On Wednesday, December 2nd, while students had a late start, faculty and staff from all three divisions gathered for a Zoom professional development workshop led by Severn's Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director Mr. Michael Glasby and external DEI consultant Mr. Lawrence Alexander, Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion for Carney Sandoe and Associates. In this follow-up to our August session, Mr. Alexander examined both the need for ongoing DEI work in every facet of our school along with practical strategies to use in the classroom and our community. He emphasized that data-driven choices to improve the lived experience of our students should be central to our actions.
Work in Progress
The session began with an update on several DEI initiatives from Mr. Glasby. Under his leadership, Severn has conducted a thorough audit of DEI representation in our teaching practices and curriculum, development and communications strategies, enrollment, and community life programs. While not yet fully complete, this audit will inform an upcoming spring action plan for changes in enrollment management, academic affairs, and school culture, with the guidance of a task force composed of board members, faculty and staff, parents, and alumni. Part of this next phase will include a school climate survey with anonymous student perspectives on their day-to-day experience at Severn. Mr. Glasby has also assisted with organizing check-ins with BIPOC families in the Severn community and forming BIPOC student affinity groups in the Upper School along with mentorship opportunities for middle schoolers with older peers from those groups.
Tools for Today
Following Mr. Glasby's introduction, Mr. Alexander began with an overview of how the audit and consequent action plan will create a stronger Severn now and into the future.
"As we work toward developing a culture of data-driven decision making, at a time when drama is driving decision making, we are hoping to make a shift from responding to the moment (and there's value there) to planning for sustainability structurally and institutionally, so that what we do now lasts." — Mr. Lawrence Alexander
Referencing award-winning author Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk, "The Danger of a Single Story," he encouraged us to consider what Severn's "single story" may be and steps we can take to "unstory" the systems of oppression in our school community. He then turned to tools and frameworks that faculty and staff can use each day:
Guiding documents. These are school-wide resources that outline core instructional components and best pedagogical practices to identify areas of strength and needs for growth, and to inform strategies for implementation.
Curricular windows. Talk with students about which communities, histories and identities are relevant to each lesson. Consider whose voices are silenced and how to amplify them. Pinpoint elements in each lesson that encourage students to consider multiple perspectives.
Curricular mirrors. Consider how your understanding of a topic may have changed over time and how to share that growth with students. Think about which identity-based power dynamics may appear when exploring this topic along with stereotypes or microaggressions to anticipate. Make a plan to respond if upstander intervention is needed and collect developmentally appropriate resources to support common cognitive dissonance around this topic.
Classroom environment. Consider which norms are important to highlight during lessons and how these are represented in the classroom. Think about how to visually represent the communities, identities and histories that are relevant to a given lesson.
Cultural literacy. Consider the dominant narrative on a given topic, who created it, and what purpose it serves. Think about what alternate narratives exist. Examine which social identifiers are relevant to the topic, which relevant social identifiers students might resonate with, and which ones will require explicit contextualization.
Mr. Alexander took questions and feedback from the group, while everyone shared resources and ideas in the chat. Following the session, each division met individually to reflect and discuss how to put these frameworks into action in the most developmentally appropriate way for their students.
"I think one of the big portions that can be taken away from this professional development is the strategies to not not only promote inclusivity within our community, but to create a greater level of equity in the classroom for our minority and marginalized students." — Mr. Michael Glasby
Learning Together, for the Kids
Our teachers and staff are working overtime as they figure out the logistics of moving from remote to hybrid learning and vice versa. But their commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable community is steadfast during what can feel like a chaotic year. In this time of tremendous change and struggle, both at home and in the world, professional development is more important than ever. The well-being and safety of our students — their daily lived experience as Severn Admirals — remains foremost in our priorities as we navigate the shifting landscape of education.
Our professional development philosophy: As a student-centered institution, we believe that we should model the qualities we wish to see in our students and to that end, we engage in professional development as a community of learners. And we believe that adults learn best in collaborative situations where professional growth is valued.