At St. Anne’s, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work is paramount, and our school’s mission of fostering student potential for good cannot exist without DEI’s universal values of truth, fairness, justice, and equality. For our students to function as local and global citizens, it is essential that they understand how to promote acceptance, love others, challenge biases, and inspire others to find honor in how we treat each other.
In December, I had the honor of traveling to Seattle, Washington with several colleagues to attend the 32nd NAIS People of Color Conference. Both a personal and professional journey, those few days stretched, confounded, and challenged me in ways that I find hard to put into words. There are vast perspectives to be shared with regard to issues of racism, bias, and equity. I’m proud to be a member of a community that embraces the conversation and places value in this work.
During the conference, several attendees visited the Seattle School for Girls whose anti-bias and identity curriculum is a beacon of leadership for schools focusing on cultural competency. Throughout the day, we visited classrooms, conferred with school leadership, and attended a student-led discussion panel. When asked why the exploration of identity was so important for middle schoolers, a seventh-grade student replied, “I need to be solid in my shoes before I can confront assumptions.” I kept her words in mind as I attended sessions ranging from equitable grading practices to focused inquiry into student/teacher relationships to curriculum practices that instill empathy while avoiding emotional manipulation. The conference renewed my vigor for self-reflection and improvement as I strive to be a stronger ally for my students and my colleagues.
Throughout St. Anne’s Middle School, students are learning to grapple with tension, listen to different perspectives, and facilitate conversations that model respect and active listening. Students are stretched through the study of diverse literature, culture, and historical constructs. Through this tension and its uncertainty, we are teaching our students to know, to love, to challenge, and to inspire others. Valarie Kaur, an American civil rights activist and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, discusses the ethic of love in terms of being willing to step into labor for others. She encourages us to see no strangers and to greet another with the sentiment that “You are a part of me I do not know yet.” Certainly, we strive to greet all members of our St. Anne’s community with open arms, seeking to understand, and inviting all on a journey of learning. As St. Anne’s educators, it is our calling to expand the vision of our students so there is room for all, and we work to be aware of whose stories might be absent in our classrooms and curriculum. We ask: whose truth is being told, and by whom? As a result, whose truth is being revised or forgotten?
Confronting inequities in relationships and communities is unsettling work. At St. Anne’s, we are leaning into these difficulties, seeking to be more aware of where additional DEI work is needed and are supported by eager colleagues, parents, and community members. We are building knowledge and skills in our community through professional development and student workshops. Last fall, our entire faculty attended the ADVIS Cultural Competency Institute and our entire sixth grade, along with members of our Student Diversity Council, will be attending The 2020 Middle School Student Diversity Leadership UnConference in late January. Our mission to explore issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to meet the needs of all community constituents is omnipresent. Building a more tolerant society by teaching our students to be disruptors of bias and inequity is the St. Anne’s way, woven tightly into our school’s identity of growing in wisdom and love. We strive to be solid in our shoes as we remain centered in dignity, confronting assumptions for ourselves and others.