Last week I joined eight students and five colleagues from Catlin Gabel in a memorable journey to Indianapolis. Along with 3,600 adults and teenagers, we attended the 28th annual People of Color Conference, held by the National Association of Independent Schools. The event aims to create a safe and inclusive gathering where educators of color and white allies can leverage racial, ethnic, and cultural differences for educational excellence in our schools.
I attend this conference because it is important for me to be reminded of the privilege I have in society as a white male, and because I am a school head with political authority and visibility. Teacher colleagues attend to connect with friends and allies, explore ways they can improve their communities, and learn about leadership. Students attend to join a larger conversation about equity and social justice and learn how they can be change agents in the world. We all attend to deepen our commitment to others.
This year's conference was especially meaningful, as it took place during nationwide protests over race and justice. While we were in the Midwest, colleagues back on campus made plans to respond to the tragic events involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner, among others. As assistant head and Lower School head Vicki Roscoe stated, "We want our children to be curious and aware of the world around them; we want them to think critically and consider multiple perspectives; we want them to be compassionate; we want them to know that there are ways changes can be made when things need changing. We also need to honor their stages of development."
In the past week, Lower School teachers engaged with children around themes of fairness and kindness, inspired by the Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Curriculum already in use. In the Middle School, teachers devoted class and advisory time to establishing a baseline of knowledge with students, and provided opportunities to share what they think and feel about recent news. In the Upper School, a team of teachers led a divisional assembly, explaining the legal system, statistics on crime and race, and the complex job of law enforcement. Teachers and students then gathered in small groups to share reactions.
We understand that inequities in society will not be solved by discourse alone. How do we embrace the challenge of being an elite institution committed to social responsibility? We acknowledge that achieving educational excellence requires diverse perspectives and life experiences. We teach our students history and cultural competence so that they can navigate local neighborhoods and college campuses with respect and curiosity. We seek to create powerful community-based learning experiences. We establish the institutional infrastructure to sustain our focus on equity and inclusion. We seek authentic partnerships between Catlin Gabel and the greater Portland community. With each step we take, our students are more prepared to lead us toward the promise of equity and opportunity for all. That's leadership.