Learning to Communicate About Issues of Gender, Sexuality, and Diversity
We talk a lot about building community at Severn School. But what does that really mean? It means that we — faculty, students, and parents — agree to work toward a common language and a common set of principles with the goal that every member of our community feels valued, seen and heard. On Monday, September 25th, while students enjoyed one of the last warm days of the year, our teachers and staff took some very intentional steps toward establishing a framework of communication about issues of gender, sexuality, and diversity.
Our Mission as Our Guide
Known and valued. If you are part of this community, you have heard these words before. They are at the heart of why this type of work is essential for building a stronger Severn. Discussions about gender, identity, and sexuality are all around us — they are hot-button topics in politics and in the media. Our intention is to bring the discussion out of those controversial spaces and into the domain of what is developmentally healthy and appropriate for our kids.
We want our students to learn how to express themselves in authentic, productive ways — to see the value that our differences bring to our community and as vital reflections of our larger society and world. To do that, we have to engage in thoughtful discourse and create strategies for supporting our students through similar discussions, if and when they arise.
How You Feel Counts
Jennifer Bryan Ph.D. of Finch Consultancy led the charge today to help improve our basic understanding of human development as it relates to gender and sexuality, and to explore how these topics affect our students in and out of the classroom. She began by asking how we felt before walking in the door:
Do any of those feelings resonate with you? They reflect the broad spectrum of our own experiences and the biases we bring to the table before even beginning our discussions.
“How you feel counts. It matters to how open and available you are to learning. And that’s what today is about, learning.”
— Dr. Jennifer Bryan
Dr. Bryan continued, discussing everything from terms and definitions to curriculum and classroom strategies. She focused on the idea that this work isn’t just for a small portion of our population, it's to benefit all of us. As humans, we all struggle with these issues in some form or another so learning to talk about these ideas is an important step toward becoming a truly inclusive community.
After Ms. Bryan’s presentation, we broke into small groups to role play scenarios. Armed with our mission statement, school philosophy and newly learned spectrums of sex, gender, and sexuality as supportive frameworks, we acted out a series of possible situations between teachers and students. This role-play activity allowed us to get “stuck” — not knowing exactly what to say next — and call on colleagues for advice and support. It allowed our teachers to model for one another how they might approach a situation while discovering their own biases and vulnerabilities.
It’s Not Easy, It’s Essential
Gender and Sexuality Diversity is not an easy topic. But it is a big part of what makes us human and how we come to understand our place in the world. We have to explore where our students are coming from because this affects how open and available to learning they might be. We have to know them — we have to value them — so we can support them and teach them to support each other.
Professional Development Philosophy
As a student-centered institution, Severn School believes that adults should model the qualities they wish to see in their students. To that end, adults at Severn engage in professional development as a community of learners. Severn believes that adults learn best in collaborative situations where professional growth is valued.
We provide built-in professional development opportunities throughout the school year, support faculty travel to conferences, offer grants for personal and professional growth, and offer a robust line-up of summer PD classes taught by and for Severn faculty. Our hope is that faculty will engage frequently in professional development so as to remain nimble for change in our evolving world.