can further develop our understanding of our own and others’ identities with relationships with others different from ourselves or from books, movies, or workshops that focus on a particular identity. Reading this Digital Module and completing the activities with your School Leadership Team and with your staff are also ways to further develop our identity across differences.
Throughout these Digital Modules, we address the critical importance of our racial identity development and we also address deepening our identity development related to gender identity, sex, social class, language, sexual identity, ability, religion, ethnicity, and their intersections. When we understand and continue to develop our own identity across differences, we can then also better understand the identity development of others.
At the end of this Digital Module, we have attached the ICS Equity Identity Development Resource Guide that includes names of books, movies, and video clips that are pertinent to each of the identities and intersections that we have listed in this Digital Module. You, your School Leadership Team, or your staff may wish to select a book or movie to view as a way to continue your work on your identity development.
We strongly suggest that before you ask your staff to read a book or watch a movie, that your School Leadership Team has read the book or watched the movie and discussed it first, so that the SLT may anticipate responses and help facilitate the discussion.
How long does it take to develop my identity?
Just as we are continuing to evolve as human beings across our life, advancing our identity development across identities and their intersections requires a lifetime commitment and effort. There is not a magical arrival or end point to identity development. As we commit to and work on our identity development, the more we learn about ourselves and others, the more we realize there is always more to learn about ourselves and others.
This lifetime effort remains an especially important reminder to individuals who have already been engaged in identity development for a while. It is easy for those of us who have been working on our identity development to be critical or judging of others who have yet to begin the work or who are at the beginning of the work. In contrast, the more identity development we have engaged in, the more humble we should become, as that work reveals to us all what we have yet to learn.
Relatedly, the work of this Digital Module with staff may take several sessions to complete. Therefore, we include at the end of this Digital Module many suggestions on how to carry forward the identity development work across the Digital Modules and continual learning for all time going forward.
What are some cautions with identity development work?
We identify several cautions as we move forward with identity development. First, just because we may be acquainted with someone different from us related to the identities we have listed previously in this Digital Module, does not mean we “get it” about that person’s particular identity.
Second, it is not up to people different from us to educate us about their particular identities and intersections. We need to take on that responsibility ourselves.
Third, just because we have engaged in deep identity development work around a particular identity (e.g., race), does not mean that work has deepened our understanding about other identities (e.g., disability).
Fourth, we must link identity development efforts at the individual level to changes in the systems and structures in our schools. The ICS Equity Framework and Process has been designed to accomplish that. Otherwise, we could engage in deep learning about our biases, stereotypes, assumptions about a particular identity, and at the same time, perpetuate systems and structures in our schools that marginalize that same identity. In so doing, identity development itself can become a barrier to equity.
Understanding our Own and Other’s Identities: Activity #4: The Example of Racial Identity Development – A Race Different From Your Own (see the Sample Identity Development Models attached to this Digital Module)
Consider the example of racial identity development. At the end of the Digital Module, we have attached Sample Racial Identity Development Models that include examples of racial identity development models for a range of races and for individuals who are multi-racial. Undoubtedly, these models are limited in that they do not portray all racial possibilities. You can engage in these steps with the models.
- Read through all the models to develop an understanding of racial identity development across races.
- Select a racial identity model that is different from your own race. Read through the model.
- Find a partner and share what you learned by reading the racial identity development model that is different from your own race.
Understanding our Own and Other’s Identities: Activity #5: The Example of Racial Identity Development – Your Own Race (see the Sample Identity Development Models attached to this Digital Module)
- Select which model most closely corresponds to your own racial identity.
- Read again the racial identity development model you selected and decide the current status of your own racial identity development based on that model.
- Reflect on your own racial life experiences that influenced the current status of your racial identity development.
- Find a partner to share responses to steps 1 – 3 above.
- Discuss the usefulness and limitations of your chosen model.
In this example, we engaged in examining our own racial identity development. Where we are in our own racial identity development will determine how we engage with race as leaders in our schools, with our staff, community, and students and will influence how our school/district evolves in its own racial identity development as an organization.
What are some basic concepts related to identity development?
This Digital Module represents a basic introduction to identity development with the expectation, that after completion of this Digital Module, the SLT and DLT will plan how they will support themselves and their staff’s continual identity development through the rest of the ICS Equity Implementation Process and beyond. We make suggestions at the end of this Digital Module for how to do so.
One basic concept related to identity development and the ICS Equity Framework and Process addresses three levels of oppression or marginalization (see Figure 2 below).
Figure 2: Levels of Marginalization and Oppression
The Individual Level of oppression or marginalization refers to individual acts that are conscious or unconscious that may harm another person. This can include offensive jokes, comments, put-downs, etc. about someone different from us. Microaggressions can include individual acts or comments that may be unconscious or conscious that reflect deficit-based thinking or view of a person different from us.
Most identity development work stops at the individual level.
The Institutional Level of oppression or marginalization are aspects of our system that harm individuals within our systems or structures. Examples can come from our equity audit data (see Digital Module 6). For example, when students of color or students who are multilingual are under-represented in Advanced Placement or Honors courses, these are examples of institutional racism. Additional examples of institutional racism include students of color being over-identified for special education, under-represented in co-curriculars, over-identified for interventions, or over-identified in behavior data.
In this way, then as discussed in Digital Module 1/Step 1, as individuals, though we may not overtly harm a person different from us by our words or actions at the individual level, we have nevertheless become complicit in institutional oppression and marginalization. As bell hooks reminds us, we have become complicit in a system we would not have created ourselves.
The Societal Level of oppression or marginalization are aspects of society that we deem as good or true without realizing that what we believe to be good or true is based on the normative of white, middle/upper class, English speaking, heterosexual, cisgender, male, etc. norms. For example, as we learned in Digital Module 2/Step 2, we learned that we value “parental involvement.” When we ask educators how they define parental involvement, they provide examples such as:
– Volunteer in the classroom
– Attend PTO meetings
– Sign forms
– Attend parent conferences at school
– Bake peanut free, gluten free cupcakes for classroom birthdays
Yet, when we define parent involvement in this way, this definition applies mostly to how white, middle/upper class families (usually mothers) are involved at the school. Yet, as we saw in the video in Digital Module 2/Step 2 of the family of color experiencing poverty, though the mother may not be involved in school in the list we made above, she was very much involved in her children’s education in different ways.
Thus, when we say we want “parental involvement” at our schools, what we really mean is that we want what we typically define as white parent involvement. Though we don’t say that. Thus, we use a term like “parent involvement” and apply it universally across all families and in doing that, we view some families (usually white) as more involved than other families (usually families of color), thereby reinforcing a deficit view of families not white or middle/upper class.
This is an example of societal oppression.
Importantly, the ICS Equity Framework and Process addresses all three levels of oppression/marginalization (see Figure 3 below). That is, we address the individual level of oppression/marginalization via Cornerstone 1 – Focus on Equity and all the Digital Modules/Steps within it, Cornerstone 2 (Align Students and Staff), Cornerstone 3 (Transform Teaching and Learning), and Cornerstone 4 (Leverage Policy and Funding), as each Cornerstone addresses institutional oppression and marginalization.
And all Four Cornerstones are implemented in a context of engaging and developing the community and in so doing impact the community and societal level.
Figure 3: How the ICS Equity Framework and Process Addresses Levels of Marginalization
Self-Reflection on Our Identity Development
Activity #6: The ICS Equity Identity Development Inventory
To further illustrate the relationship between identity development at the individual level and its relationship to the identity development of the school/district as an organization, see attached at the end of this Digital Module, the ICS Equity Identity Development Inventory. The Inventory first asks you to assess your own individual identity development across different identities. Next, you assess your identity development and how your development is expressed in your immediate sphere of influence, such as the classroom. Then, you consider the identity development at the school level or district level.
When facilitating the ICS Equity Identity Development Inventory, we suggest the following:
1. Wait to share out the Inventory or download the Inventory until you are ready for participants to complete it. Do not share it out or download it ahead of time.
2. First, read aloud the each of the six aspects of the rating scale with participants following along (this is included in Digital Module 3 powerpoint attached at the end of this Digital Module).
Review aloud the steps of the activity that follow:
3. Allow for about 10 minutes of silence for individuals to complete the Inventory. Before starting the time, point out the last two questions in the Inventory that ask the areas that the individual has engaged in identity development, and the second question asks in what areas does the individual know they need more work to do. Ask for silence during this time with no side conversations.
4. At the end of the time, ask individuals to partner with someone of a perceived different gender or race if possible, and then share whatever each feels comfortable sharing with the other about how they completed the Inventory. Allow about 15 minutes of time for this. If virtual, you may assign pairs randomly.
5. Coming back together, ask who would like to share what they noticed about themself in how they rated themselves or what they learned in conversation with their partner. Allow plenty of wait time. Make no comments on what was shared by the facilitator or any participants. The facilitator can simply thank the person for their courage in sharing. Then, repeat the question, “Who would like to share next?” Allow up to 20 minutes or longer for this time.
It is probably best to take a break after this activity. We also recommend being sure that you allow enough time to complete the entire activity in one session.
2. Equitable Best Practices and Operationalizing the Work
The School/District Leadership Team should ensure that after the completion of Digital Module 3/Step 3, identity development continues across the remaining Digital Module facilitations and going forward. Ideas on how to do so include:
- After working through the activities in this Digital Module, the School Leadership Team and District Leadership Team can select a book or movie they would like to read/view from the attached ICS Equity Identity Development Resource Guide. As the teams work through each of the following ICS Equity Digital Modules, the teams could allocate a portion of the meeting to discuss the book/movie in small sections as a way to continue the identity development work across the rest of the ICS Implementation Process.
- Community Panels – As a way to reinforce Digital Module 1/Step 1, the History of Public Education Marginalization, one school invited African American community members as a panel to share their history of education in their community with staff members. This experience served not only to expand staff understanding about the history of public school marginalization in their own community, but also impacted staff racial identity development as well.
- Some schools provided targeted professional development around a specific identity and their intersections (e.g., LGBTIQA+ identities).
- As related situations arise at school, talk about, for example race, explicitly, formally and informally with staff and students, addressing race directly; similarly with other identities and their intersections.
- Public discrimination/violence (e.g., Orlando Pulse nightclub shootings in 2016, the murder of George Floyd in 2020) offers an opportunity for districts identify the incident and publicly reinforce their commitment to safe, inclusive, and equitable communities.
- Ensure that district and school committees and organizations that include community members represent the demographics of the district/school.
3. Creating Our Plan for Cornerstone 1: Focus on Equity, Digital Module/Step 3: Engage in Identity Development
In the next ICS Application, you’ll discuss and then identify the current practices that must be interrupted, and discuss considerations when facilitating this Digital Module with staff, along with next steps.
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