One America - Common Bonds Diversity Training

Program: Common Bonds Diversity Training, Austin, Texas
Contact(s): Elena Vela, Administrative Supervisor: (512) 414-1561
Purpose: To promote mutual respect and appreciation of differences and to promote the value of common bonds among all people

Background Program Operations Outcomes


Austin, Texas is a minority-majority school district, with students of color accounting for 59 percent of the school age population. In response to this diversity, the Austin Independent School District acknowledged an urgent need for teachers, counselors, administrators and other district employees to acquire new techniques and skills to speak effectively with one another, to reach mutual consent and to realize the strength in diversity. From 1995 to 1996, then Superintendent of Schools, James Fox, launched one of the most challenging staff development initiatives ever to be charted in a large urban district to fulfill the recognized training need. Common Bonds Diversity Training (Common Bonds), a University of Texas collaboration, was established as a result of this initiative.

Program Operations

In 1996-97, an administrative supervisor for training was selected to provide leadership and training for the Common Bonds project. Each of the 97 district K-12 schools was required to create a team trainers comprised of three employees, one administrator, one counselor and one teacher. Following the "train the trainer model," these teams completed an initial training at the Professional Development Academy, the training arm of the program, and became the lead trainers responsible for educating the other staff at their schools. Each team was provided with diversity module materials, which included script and support materials, to assist them in recreating the trainings at their home institutions. Currently, the training program design includes three diversity teaching modules: Personal Awareness; Valuing Ethnic Diversity; and Communications. The modules increase awareness about diversity issues, build a personal involvement with the problem of stereotyping and prejudice, and develop personal and professional goals by modeling awareness, sensitivity and appreciation. In all three diversity modules, the training begins by creating a safe environment where personal thoughts, feelings and actions regarding diversity issues are viewed as the natural result of powerful social and psychological forces in our lives. Participants are instructed that biases and behaviors are developed simply by living in a human world. Confidentiality is upheld within the program and is an important part of creating a safe environment for discussion. A "permission slip," a statement recognizing the difficulties we may feel as participants take part in the activities, is also used in the trainings to give participants freedom to speak openly. All training modules rely on activity-based discovery methods, rather than lecture-based exploration, and last approximately three hours.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Common Bonds has trained 291 trainers in the Austin Independent School District, who have in turn trained 5,291 faculty and staff employees. In addition, the Professional Development Academy has provided training for 500 non-campus school district staff members. As a result of this movement, a district multi-cultural curriculum task force has also been formed to infuse diversity issues into the curriculum. A community diversity partnership between Common Bonds and the KLRU-TV-Journey Project, the local PBS affiliate, has piloted a program in seven K-3 elementary schools. Staff development presentations have been given to the League of Women Voters of Texas, the Texas Staff Development Conference and the University of Texas pre-service teachers and pre-service administrators. Soon, a fourth module will be added to the program that focuses on conflict resolution.

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