“It’s what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.”
--Claude Bernard, French physiologist and historian
I’ve been drawn to this quote as the school year has begun, and the work of teaching and learning is in full swing. As teachers, we often start planning lessons by identifying what we want students to learn, and realizing that connecting new lessons to students’ experiences brings relevance to the learning process. But what if what we *think* we know about students’ experiences is wrong? How can we reflect on our own assumptions, biases, and preconceived notions to better design learning experiences to reach all of our students?
Our professional development focus this year is on issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, supported by a grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation and collaboration with the Education Collaborative of WNY. Faculty and staff started the year with two full days of workshops to better understand the scope of the topic and the important implications for creating an equitable and inclusive school. Our upcoming professional development day next week will focus on learning to identify and address implicit biases and microaggressions.
With regards to curriculum, we are digging deeper into all grade levels and subject areas to ensure that there are diverse materials, resources, and activities that better represent the experiences of our students. Strengthening teacher/student relationships is another component that supports this work, and we are fortunate to have engaged and willing faculty who are embracing new ways to reflect on and connect their instructional practice to the needs of students that they serve.
Some of these efforts are ‘behind the scenes’ processes that will come to fruition over time and have a lasting impact on how our overall program is delivered. But other efforts are more immediate, with new programs and partnerships that help bring diverse experiences and perspectives to students every day. Here are just a few:
A new student group, the People of Color Coalition (PoCC), is designing an interactive educational display for the school to highlight the vast contributions of people of color in our world.
The Gay-Straight Alliance is developing a display of LGBTQ literature and working to plan a LGBTQ health conference.
Twelve Upper School students will be participating in the EdCo Student Diversity Leadership Conference in November. Students take a lead role in presenting sessions for the conference, and four Park will be leading discussion sessions.
Our Lower School friends presented a Grandparent’s Day concert, singing songs focused on kindness and inclusion.
Students and teachers in the Kadimah Scholars program have visited classrooms to share information on recent Jewish holidays, helping educate our community about the Sukkah and other traditions.
Eight students from Lille, France are visiting Park for two weeks, providing a mutual learning experience about French and American life.
A new exchange program is planned for our Spanish students to travel to Chile this spring and participate in a cultural school exchange.
A Lower School parent donated classroom books on diverse and inclusive families.
A PPA Diversity Book Club is meeting monthly to discuss issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and ways to support Park’s DEI mission.
As you can see, these efforts are currently led by students, faculty, and parents. And while there are many projects underway, we know that many other opportunities exist to broaden the scope of our work and engage more members of our community in conversations about the rich diversity of our experiences.
To that end, do you have a tradition to share? Are you connected to community resources that might support this work with students, faculty, and Park families? We welcome you to share your perspectives, expertise, connections, and/or cultural traditions with us. Please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss ways to contribute. Our community is strengthened when we learn from one another and support our students in better understanding the rich and complex world in which we live. Thank you in advance for your partnership!
Director of Studies