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Conversation Circle: Higher Education and Race

The Conversation Circle Series is an opportunity for Park School faculty and staff to come together and discuss a current event related to diversity, equity and inclusion. These topics tend to be the ones that are “trending” on social media or in the news, and these conversation circles allow us some time and space to talk about these issues face to face.
Born out of the frustration that there simply is not enough time in the day to talk about important and relevant current events, this group gathers from 2:05pm-2:25pm (the time between dismissal and the start of faculty meetings) on Tuesdays in rotating rooms. It’s amazing what you can discuss in 20 minutes!

#Mizzou #Yale #BlackLivesMatter

Frontline protesters at the University of Missouri

Frontline protesters at the University of Missouri

Around the country, students in colleges and universities are raising awareness through protests, marches, sit-ins, and confrontation of administration demanding that their institutions pay attention to the lack of racial diversity in leadership, curriculum, representation and culture on campuses. Though our students at Park School are still years away from enrolling in colleges and universities, the activism and dialogue around race and education is central to their own education at Park School. On Tuesday, November 23rd, faculty and staff gathered for a Conversation Circle to discuss what their own college/university experience was around issues of race and how we might use our agency as educators to a) shape a more responsive Park School community and b) to engage our students to be leaders in understanding race.

Some of us shared that this experience that today’s students are protesting are the same – or similar – to what was occurring when many of us were in school. Today’s racial climate is calling for more responsive leaders in higher education, many of them White, to serve as allies to communities of color. But, more importantly, today’s higher education climate requires that leaders understand the racialized experiences that marginalize students of color on historically White college and university campuses.

What are the demands of student activists? The demands are simply to provide equity in the educational process. Students are asking for more faculty of color in classrooms, more leaders of color in key positions, and a curriculum that reflects the diverse contributions of people of color in this country. They are asking that people who work in higher education be culturally aware and culturally responsive — through trainings, workshops, and evaluations, staff and faculty in colleges and universities should know how to work with racially diverse communities.

What does this mean for Park School? The culture and climate of education — whether it is in higher education, secondary or elementary — is that we must be responsible for educating and preparing our students for a globally dependent society. We must teach students how to think critically about a diverse world around them and how to engage in meaningful, respectful, and mutually responsive ways. At Park, we do this by engaging in conversations daily — not just in single workshops — about cultural identifiers such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, class and we make sure these conversations happen both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. We work closely with parents and caring adults to support messages of inclusion both at school and at home. And, we shape our policies and practices to support an inclusive community.

A key component of being responsive is to never believe we have it perfectly right. In fact, a responsive education is one that reflects the changing needs of a developing community.

Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there.

Peace and Park,

Liza

Outreach, Recruitment and Retention

We all know that a commitment to diversity can be a very personal journey — one in which we think about our own biases, our own stereotyping behavior, and our own prejudices.

But, a commitment to diversity also has to happen institutionally. It has to happen in our processes, our policies and our programs.

People often ask me, “Liza, which comes first, a personal commitment or an institutional commitment? Which has to happen first in order for diversity to be successful?”

I call this the “chicken and the egg” question

The truth is, I shift from the “chicken and the egg” line of questioning and talk about the “bed of nails” approach. Not sure what that means? Here’s a quick article about the physics of the bed of nails.

Basically, everything has to happen at once. 

One of those “nails” in the diversity conversation is the presence and engagement of faculty of color. The question is usually, “Liza, which comes first — a commitment to increasing racial diversity in our student body or in our faculty/staff body?”

Bed of nails, all. Bed of nails.

Academic excellence requires a diverse environment in which to thrive. At Park School, we recognize the benefit to our students’ education, as well as our own growth as teacher and educators, that comes from having a more diverse Park School community. A more diverse Park School translates into a better education and experience for our students, faculty, staff and families.

A necessary step in building a more diverse overall community is building a more diverse faculty and staff. We are more likely to recruit students and families to The Park School if they see themselves reflected in the staff and faculty they interact with each day. And, a diverse faculty and staff community at Park contributes to more inclusive recruitment, hiring, retention, and sense of belonging for future faculty from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.  If we expect success in diversifying our teaching and administrative staff, we must be proactive in developing a culture and climate at The Park School that actively supports this goal.

Networking helps us to build meaningful relationships in advance of the search cycle. This includes developing a comprehensive list of programs (e.g., education programs, majors/minors in which people of color are well-represented, teacher preparation programs) and developing meaningful relationships with these partners. However, simply reaching out to these organizations and schools is not enough; we must be deliberate in our connection to and relationship with programs and schools and work to build a trusting relationship with them. This may include visits to campus fairs, presence at networking events, intentional meetings with directors or key administrators in organizations, and perhaps even academic clubs and organizations that support faculty and staff of color.

Intentional Advertising and Outreach allows us to clearly express our commitment to inclusive hiring practices to a wide range of audiences. This includes making visible our data on our student of color population (approx. 40% in 2015-2016); opportunities for professional development; proximity to Boston; and cultural opportunities to participate in the life of the school and local community.

Mentoring opportunities that support, enhance and affirm identities provides intentional support to faculty and staff throughout the various stages of their time at Park. This may include development and information about affinity based groups; professional development at Park and outside of Park; awareness of and information about affinity based groups outside of Park (e.g., POCC-AISNE); and culturally reflective partnering and mentoring if desired.

Over the next few months, we will be fine-tuning a process that builds on our existing recruitment and retention strategies here at Park School. This will include a focus on increasing our outreach to underrepresented communities and finding the best teachers and staff out there. Park has always been a leader in teaching and learning, and our continued commitment to diversity on our faculty and staff is crucial to moving us further.

If you’d like some deeper reading on the importance of a diverse faculty and what schools can and should be doing, check out this guide from the Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE).

Peace and Park,  

Liza

Color-Brave Parenting

images“What do you want your child(ren)’s first messages to be about race?”

As the child of immigrants, my parents taught me lessons about race that were in the context of their home country. Where they grew up in the Philippines, everyone (okay, everyone that they knew) was Filipino. Race was not as salient of an issue because most people shared a common racial identity.

When they came to the United States, they were faced with a much more racially diverse culture and climate. Because of this, growing up, my first messages about race were framed through the lens of immigrant parents. We quickly found a group of other Filipinos and they became my “Titas” and “Titos” and “cousins.” However, when we moved to the suburbs of Boston, we were thrown into a racially homogenous community of people who were White, and I lost first-hand contact with other people of color.

What were my own first messages about race? Growing up, I didn’t have much exposure to or contact with people who were Black, so my first messages were informed by television and media stereotypes – mostly negative ones. I didn’t even have much exposure to other Asian Americans, so my first messages were informed by derogatory stereotypes of nerdy Asian characters, kung fu movies, and broken-English-speaking jesters. I didn’t have much exposure to people who were Latino or Hispanic, so my first messages were informed by a turbulent political climate that equated “illegal” with “Latino.” I did, however, have lots of contact with people who were White. I grew up learning their history, their achievements, their successes, and their contributions. My first messages of people who were White were overwhelmingly positive. They were leaders. They were powerful. They were lawmakers and rule breakers. They were the ones who fell in love and who were loved right back.

Over the course of my lifetime, I have moved into spaces where I am forced to talk about race — openly and honestly. I have had to confront my own first messages, my own built-up prejudices and stereotypes, and call myself out on insensitive comments and behaviors.

It hasn’t been easy; but it has been right.

On Monday, November 16th, I asked over 60 Park School parents what their “first messages of race” were. They spoke openly about similar negative messages, similar stereotypes, and even blindspots to Whiteness and perceived Whiteness. I asked them about the people who taught them to talk about race and the people who taught them to not talk about race.

I asked them what their own hopes and dreams were for how they wanted their children to talk and learn about race.

Talking about race, regardless of how old or young we are, can be difficult. It can be uncomfortable, unsettling and even evoke feelings of shame and embarrassment.

But, we can change that. 

We can talk more about race. We can talk more about how we learned race and racism. And, we can talk more to un-learn stereotypes and prejudices.

At the beginning of the workshop, I reminded parents that, after this 60-minute workshop, they probably will have more questions than answers. They may have to accept that there will not be closure at the end of the workshop. They might not feel all tidied up or that they completely understand race. In fact, at the end of the day, they might feel a bit dizzy and a bit unbalanced.

That’s okay.

No, that’s awesome. 

The good news is that it gets easier. It gets easier to talk about race. And, that discomfort you felt? It starts to meld into action. It starts to inspire you to do something.

And you know what that something is?

It’s being Color-Brave.

Peace and Park,

Liza

The Top 6 Goals

The “Top 6 Goals” … seriously. I really tried to get to the Top 5. An old mentor of mine once told me, “Liza, when putting together lists, go with Top 3, Top 5 or Top 10.”

I agree, “five” just seems so much more tidy, doesn’t it?

But, here at Park School, there is so much positive energy around diversity, equity and inclusion that, truly, SIX (not five) big goals have been identified as we my-top-5think about the impact of what our community can do.

The other day, a 4th grader stopped me in the hallway. And, in a very earnest tone asked, “Ms. Talusan, what do you do all day? I pretty much see you walking around school and talking to people. Is that what you do all day? Talk to people?”

I loved that observation.

“Well, yes. I guess I do talk to a lot of people. And, yes, I guess I do walk around the school a lot,” I replied. It was an honest answer.

It’s difficult to capture exactly what my day looks like. But, for the most part, I’m in meetings — meetings with administrators (both in groups and individually), departments, teachers, faculty, teams of faculty, and parents. Each day, at 11:30am, I get to hang out at a lunch table with students in Grades I – III and tell jokes, talk about their activities, and occasionally convince them to eat more vegetables. Sometimes, I’m in my office writing up all of the notes from those meetings or working on new ways to think about how we do things at Park School. Sometimes, I’m in my office preparing for a presentation or workshop that I might give with faculty and parents.

But, if I had to whittle down my day, I’m usually working on six (not five) things.

  1. Shared definitions. Much of what I did in the beginning of the year is to make clear what diversity, equity and inclusion are. For me, Diversity is the word when we are trying to describe all that we are — race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, family structure, ability, socioeconomic status, religion, body size or shape, health experiences, geography. Equity is making sure everyone can achieve and be the best they want to be by removing gaps or barriers. Inclusion is the ongoing engagement with diversity and equity and making sure all of those diversity items (and more) are in our curriculum, our teaching practices, our policies, our programs and our goals. Essentially “diversity is who we are; equity is what we strive for; and inclusion is how we get there.” This phrase is new to Park School, so I’m constantly repeating it everywhere I go.
  2. Diverse student community. Park School is a leader in student diversity of many types. Through intentional practices that honor the whole family and whole student, we have truly committed ourselves to upholding the importance of a diverse student community. We are never satisfied, of course, (no leader ever is!) and continue to support, encourage, retain and graduate students from all diverse backgrounds. So, much of my work here is making sure that our incredible professionals have the resources and support they need to keep being the leader. Here at Park, we are also focusing on how people from diverse backgrounds experience Park School — does everyone feel like Park is a community? Do all people feel like they belong at Park School? Do we all purposefully treat each other with respect, dignity, and shared humanity? What does it feel like to be “different” at Park School? These are questions we (and many organizations) grapple with, and I spend most of my day thinking about how people feel at Park.
  3. Diverse faculty and staff community. Park School’s faculty and staff community is a strong, talented, dedicated and driven group of individuals. Our community represents a very wide spectrum of identities and experiences. My goal is to continue to grow our faculty and staff diversity through intentional and thoughtful outreach, recruitment, support and retention practices. We’re looking at our hiring practices; our processes; how candidates learn about Park and what they understand about our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion; and how we continue to shape learning opportunities around these issues.
  4. Responsive pedagogy. In partnership with our outstanding faculty, Park School already has a solid foundation in providing a responsive and culturally reflective curriculum. Our teachers demonstrate responsive pedagogy and are experienced in teaching a diverse range of students. In this area, I am thankful that our faculty are master teachers who are willing to open up their curriculum to make space for even more discussions about identities. In my work, we talk about how to best align curriculum that includes diversity of identities into their everyday discussions. This includes existing partnerships with the Director of Curriculum and Instruction in mapping out where we might be able to enhance diversity in the existing curriculum. Yes, this is where that 4th grader sees me running to different meetings!
  5. Forward Thinking Professional Development. Park School community has a supportive professional development program which faculty and staff use with great enthusiasm. In house, we have a long standing relationship with S.E.E.D. — a national dialogue group that explores issues of identity — and many of our faculty and staff have participated in this group. Looking ahead, I have been creating multiple opportunities for our faculty to gain further professional development around race and identities. So far, this has taken form in our divisional faculty meetings. Looking ahead, we are thinking about a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Institute this summer and workshops that push the conversations of identity to deeper levels. Yes, this is when I’m at my desk banging away at the keyboard!
  6. Engaging Families and Partners. Parent workshops, parent meetings, community outreach, conference presentations, trainings for other schools, attending development and fundraising events — those all fill in the rest of my day. I have had such a wonderful time working with our Parent Council and our Board of Trustees as we solidify diversity, equity and inclusion in our parent and family communities. So far, we’ve hosted two major parent events and had a total of 120 people attend! These get togethers have been a great way for parents and families to learn about each other as well as learn about what we are doing at Park School!

If you’ve seen me in person, you’ve heard me say this many times: I love my job. (I’ve even used an #ilovemyjob hastag on Twitter and Facebook). Here at Park School, we have done so many things right. And, I’m thankful to be here to continue to move us forward together… even if it means I have a Top 5 + 1.

Peace and Park,

Ms. Talusan

 

Conversation Circle: Cross-Racial Friendships

The Conversation Circle Series is an opportunity for Park School faculty and staff to come together and discuss a current event related to diversity, equity and inclusion. These topics tend to be the ones that are “trending” on social media or in the news, and these conversation circles allow us some time and space to talk about these issues face to face.
Born out of the frustration that there simply is not enough time in the day to talk about important and relevant current events, this group gathers from 2:05pm-2:25pm (the time between dismissal and the start of faculty meetings) on Tuesdays in rotating rooms. It’s amazing what you can discuss in 20 minutes!

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At Park School, we often think about the importance of cross-racial interactions with our students. We are intentional about our classroom demographics, the opportunities for our students to play together in cross-racial groups, and encourage collaboration and teamwork. We are mindful about isolation, about segregation and about the need for affinity in the lives of our students.

Yet, how often do we as adults think about our own friendships, interactions and social circles. How cross-racial are our relationships?

The guiding questions for this conversation circle on cross-racial friendships included:

  • We ask students to interact across racial groups. Do we model the same expectations as adults?
  • Do you have meaningful cross-racial friendships? What are the barriers to developing cross-racial friendships?
  • Do we notice when Students of Color are grouped together more so than when Students who are White are grouped together? Is our response different? Should our response be different?

Along with these questions, we encouraged participants to check out this article and video here.

What are your thoughts about and experiences with cross-racial friendships?

Peace and Park,

Liza

Liza's closest circle of friends (racially self-identify as Asian, African, White, Asian, Latina)

Liza’s closest circle of friends (racially self-identify as Asian, African, White, Asian, Latina)