Diversity in Curriculum: Analyzing and Improving the Inclusion of Student Voices

Area(s) of Focus: technology, math, well being, curriculum
Division(s): Intermediate, Senior
Level(s): Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12

The goal was to increase student voice and inclusivity as diversity increases in our school community. Through surveys and collaborative sharing, we examined and offered activities relating to the inclusion of diverse student voice.

As we find that Orangeville District Secondary School (ODSS) is changing with an increased diversity of student voices, we want to ensure that we have more contexts/perspectives represented in the school curriculum. We want to increase student voice and inclusivity as our diversity increases. We believe empathy is the antidote to shame and we want to disrupt shameful feelings of marginalized students that are born from a lack of knowledge about the diversity in our own community. If we disrupt the current spaces, then we will reclaim the spaces in a new way for all voices. We will begin with establishing a baseline in order to measure improvement over time with our interventions. We want to review literature and make plans for experiential learning about voice and diversity with our students.

Team Members

  • Alanna King

    Upper Grand District School Board

  • Leigha Turner

    Upper Grand District School Board

  • Cheyenne Vivian

    Upper Grand District School Board

  • Anne Thomson

    Upper Grand District School Board

  • Jen Coleman

    Upper Grand District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

Our inquiry question for this project was: If we proactively address needs of diverse student voices in our curriculum, can we improve school community? We need to establish our own biases in the school and then work to improve our understanding of which student voices are not included.

During our own learning, we shared our learning and findings through dialogue with our colleagues. Opening the conversation to exploring the biases inherent in our own school curriculum was astounding. We ran two staff meeting presentations, and an inclusive PLC where we drew in support staff (non-classroom teachers) to ask for their feedback on our process. At the present, we have made meaningful connections with about one-third of the staff. This support network for conversations about diversity and inclusion are opening up very real changes for our students.  With this momentum happening, we feel positive about shifting the culture of our school.

Our biggest takeaway from our survey is regarding our students’ perceptions. A concerning number of our students, 64 out of 247 respondents (26 per cent), don’t feel that they have an adult in our building that they feel safe coming to with a problem. We also learned that we have more non-binary students than we knew about. The diversity around our school is not well-represented in the public displays of artwork around the school. We learned that we have 23 out of 247 respondents (10 per cent) who speak another language at home. There needs to be greater emphasis on sexual diversity and religious/faith diversity in our curricular programming according to our survey.

In summary, we established the baseline that we set out to determine.

Activities and Resources

We began the project by looking at how other schools are tackling the diverse and complex topics of inclusion. We used the OISE/U of T Centre for Urban Schooling Framework for a Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy. Although it wasn’t truly representative of our rural context, this document helped us to focus on what was achievable in the scope of our project. We also re-examined what our actual point of influence might be because of this document. In other words, we focused on school climate and curricular exploration, rather than leadership, community or family.

Following you will see that we accomplished the creation of our staff and student surveys, a pilot run of the surveys, analysis of the surveys, presentation of our results, and three student-targeted experiences.


Unexpected Challenges

We did not have time to fulfill our goal of exploring other models in the scope of this project. It was too optimistic of us in our proposal to think that we could (a) establish a baseline in our student population and (b) also explore other models of inclusion in other schools. We accomplished (a), the creation of a rigorous survey, with the input of our guidance department, social worker and administration, but we were met with additional challenges in trying to deliver it to the student body. Administration felt that at the time of release (April 2018) that there were too many conflicting obligations for the whole student body to interrupt regular classes. Of the staff who engaged with our project, we had the opposite feedback. These engaged staff wanted us to prioritize the focus, make it part of an ongoing whole school program and were very encouraging to our project.

Additionally, one of our original key team contributors, Anne Thomson, left the team for parental leave. We subbed in Jen Coleman, and were able to complete the project with her energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand. In second semester, the team had limited opportunity to find release time together, due to conflicts in our responsibilities and scheduling, but overall this time management challenge did not hamper our ability to accomplish our goals.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

There were three enhancements we planned for students in relation to this project:

Rainbow Coalition Conference (May 2, 2018)

The Rainbow Coalition Conference provides an opportunity for students to connect with other LGBTQ students and allies from across the board and for staff to connect with other staff leading a GSA or Equity committee. Students from the GSA and the school community came together to participate in workshops led by professionals, community members and students, focusing on anti-bullying, anti-homophobia, anti-biphobia and anti-transphobia education. While at the RCC, staff connected with other Dufferin area GSAs at the high school and elementary school levels to begin a culture of collaboration.

Field Trip to FOLD Festival

We took 28 students and our team to the Festival of Literary Diversity (School Groups Day) and it was fantastic. We offered our trip to everyone in the school, but directly targeted our students in the Gay/Straight alliance, students who are in service-oriented clubs and students who are registered for the High Skills Major Arts & Culture major. We used our grant money to cover the bus for the trip to run.

Holly Painter Spoken Word Workshop

We paid for Spoken Word artist Holly Painter to come from our co-curricular funding at a school club level, but thinking about our work for this project. Holly Painter presented a TED talk in Kitchener in 2017 and when Leigha and Alanna saw her, we were hoping for some time to bring her to our students. We again invited the whole school but, with the momentum of the FOLD Festival, we had a strong engagement from the same students. When Holly began the workshop, we had 28 students attending, but we had five more join in the second half. She was outstanding in that she approached this largely introverted group of students gently and persuaded them to reveal through the presentation of the poetry. By the end of two and a half hours, over half of the students had shared their poetry through performance. In hopes of helping students find their voices, this presentation/workshop was right on target.


There were a variety of ways in which we shared our learning with our professional community:

Our Professional Learning Community

As the focus of our PLC this year, we were granted sixteen 25-minute sessions to meet about this topic. Additionally, we met three times with various groups to discuss our work and to ask for support. These groups included administration, outside agencies, guidance workers and even other schools interested in our project.

Staff Meeting #1 (March 5, 2018)

  • Introduced our project, presented a staff version of our climate survey (36 responses), discussed next steps and asked for feedback

We changed our survey to include more open questions and engaged more staff in the diversity conversation. We specifically talked about sex orientation and our legal position as teachers when talking about unsupportive parents. This lead to the discovery that we need more professional development as a staff about understanding pronouns, use of language and our professional responsibilities.

Staff Meeting #2 (May 2018)

  • Presented findings of the survey so far

Most feedback on this presentation was regarding the result of 26 per cent of respondents didn’t feel safe to talk with a staff member. Staff wondered how to reach students who are not talking as a whole staff or through individual targeting. As a follow-up, we didn’t find any correlation between this answer and any other identifiable variable. There is some relationship between students who responded that they do not feel safe to talk with staff (26 per cent of respondents) and our question which asked if there was ever a time when finances were a barrier to participation in extra-curriculars (11 per cent of students who answered that they don’t have a staff member to talk to). Some teachers really want this survey to be considered more important by administration and to take a greater role in upcoming school years.

To conclude our sharing in this project, we have three things that we’d still like to accomplish before the end of the school year:

  1. We’d like to follow up with all students who indicated that they would like to extend the conversation.
  2. Follow up with administration about their goals in diversity and inclusion and their direction for next year.
  3. Follow up with guidance about our survey results and plans for next year.

Project Evaluation

Overall, we accomplished our goals this year with the understanding that our intention was to scratch the surface on this very complex topic. We engaged both staff and students in the topic so, at the very least, we have accomplished an awareness of inclusion discrepancies across the school.  At most, we have changed the focus of our embedded school survey on climate to include topics of diversity; we have created student enthusiasm for activities that highlight diversity and the promotion of student voice; and we have opened a forum for staff engagement around inclusion.

Should we continue with our project, obtain administration approval and release time we would like to consider pursuing:

  • At what point (demographically and economically) do we start offering school information in additional languages (verbally through an interpreter and in print)?
  • The examination and collating of participation in all student extra-curricular activities to see how many students per population are engaged
  • What are the numerical tipping points where support for ESL is offered?