What Does Diversity Work Look Like in TPS Classrooms?

by Christine Chisholm and Bob Prischak, Family Diversity Committee Members

At The Philadelphia School we often talk about the growth mindset of our students, but we hear less about how that concept applies to our faculty. The teachers here share a passionate commitment to their own professional growth as educators, and as a progressive school, TPS supports and nurtures that growth. On January 13, the Family Diversity Committee (FDC) sponsored an event called "Classroom Matters, Diversity in our Classrooms." Attending community members had the opportunity to hear from a panel of faculty members and parents about the work being done around diversity, what it looks like in different classrooms, and how it affects the experience of our children. 

Brian Johnson, Director of Admissions and Diversity Coordinator, began the evening’s discussion by first talking about his own professional commitment to diversity work in schools and then giving an overview of the work being done at TPS with Ali Michael, a consultant from the Professional Development Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Junior Unit teacher Noelle Kellich shared her experience working with her team to create a year-long school partnership with Wissahickon Charter School, a public school located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The purpose of the partnership is twofold: to engage in problem solving regarding urban watercourses and invasive plants related to a creek and pond at Awbury Arboretum and to focus on providing students at both schools opportunities to build cultural competencies that enrich their ability to work with people from diverse lived experiences.  

Kindergarten teacher Katie Miller spoke at length about her team's work with Ali Michael and described specific examples of how Ali’s coaching in the kindergarten classrooms allowed the teachers to rethink the dynamics of race and equity among their students.  She described how invaluable it was to hear Ali’s immediate feedback and suggestions right there in the classroom. The kindergarten teachers were able to brainstorm with Ali about best responses to the many small moments when questions of race and difference come up for their students. Katie shared some remarkable stories.

Eighth grade teacher Ethan Tannen spoke about his professional growth around diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to teaching mathematics.  Madeline Ortiz-Leonard spoke both as a preschool assistant teacher and an alumni parent about the efforts TPS has made to become a more inclusive school that acknowledges the challenges of diversity work. Finally, two current TPS parents spoke of their experiences at the school over the past 10 to 15 years. 

We are grateful to the teachers and parents who shared their time and thoughts at the FDC event. We are fortunate to be a part of a school community that welcomes honest, sometimes difficult conversations about race and equity in the classroom. It can be humbling work, but it is deeply important to our children and to the growth of TPS.