Designing for Difference: OPLs Approach to an Office Book Study

By Cassie Brusch – Project Consultant

“We‌ ‌believe‌ ‌in‌ ‌socially‌ ‌just‌ ‌learning‌ ‌environments‌ ‌where‌ ‌ALL‌ ‌are‌ ‌valued,‌ ‌included,‌ ‌and‌ ‌empowered,” is the team’s mission statement. 

The Office of Professional Learning is filled with humans that have varying roles and interests and as we employ design thinking to reach audiences across the county and beyond, we know we need to build these opportunities for ourselves. The office is divided into different strategic planning teams to address different areas that we would like to prioritize as an office.  However, we all can not be in all the teams; we are trying to get creative with how we share learning from one team across the office. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) wanted to broaden the understanding of DEI across the office, which is composed of professional staff, support staff, supervisors, and administrators. The approach to the book study was nontraditional; the team wanted a variety of entry points, as every member of the office was in different places in their own DEI journey.  We felt that maybe you, the reader, would like to hear about how we shook up our approach to this book study and invite you to read to find out how we added access and diversity to our structure. 

The purpose of the book study was to celebrate inclusion in a format that recognizes diversity with a focus on building individual understanding and self-awareness. The‌ ‌DEI‌ ‌strategic‌ ‌planning‌ ‌team‌ ‌has‌ ‌had‌ ‌many‌ ‌meaningful‌ ‌and‌ ‌fulfilling‌ ‌conversations‌ ‌around‌ ‌equity. During these conversations, the team‌ recognized ‌‌our entire office would find value in engaging in conversations around DEI topics. This is where the idea for an office wide book study came from. 

The team recognizes ‌that‌ ‌DEI‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌vast‌ ‌topic‌, and ‌understand‌s ‌ ‌the ‌office‌ ‌has‌ ‌different‌ ‌interests‌ ‌and/or‌ ‌would‌ ‌like‌ ‌to‌ ‌explore‌ ‌differing‌ ‌perspectives. For this‌ ‌book‌ study, the team asked ‌participants ‌to‌ ‌identify‌ ‌a‌ ‌book‌ they ‌were‌ ‌interested‌ ‌in‌ ‌reading/listening‌ ‌to‌.  This is designed to ‌create‌ ‌opportunities‌ ‌for‌ ‌learning‌ ‌by‌ ‌diving‌ ‌into‌ the ‌variability of the participant and the topic.

DEI Book Study List

The book study involved collecting two sets of data. In the initial survey, we asked participants to include a book they would select, as well as indicate all the books participants would be interested in reading. Participants were also able to suggest a book that was not on the list. The team reviewed these results and narrowed down the initial book list. The team determined each book group should have at least three participants in order to facilitate a meaningful discussion. Once the final list was determined, participants were able to select their final book choice and preferred reading format (hard copy, audible, or kindle format). 

The team was very strategic in selecting books for this book study. The process started with listing books considered DEI-focused that the members of the team have read. The list was reviewed to see if there were books of repetitive topics and the list was narrowed down. Ensuring diversity in topics through the lens of race, gender, and disability was important; the team realized that books focused on disabilities and inclusion were missing. The team wanted a relatively newly published book and a book that was available in hard copy, kindle, and audible. This turned out to be more difficult than imagined. A very timely and interesting book about people with autism and how the pandemic has affected the ASD community was found, but the downside of this selection was that the book  was not currently available in audiobooks. In the end, the team decided to move forward with the book as the content felt of importance.

student work sdi 1

Once the books came in, time was given for the participants to split into their groups and decide how they felt was best to break the reading up. Time was set aside in the upcoming March, April, and May staff meetings for groups to discuss their books. The only time outside of staff meetings for participants was to read their books. Groups are not required to finish their books before the May staff meeting. 

One group had eight participants, so that group was given the suggestion to break up into two smaller groups of their choice. The facilitators recognize that the topics can lead to rich discussion if participants are comfortable and engaged in their groups, therefore self-selecting was important to make sure participants are comfortable. During these staff meetings, time will be set aside for discussion, which will serve as a time to come together as a collective and discuss‌ ‌the‌ ‌author’s‌ ‌perspectives,‌ ‌our‌ ‌perspectives,‌ ‌and‌ ‌dissect‌ ‌universal‌ ‌elements‌ ‌of‌ ‌DEI‌ ‌through‌ ‌different‌ contexts.‌ ‌Currently, the participants are reading their books and preparing to come to the March staff meeting prepared to discuss. 


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