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Thank you to the many Park School faculty and staff who attended the final Faculty and Staff Diversity Committee Meeting on April 12, 2016. In efforts to be transparent and accessible, I’m happy to offer up this blog as a summary of what has been done both in this particular meeting and in this committee during the year.

But, first, an apology.

My apologies for not being able to be with you at the final committee meeting of the year. I had a previous speaking engagement that was booked 14 months in advance — yes, back in February 2015, weeks before I even interviewed at Park School — at an independent school in Connecticut. This school had planned an entire “Conversations on Race Series”, and I was the closing workshop. It was important to me to honor this particular commitment. And, Park friends, I’m thankful that I had the chance to spend a day with these students, faculty and staff. I missed you all, of course, and know that I mentioned Park School at least a dozen times throughout the day!

So, what’s going on?

I want to thank all of you for being active participants in the DEI Committee — some were able to be there physically; and still many more of you have followed along through blog updates or have asked about the meeting over a bowl of Corn Flakes or while your morning bagel was toasting. 

One of the changes we made early on was to shift the language from referring to this committee as the Faculty Diversity Committee to the Faculty and Staff Diversity Committee. Why? Because language matters. Language communicated that this committee was for faculty, leaving out our many staff colleagues who were eager to engage and get involved. So, despite best intentions to have Staff participate, we weren’t communicating that their participation  mattered. So, hence the change. And, thank you to the many staff who have asked how to engage in this work. 

At our first meeting in September, I had asked people to brainstorm ideas in three different areas that we needed to focus on as a community: Sense of Belonging; Curriculum and Pedagogy; and Programming. Committee members came up with a list of Strengths (things Park does well); Weaknesses (yes, we can talk about how I intentionally use “weakness” vs “challenge” — it’s on purpose); and Opportunities (what can we do). 

You can see an example of the lists here:

unnamed (1)At the end of that first meeting, one of our colleagues raised (their) hand and said, “So, this was great. But we’ve done this before. We’ve created lists like this before, but everyone gets so busy and there isn’t time to get these initiatives done.”

I smiled. Because, I knew something was different that, maybe, my colleagues had not quite realized yet. 

“I know you are all busy,” I replied. “That’s why I’m here. You have just created my job description for the next few months.”

I looked around the room. There was, clearly, a collective a-ha moment that had happened. 

“Woaaaaaah,” was the look. “THAT’S WHY SHE’S HERE!”

I think, for the first time, people walked away feeling like something big was about to happen. If folks hadn’t figured out, exactly, what this “Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” job was prior to that moment, they suddenly did. “Oh, she’s here to do all the things we’ve been WANTING to do for years.”

Yes. That’s why I’m here. 

And, friends, as we finished up our last DEI committee meeting (but only the beginning of our work together), quite a lot has been done, thanks to your collective and individual guidance. 

I knew, coming in, that there was a physical job description. It has the usual bullet points of my last job (Director of Intercultural Affairs) and, honestly, the usual pieces of every “Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” Don’t worry — I have used my job description as a way to know that I am meeting the expectations created by all of you, formally.

But, more important than my written job description is what guides my work: servant leadership. 

My role is to serve your vision.

My role is to serve your expectations.

My role is to serve the needs you have identified for yourself and our community. 

My role is to both shine the spotlight on great work that you all continue to do, and to shine the flashlight into the dark corners that have not been discovered.

My role is to build community. To build leaders. To build learners. To build strength, courage and wisdom around issues so personal and deeply professional. 

While we still have a few months more until the academic year ends, here are some things that we, together, have accomplished (guided by your original lists):

  • creating space and time for conversations about diversity (e.g., Conversation Circles, Book Discussion)
  • develop professional development (e.g., faculty meetings focused on DEI, guest speakers)
  • creating greater access to information (e.g., blog posts, committee meeting summaries, Conversation Circle summaries, using Facebook and Twitter to expand information reach)
  • support for faculty (e.g., drop-in “hang outs”; a place/person for people to go to; invitations to classrooms; collaborative lessons; “Hey, Liza, I need an activity for next period…”)
  • expanding curriculum opportunities (e.g., department and team meetings; participate in day of collaboration; “tweaking” lesson plans)
  • accessing leadership opportunities (e.g., expanding participation in hiring process; opportunities to lead and serve on committees; colleagues leading book clubs and Conversation Circles)
  • family and student support (e.g., workshops for families and parents on identity, dialogue, tools; child care at events; expanding times to be more inclusive; providing small meals for families to come to programs)
  • processes that are more equitable (e.g., reducing racial bias in hiring processes; creating equitable pathways to positions at Park)
  • collaborative social justice focus (e.g., school wide social justice week; age-appropriate approaches to social justice and racial justice; justice lessons in the classroom)
  • affinity groups (e.g., Muslim family gathering; Parents of Students of Color; getting ready to launch other affinity groups)
  • greater visibility for DEI and Park School (e.g., Boston PRIDE parade; speaking at other independent schools about what we do at Park; broader visibility at recruitment fairs and with organizations we seek to partner with)
  • providing hands-on support (e.g., drafting up curriculum for Buddy Pairings; “This just happened in my class… what do I do?”; giving insight into decisions, language, and outreach)
  • programmatic offerings 

At our penultimate meeting (c’mon, I don’t get to use the word penultimate enough!), participants created the “Summer TO DO List”. Thank emily-flake-a-sign-on-a-fence-reads-ultimate-frisbee-3-5-pm-penultimate-frisbee-1-2-3-new-yorker-cartoonyou! More to come as I make lots of progress on the goals you’ve identified!

For this past meeting, I am so grateful to Shalini Rao for taking the lead and facilitating an important dialogue about our community’s reflection on the Director of DEI position. While it was circumstance that kept me from joining you, it was also an important time for you, as a community, to have time to think about what your hopes were for this Director of DEI position; what you believed still had not been accomplished; and what you believe are the personal benefits for you. 

I mean, it would have been a little awkward if I was there…

I’m in the process of summarizing your feedback and will write more later. In all, thank you for your reflections and your suggestions. Thank you for identifying that DEI work needs to be more formalized and given space in our day. Thank you for believing that having this type of full-time position makes a difference. Thank you for asking “how can I get involved” and “how can I continue to grow?”

But, most of all, thank you for making our shared community one that deeply honors the humanity within each of us. Thank you for showing this commitment in your daily work. Thank you for showing it in your daily lives. 

Thank you for not simply thinking, “Oh, we’ve been there done that” but rather “We’ve been there, where else can we go with this?”

And, thank you for collectively committing to #makethingsbetter.

Peace and Park,