Asking questions is a wonderful way to open up dialogue; to test assumptions and explore why we think the way that we do. In our Lower School, Open Doors teacher Ms. Renee Spears uses questions to help our youngest students begin their journey of self-awareness and develop appreciation for the similarities and differences among us in our community and beyond. Part of our Lower School Character Education curriculum, the Open Doors program gives our students the time and vocabulary to consider their own identities and to share openly with one another.
What is Open Doors?
A passionate inclusivity advocate and community leader, Open Doors teacher Ms. Renee Spears has led this program for almost eight years. Three times each year, she meets with every grade for a full class period to engage our students in conversations about diversity and inclusivity. For young children, these conversations often start with self-discovery and move toward open sharing of that discovery with one another. Self-reflection is a big piece of this process. Throughout the sessions, Ms. Spears asks questions to help students develop awareness about their thinking.
Ms. Spears starts each Open Doors session with a fun, engaging activity, making sure that these sessions are very positive experiences. She sparks their curiosity and interest in imaginative ways using crafts, books and videos as jumping off points to begin their self-reflection. To continue the conversation started during the school day, there are optional Open Doors extension activities after school. Throughout the program, Ms. Spears creates an environment where students are excited to learn about themselves and one another.
What Topics Does Open Doors Address?
Can you be friends with someone that is different from you? Are you an honest person? What does it mean to be adopted? Who are the homeless? These are just a few of the questions that Ms. Spears poses through these Open Doors activities. Ms. Spears makes it a point to address issues that our kids are currently experiencing, often creating scenarios based on observations of their interactions in class or on the playground.
“I spend a lot of time making sure the topics are relevant to our school, that the topics explore inclusivity and diversity and that it’s a fun activity that the kids enjoy. We have really good conversations, they are comfortable opening up with me and each other.” — Ms. Spears
Open Doors topics and activities relate directly to our students and our changing world. With students and faculty from the Teel Campus, Ms. Spears recently attended NAIS People of Color Conference in Atlanta to support her ongoing understanding of best practices for engaging in inclusivity discussions with students. Ashley Clifford ‘18 attended the student diversity leadership portion of the NAIS conference and after talking with Ms. Spears about the program, was excited to join an Open Doors activity after school. Ms. Spears ensures that Open Doors is flexible, able to grow and change as our community does, and is a welcoming space not only for our youngest students, but also older students who are dedicated to promoting positive change school wide.
Known and Valued
It is our mission at Severn to know and value every member of our community for who they are. Open Doors supports that mission. It’s about diversity. It’s about inclusivity. It’s about learning to talk about similarities and differences in healthy and productive ways. For our youngest students, these sessions give them the necessary tools to both understand themselves and to openly communicate with others. It provides a structure to purposefully develop empathy and compassion.
“Open Doors provides students with additional in school and after school opportunities to share their ideas and experiences as well as to learn and appreciate the experiences and ideas of others. Students appreciate that knowing and valuing one another enriches their lives and our community.” — Lower School Head Ms. Cathy North