During in-service last June, our diversity consultant, Ali Michael, and I continued to work with teachers to enhance equity and inclusion in our classroom by focusing on developing teachers' racial identities. Racial identity development is based on the theory that people of all racial groups go through a series of steps in a cycle, with each step deepening an understanding of who we are racially, how racism impacts our lives, and how we view ourselves and other races.
People with strong racial identities have a greater sense of comfort with relating to and working with all types of people. This awareness of others' cultures is often referred to as cultural competency. People with heightened senses of cultural competency and racial identity have a greater ability to be proactive (rather than reactive) when dealing with issues related to racism and diversity. This is extremely helpful for teachers such as ours who work with racially diverse students because they are better equipped to form strong student/teacher relationships. Study after study has proven that such relationships make a difference in students’ level of comfort in the classroom and with their academic performance.
In support of this research, Ali and I created a summer challenge for our faculty and staff designed to push participants along their racial identity continuum. The challenge propelled faculty and staff to consider positions they would not normally take and placed them in situations where they were the minority.
To process what was learned, we used most of our August in-service meeting time for staff to meet in affinity groups based on race (intended to provide staff a greater level of comfort) to discuss and reflect on their experiences. Afterward, staff came back together and shared some of their thoughts about what they gained from the exercise.
This marked the kick-off for TPS's diversity efforts this year. Focus areas this year include:
- a pilot program (Equitable Classrooms) to further enhance equity in our classrooms;
- staff and student training in the areas of sexuality and gender identity;
- faculty and staff affinity groups to promote rich discussions on various topics;
- a TPS parent workshop on strategies to effectively speak with your children about race;
- staff and student attendance at regional and national diversity conferences;
- a pilot program (Parent Ambassadors) designed to increase diversity within our student body in the lower grades;
- continued efforts to increase diversity among our faculty and staff.
With all that is going on nationally related to race and culture, diversity has become an even more important part of our mission and community. As an independent school, we are uniquely equipped to make a significant difference on the equity and inclusion front. Independent schools have certain characteristics and traits, such as small caring communities, adequate resources, influential networks, and academic vigor, to make a difference in the types of students we graduate. Our job is to produce thoughtful, caring, social justice–minded citizens and leaders who are upstanders for equity and inclusion. And although we are already doing it well at TPS, we can do it better by continuing to enhance equity and inclusion in our classrooms.
This is an exciting year in diversity at TPS, and we look forward to working diligently to make TPS an example of a truly equitable community where all students and families can be their best selves. I’d like to close with the words of former Board Diversity Committee Chair and current board member Paul Saint-Amour:
“The Philadelphia School continues to make progress in becoming a more equitable and inclusive community, but we realize we still have room for growth. We will work at this until TPS no longer feels for some students and families like a 'white space,' or a 'straight space,' an 'abled space,' a 'biological family space,' or a 'rich space.' We want TPS to be a safe, socially transformative community for all.”
Brian Johnson, Director of Diversity