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It’s Pink Shirt day at The Park School! Coordinated by our GSA and their advisors, this day invites all Park School community members to wear a pink shirt on Friday to raise awareness of bullying and bullying behavior. It is a campaign to promote kindness and to encourage us all to be Upstanders (people who take action when they see injustices). 

Pink Shirt day also helps to challenge our preconceived notions of gender and gender stereotyping. Traditionally, our society has encouraged the belief that the color pink is reserved for girls. Making Pink Shirts a universal campaign means that we are also challenging gendered stereotypes of who can wear pink or what pink says about who we are.

Though we teach kindness, inclusion, and being an upstander in our academic and social curriculum, it is timely that we are talking about kindness, anti-bullying and being an upstander related to current events. (I’m also recently inspired by Ms. Barre, Social Studies teacher who just came to talk to me about Title IX and the current events timeline she is leading in class!) 

Just a few days ago, the White House rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. The national “bathroom debate” had previously included forcing individuals to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender at birth and prohibiting bathroom use based on gender identity. In the wake of that debate, we had heard of many instances where individuals – who were both transgender and not transgender – were harassed in public bathrooms. We also heard from young people about the impact of the bathroom debate. 

The Park School has a history of commitment to LGBTQ families and issues. Over the years, we have deepened our knowledge of, awareness of, and commitment to individuals and groups who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ). We, at Park, are clear about our commitment to the safety, security, and inclusion of LGBTQ individuals and families. And, we, more specifically, support members of our community who identify as transgender.

At Park School, we talk openly about both gender stereotypes and gender identity. Our classroom teachers include books, discussions and resources that affirm the lives and contributions of LGBTQ people and communities. And, we take both an active and proactive approach to making sure that people who identify as LGBTQ know they belong here at Park. We are committed to the continued and on-going education of our faculty and staff as we shape a more inclusive school community. We are committed to having dialogues in our parent and family community to support families who identify as LGBTQ and of diversity of family structures. We take actionable steps to affirm our commitment to the larger LGBTQ community through our support of a GSA and our participation in the Boston PRIDE parade. The Park School continues to provide single-user, non-designated bathrooms available in our buildings, and we provide windows-and-mirrors related to gender and gender identity. 

We realize that education is a process. And, when we hear words or phrases that disparage people who identify as LGBTQ or communities that identify as LGBTQ, we are prepared to address and educate about these comments. In our earliest ages, we teach our students to participate in kindness, to stand up for themselves and for others, and to shape a school community where everyone belongs. Because there is a spectrum of commitment and beliefs around issues related to LGBTQ communities, we also encourage respectful approaches to disagreeing and to civil discourse, knowing that we have a diversity of families, beliefs, positions, and views. 

Further, some parents may simply not know how to talk about diverse families, LGBTQ families or issues impacting the LGBTQ community. We invite you to visit our library and check out some of our great books that speak to these issues. We invite you to check out Dr. Jennifer Bryan‘s blog, a writer and educator focused on developmentally appropriate lessons on gender spectrum and gender stereotypes. Dr. Bryan visited The Park School in 2015-2016 to work with our faculty, parents/families, and students. 

Here is also a great video for parents about how to talk to their children about gender, based on the book “Who Are You? The Kids’ Guide to Gender.” It’s also a great primer for us adults who might struggle with how to use kid-friendly language about gender. 

For a bit more reading, here is the May 2016 release from the U.S. Justice Department about protecting people who are transgender in our schools. 

And, here is the “Dear Colleague” letter released Feb 22, 2017. 

In alignment with inclusive practices, we at The Park School take pride in three important action items:

  • We educate ourselves and our students in developmentally appropriate ways about gender, gender identity, stereotypes, and inclusion.
  • We provide safety, security and privacy of all people and align ourselves with practices of non-discrimination related to bathroom use. 
  • We uphold the rights of people who identify as transgender, particularly the right to use the restroom like every one else in our community. 

We are grateful for the activism of our students in our GSA, their coordinators, and our larger Park School community as we encourage kindness, inclusion, equity and belonging. And, we look forward to Pink Shirt Day at Park!

You are welcome here. 

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T

 

 

WHY TALKING ABOUT DIFFERENCE HELPS

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I’m often asked, “When is it too young to expose my child to differences?” My answer: You already have. 

Your children (mine, too) have noticed differences at a very young age. They likely noticed difference because we taught them — we showed them picture books and pointed out the cat and the dog. We showed them board books with different colors and shapes, and we clapped when they told us what made those two items different. We giggled when we asked them to point to our nose. We raised the pitch of our voices when our toddlers excitedly pointed to their ears when we said, “Show Mommy where your ears are!” They knew that our noses were different from our ears; that our cats were different from our dogs; and that our squares were different from our circles. 

Knowing differences has been essential to our children’s functioning. 

So, why are we surprised when, as school children, we are having conversations about differences? Why are we uncomfortable when our children come home talking about differences between the Jim Crow south and now? Or, the experiences from the Civil Rights Movement and now? Or differences between skin colors or sexual orientation or genders? 

We are surprised because, for many of us, we haven’t been comfortable talking about it ourselves. We have become uncomfortable with the idea of people noticing differences. 

Sure, it’s easy to tell my child the differences between cats and dogs or spoons and forks or hot and cold because I’ve been talking about those things my whole life — at least since I was their age! 

But, other differences? Differences in race, skin color, religion, ability, class, gender? Those are harder because, frankly, I’ve had a harder time talking about them myself. 

The other day, one of my children was asking me about Hanukkah. As a practicing Catholic, I have never celebrated Hanukkah. I have had friends who celebrate; students who celebrate; colleagues and neighbors who celebrate. But, I, myself, have never celebrated Hanukkah. Even growing up, I lived in a town that was predominantly Catholic, and in my graduating class at my public high school, there were still less than a dozen students who identified as Jewish. Learning about Hanukkah and other traditions in the Jewish faith was not part of my education. 

I was uncomfortable with his question about differences. 

I was uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure if I had all the facts right. 

I was uncomfortable because, as a Catholic, I didn’t want any of my own words to sound biased or that I preferred my own religion. 

I was uncomfortable because I was sharing information about a group and faith tradition that was different from my own.  

But, I knew it was my responsibility as a parent to find out more. It was my responsibility to educate myself. It was my responsibility to be comfortable talking about some of the basic foundations of Hanukkah. And, because my child is Catholic like me, it was important to give him some context to our own faith tradition and its relationship to Hanukkah.

I knew, after that talk, my child would have questions. And, he did. His questions about Hanukkah led him to questions about people who identify as Jewish. He asked questions about people who are Jewish and how they celebrated. He asked about differences between people who practice Judaism and Catholicism. He asked if we would ever be Jewish or if his friend would ever be Catholic. And, he asked “What if one parent is Jewish and the other parent is Catholic?”

He asked all the questions that I would expect a young child to ask — guided by curiosity. 

He didn’t walk away from our conversation with a judgement value on his own faith practice or that of others. He simply asked questions, and he got simple answers that were appropriate for his age. He knows that there is beauty and strength in his own faith practice and that religions different from our own are also beautiful and strong. 

While he may not have had a proper course in Religious Studies 101, I hope that he walked away knowing it was okay for him to ask questions. I hope he walked away knowing that he could come to me if he had more questions. He certainly learned that I didn’t have all the answers, but that I would go find out the answers to his questions. 

Every Sunday, as we sit in our Church, surrounded by other Catholics, my son has knows that there is importance in gathering together for that 60 minutes in our faith practice. He hasn’t memorized all of the prayers, and he still asks to get a drink from the water fountain when the priest starts his homily. He knows that, in our faith tradition, we believe that gathering on a Sunday helps to amplify God’s word. Gathering together with people of our same religion doesn’t mean that we devalue other faith traditions. Gathering together with people from our same religion doesn’t mean that we don’t learn about others. Gathering with people from our same religion for 60 minutes on a Sunday doesn’t mean that we feel better than others or more important than others. Gathering together is simply that — gathering together. We gather together in our religious tradition so that we can hear the Word of God — a God we believe in that others do not — and share in this similarity. 

Then, after Church, we exit the front doors and enter into a diverse, vibrant and exciting world filled with people from all different faith and religious beliefs as well as those who do not have or follow a particular faith or religion.

Being in our small Sunday church allows us to learn more about ourselves so that we can be our best selves with others. 

As we enter into a season where we may be spending more time with family, and maybe even with friends and family from different backgrounds of all types, it’s important to begin thinking about how comfortable we are talking about differences. Our conversations about differences should be about learning, about seeing and about talking. 

Having differences is not about being better or worse than someone else. 

Having differences is about acknowledging, appreciating and learning about ourselves and others.

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T

 

 

 

THE ACT(ION) OF KINDNESS

downloadDuring election night, and the days after, I was away from school. I was traveling from Florida to Ohio to attend a conference. And, regardless of political preference, we all witnessed that our country was divided. No matter if I was at the airport, in a taxi, at a conference, or waiting in line at Starbucks, there was something in the air. And, I found myself thinking, “I wish I was back at Park.”

As the days passed, my news feed was filled with even more divisiveness — the same divisiveness we all thought would go away after November 9th seemed to heighten and continue to raise the level of discourse.

But, in the midst of some of the bad behavior, I found myself looking for examples of kindness. I was looking for examples of people going out of their way to be welcoming, warm, and generous with their time, their homes and their lives. I began to ask people, “So, what makes you a kind person?” And the answers came back with, “Well, I’m not mean.” That didn’t sit well with me. 

In a morning meeting with students and faculty at Park, I scrapped my existing presentation and decided to just freestyle about kindness.

I wanted to impress upon the community that “the absence of meanness is not kindness.” I said, “Just because you don’t make fun of people or tease others. Just because you don’t trip people in the hallways or gossip. Just because you don’t make others feel bad — the absence of meanness is not kindness.”

Because, after all, the absence of meanness is just neutral. Kindness is an actual act of generosity, of welcoming, of outreach and of goodness. Kindness is not just an act, it’s an action.

It’s time we shifted away from the notion of kindness being an absence of meanness. Kindness must be the presence of good.

Mr. Vega, our Director of Technology, always asks three questions when encouraging others to make things (e.g., the world, our community, our home) better:

  • How do people feel when they spend time with you?
  • What do people learn when they have spent time with you?
  • What do you do to make things better?

We have all heard of “random acts of kindness” — things we do without any purpose of acknowledgement or appreciation or recognition. Keep doing those.

I’d also encourage you to engage in “intentional acts of kindness” — things we do because we know the impact of outreach. Some of that intention might be repairing hurt relationships. Intention may mean moving from neutral (e.g., I haven’t been mean to you, but I also haven’t been nice to you) into kindness. And, intention might mean recognizing the act(ion) of kindness in others. 

I’ll be honest — the act(ion) of kindness is not always easy. Even just in the few days, I’ve felt myself fall into bad habits. I’m committed to trying harder each day. 

So far, here’s what I’ve done:

  1. I wrote a note to faculty members who had been doing great things but who I have never said, “I notice you are doing a great thing.”
  2. I wrote a note to faculty members who I have been neutral towards with “I don’t recall ever saying anything kind to you. I am sorry. I will do better to be more actionably kind to you.”
  3. I wrote a note to faculty members who I had been mean to or been unkind to and sought forgiveness.

Here’s what I’m doing coming up:

  1. Creating small care packages and keeping them in my car to distribute to anyone who is asking for some assistance. The bags include: a pair of gloves, a few dollars, sanitary products, soap, toothbrush/paste, a kind note. 
  2. Sending notes to people who I take for granted — people who I am thankful for
  3. Purchasing or making thank you notes for others to use as we share kindness

What act(ion) of kindness can you make these next few days or weeks?

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T

GENERATIONS

(Note: I have written and deleted this entry seven times. Just thought you should know…)

My job is to talk about difficult issues. 

My job is to research, teach, explore, examine, support, and introduce difficult issues. And, yes, occasionally, I write about them, too.

But, today has felt different because I often write in reflection, in retrospection, and in examples of events in my life as a parent, teacher, scholar, research and practitioner. 

So, to write a piece about “How to Talk to Your Children Post-Election” is nearly impossible because, well, I haven’t yet talked to my children. For the past week, I’ve been traveling around the United States and internationally. So, I haven’t talked to my three children. 

And, I won’t see them for another few days, either. 

But, I already have a feeling what that conversation is going to look like. They’ll reflect on the phrases we’ve heard and conversations we’ve had over the past 18 months about anger, fear, language, equity and kindness. They’ll reflect on the actions they’ve heard about that violate our U.S. constitution. They’ll reflect on the amped up rhetoric that affect our families and their friends. 

In our house where we openly discuss issues of identity, my children are likely feeling a certain kind of way about the election results; but, make no mistake, my children also are very aware of the history of our country and that these words we have heard from this President-elect are words that have echoed throughout our nation’s history. 

But, I have far more questions than answers and advice. Admittedly, some of this is written out of frustration. Some of this is written out of kindness and urgency.

All of this is written as a call to action and to begin asking the impolite questions of ourselves. 

To teachers, if you did not actively include identity in your classes or lessons or morning circles or read alouds, I’m not asking you to suddenly do it. I’m asking you to think about why you weren’t doing it in the first place. I’m not kidding. I appreciate that this feels a little bit like a call-out rather than a call-in, but our election results have me feeling a certain kind of way. Yes, sure, read that book in class. Yes, grab your book bin that is filled with identity texts. Those are helpful for our students as they affirm identities and, more importantly, reading these texts demonstrate to them that YOU affirm their identities. But, really, I’m begging you to think about why you weren’t doing it already. Is it structural? Do we need to change aspects of our schedule? Our curriculum? Our daily format? I’m serious. What can we do so that you feel ready, empowered, or interested in including this teaching tool as a way to engage in this dialogue on identity? Or, is this dialogue as important as anything else you are doing in class? Yes, I am asking you, #doesthismatter ?

To parent and caring adults, what do you need in order to talk about identity in your homes? What do you risk? What do you lose? What do you fear? What do you want to protect your child(ren) from? What messages are you sending to your child(ren) about identity dialogues? What do you want to learn? What do you need to learn? What do you want to talk about with other adults? Our children look to our adult community for safety, stability, and security. Yet, regardless of who you voted for, if you were able, our country is waking up a divided nation. How do you want to talk about this with your children who, for the next four years, will experience this social climate? What do you gain by not talking about it at all? What do you lose?

To administrators and leaders and aspiring leaders, what does leadership look like in a time of division? What does it mean to support leadership? What does it mean to challenge leadership? What does it mean to be charged with unifying a divided community? What does it mean to be disappointed in leadership or to be fully energized by leadership? What expectations do we have of leaders? What role do we play in supporting or disrupting leadership? 

Finally, I want to caution us, as caring adults, about promises. There is a blog post going around with advice to adults about what to tell children. I loved most of these sentiments — that bigotry is not a democratic value (yet, our current election has proven us wrong) and that bigotry is not tolerated in our schools (I totally believe this at our school).

While this is comforting, I am compelled to respond from my lens as a woman of color and as a race scholar, particularly about “I will protect you.” Unless you are willing to go to court or be there when INS shows up at a family’s home or throw yourself in the pathway of anti-Muslim taunting, please know that you, singularly, cannot protect people. Unless you can be everywhere at all times, you cannot protect people who are targets of hate and bigotry. Democratic processes and laws are only as good as the folks who believe that they apply to them. We have laws that protect LGBT communities, yet my newsfeed is often filled with hate crimes and violence against people in this community. We have laws against assault and brutality, yet we have witnessed how those laws do not always protect people. 

I write that paragraph not to dissuade folks from allying with communities; however, I do write it because I do not want to pretend as if minoritized people are always protected. We can have agency in our own classrooms and in the small hallways of our school (I make this distinction between our school and larger schools). Yet, we would be naive to believe that our students have not made homophobic, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and classist comments to each other. And, as we know, we cannot protect our students who leave our campus and then walk through life outside of our campus. 

Over the past few hours, i have found great comfort being in the presence of other race and identity scholars and practitioners. We exchange knowing looks; simple nods; hugs; holding hands; and deep breaths together. I sit through sessions about race and identity; am comforted by the weight of a hardcover book in my hands (one that centers around race — I picked it up after the election results); and appreciate being seen and heard. 

It is important for us, as adults, to process our feelings about a divided country. And, it’s important to find ways to move forward. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, eventually, we have to keep pressing on (note: not moving on .. there is a difference!). Ask young people (and each other), “What’s one thing you can do this week to press on?” 

I think about how future generations will look back upon this time when they study this moment in history; and I look forward to the many ways that we can generate ideas and action to shape a more inclusive and equitable community.

Peace and Park, 
Dr. T

 

 

Feedback as Kindness

Disagreement: a windy road or a straight path?
Over the past few weeks (okay, 18 months now), our country has been engaged in deep discourse. And, the next few days seem to be creating even more anxiety.
With our United States elections just a few days away, I am reminded about the pathways of discourse. Now, it’s not just our election viewpoints that inform this discourse — it’s our actions towards each other, our behaviors, our attitudes and our feelings about each other that are also impacted. 
I recently read a blog post by the brilliant Gloria Ladson-Billings where she describes “being through“:
  • I am through indulging comments like, “everything is not about race,” when most times it is;
  • I am through explaining my style—hair, dress, swagger;
  • I am through being your teacher when I am not paid to do so;
She even begins her blog by mentioning that her post is probably a surprise to most folks who know her to be a scholar who engages in critical discourse around race and teaching and talking with other folks about race and racism. But, there comes a point when the scholarly pursuit — the talking about, around, through, upside and down — about race meets the every day lived experiences of race. “I’m through.” 
We, as adults, get frustrated when we witness children being so direct with each other. “I don’t like Petunia” or “Petunia is not my friend anymore!” or “I don’t want Petunia to sit with me.” (PS: Thanks to my colleague Alice Lucey who often uses “Petunia” in examples). As adults, we have learned to be kinder about feelings — a very important skill. But at what point did that kindness turn into avoidance? And, at what point does that avoidance turn into dysfunction? 
What does it mean to give feedback or engage in conversations that are straightforward and concise? Why have we as adults circumvented difficult conversations? 
And these past 16 months — the time in which candidates began announcing their interest in running for President of the United States — has been a real-time case study of disagreement. 
As often we should, I learn a great deal of children. One of my favorite ones is Kid President. Here, he has a great video about disagreeing that you should check out here
As we wind down (or up?) the election season, here are some helpful reflection questions you might want to consider. Then, have a conversation with your child(ren) about what it means to disagree. What does it mean to give feedback? What does it mean to receive feedback? What does it mean to approach “feedback as kindness”? Is it compassionate to inform others about the impact they have or is it easier to avoid these conversations? 
Wishing you the best as we head into the final few days before our election! 
  • How would you describe your experiences with discourse or disagreement leading up to the election?
  • What examples do you have from conversations with your children that made you think about discourse and disagreement?
  • What are challenges we, as adults, have around discourse? What are challenges we, as adults at Park School, have around discourse? (and, are they different questions?)
  • What do you wonder about discourse and your children? What are you curious about? These prompts might help: “I hope that my child(ren) learn that…..” or “I wonder if my child(ren) …..”
  • What strategies do you have moving forward to encourage and support healthy disagreement?

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T