Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lessons from Students to Teachers

When you make the choice to invest in your child’s education, it often means some personal lifestyle sacrifices and a leap of faith and trust that you are investing wisely. I have walked the halls of GDS as both a student and a teacher. Over these years, I have seen amazing moments that have embedded themselves in my heart and mind. I have the privilege of working within the walls of GDS and I am reminded daily of the value of a Greensboro Day School education. This past Monday is a great example.

Part of being a good teacher is being attuned to all the issues facing our students, from academic pressures to social and emotional challenges. GDS’s long-standing commitment to Diversity education has exposed our faculty and staff to numerous experts and trainers over the year, but “Diversity” isn’t a lesson that is learned in a day.

Yes, our 21st century students are dealing with a great deal, and at a much faster pace, but when you peel away all the shiny hardware, the same issues facing teens are still there: learning how to become independent and at the same time, how to be part of a community; how to develop an identity built off family, friends, school, society and more. These lessons aren’t so cut and dry.

This year, when we started looking at potential ideas for our Diversity training and education we realized it would be best to hear from our main constituents – our students. No problem, let’s ask some kids to give up a good portion of a vacation day, create a curriculum, and learn the exercises so that they could teach their teachers. This may seem daunting to some, but our students rose to the challenge. The students opened up the floor at one of our meetings and came up with the topics they wanted to address with the adults of GDS.

The first exercise was about active listening; the second about how easy it can be to stereotype groups of people and how often those stereotypes don’t actually fit; and the final exercise was the most intensive -- teachers were given a series of fairly tough statements that they had to discuss.

Here is a sample of some of the statements:
  • I have been treated differently because of my appearance, gender, financial, social status, religious beliefs. 
  • I wish I knew of better ways to stop the cycle of bullying 
  • I have judged a student by their looks 
  • At times adapting to all the learning differences in my classroom can be challenging 
  • When I was growing up I was exposed to a wide variety of diverse people and cultures 
  • I try to incorporate topics of diversity in all of my lessons, examples and curriculum choices 
The discussions that ensued were intense – eyes were opened on both fronts – and everyone seemed to walk away with a greater understanding about what we have been doing well, and what we need to work on.

No surprise, our students were AMAZING! They allowed for processing, take-aways and were open when asked questions from teachers. When we all reconvened in the theatre, the student leaders were met with a rousing standing ovation from an emotionally charged room of adults.

From Kelly Sipe a Kindergarten teacher: “Students learn at a young age that their voices matter, their passions are worth pursuing (and will be supported) and their goals are attainable...that everything they need in order to succeed, they already have inside of them. I saw in these young adults the leaders of tomorrow that will advocate for themselves and others and will, in turn, make a difference in the lives that they touch.”

We still have lots of work to do – and that includes bringing our parents into the discussion. The doors are open to continue to collaborate to make GDS an even more accepting, inclusive and safe community.

Wendy Lavine ’85
Upper School English teacher and Diversity Coordinator