Imagining the Possibility at the People of Color Conference

More than 40 members of the Parker community recently joined 7,000 teachers and learners from nine countries at the 2019 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) and Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Seattle, Washington.

Billed as the flagship of the NAIS’s commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning, this year’s event comprised intensive full- and half-day Equity Seminars, three days of immersive workshops and keynote lectures by Dr. Joy DeGruy, Mike Walsh, Valarie Kaur, Anand Giridharadas, Pedro Noguera and Schuyler Bailar.

The mission of the NAIS PoCC is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.

The SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of Upper School student leaders from more than 300 independent schools across the United States that focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators—including multiple years of leadership from Senior Kindergarten teacher Kirk La Rue and 3rd grade teacher Ashleigh St. Peters—participants develop effective cross-cultural communication skills and better understand the nature and development of effective strategies for social justice. Students also practice intergroup and self-expression through the arts and learn networking principles and strategies. In addition to large-group sessions, SDLC’s structure also includes “family groups” to allow for small-group dialogue and sharing.

La Rue shared, “I come back to work with SDLC every year because of the people. I serve alongside a faculty of brilliant educators and thought leaders who push themselves every year to create an experience for students that is unparalleled. The students who attend SDLC bring lifeblood and verve to the project; I leave each year knowing that the children will be alright!”

In the true Parker spirit of getting the inside out and bringing the outside in, some of Parker’s administration and faculty shared their expertise at the PoCC by leading workshops offered to participants during a learning event.

In a full-day Equity Seminar entitled “Connecting the Dots in Culturally Competent Leadership for Independent Schools: Climate, Recruitment, Hiring Retention and Accountability,” Associate Principal Ruth Jurgensen co-led an effort exploring the need for cultural competence as a central organizing principle for increasing equity and meaningful inclusion for all members of a school community.

Jurgensen commented, “It continues to be an honor to work with a team of educational leaders to improve and impact independent schools from across the country as they strive to increase cultural competency and look to hiring for the same.”

Upper School Head Justin Brandon co-led “Administrators of Color Matter: How to Strengthen Your Candidacy in Pursuit of Leadership Positions,” a workshop to help participants explore how to advance their careers in independent schools.

“Priscilla Morales (co-presenter) and I felt the need to share our paths to pay it forward and hopefully inspire other people of color to pursue administrative positions and increase representation in independent schools,” said Brandon.

Counseling Department Chair Binita Donhue and Upper School English teacher Stacey Gibson are multi-year presenters at this conference and others focused on equity. At this year’s PoCC, they co-led a workshop entitled “The Life of the Diversity Practitioner: Circle of Rebirth or Cycle of Abuse?”.

While attending the conference, Lower School Literacy Title? Heidi Byrnes-Cloet attended “Taboo Topics: Talking About Race, Class, and Privilege in the Classroom,” a workshop presented by teachers from The Wildwood School in California who argued that, from the earliest days of elementary schooling, parents and teachers need to equip children to talk about differences they are already noticing in the world, but which adults may feel uncomfortable addressing. A quote from this workshop that stuck with her: “Kids see difference, not difficulty.” “In other words,” noted Byrnes-Cloet, “don’t be afraid to discuss potentially difficult topics; instead, teach children positive ways to understand difference and combat the injustice they see in the world.”

Communications Director Nick Saracino, a first-time participant, related, “I found the experience to be powerful, humanizing and transformative to me as a white parent, educator and administrator, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to attend and participate.” Physical education teacher Terry Davis offered, “It was great to connect with colleagues and attend meaningful workshops.”

Whether sharing their expertise, adding to their social justice toolkits, building and strengthening professional networks, bonding with peers or feeling true connection and community, all participants had the opportunity to learn and embrace interactional principles that advance equity and form connections with others who remain committed to creating and sustaining independent school communities in which people of color can thrive.

Enjoy highlights from the 2019 NAIS PoCC SDLC in the video below:
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.