November 24, 2020
With the holidays upon us, Watkinson, like many schools across the country, is about to enter into a planned period of virtual schooling. With the imposed concurrence of the election and COVID, we have had a busy, intense and important start to the school year. Our commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution continues to be in the midst of all this work, and I didn’t want the holidays to come and go without sharing an update.
Connected to our strategic plan goal to “Sustain an inclusive environment for students and adults”, three important working groups for faculty have emerged from the process begun last year.
Following the example of a student-led group on campus, Watkinson’s Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Committee is convening a new working group for adults, AWARE (Association for White Anti-Racist Education). This will serve as a white-affinity space for white adults in our community. The stated purposes of this group are to:
- Invite participants to explore, reflect, and respond, in taking ownership of our personal anti-racism work in order to hold ourselves accountable to the ways in which our whiteness impacts our practices as: teachers, coaches, advisors, staff, and people.
- Develop a greater understanding of white supremacy and the damage it inflicts on BIPOC, and to develop critical thinking around topics related to race.
- Challenge participants to practice ways to actively combat racism and dismantle white supremacy in our daily lives.
- Provide participants a more uniform and accurate understanding of language and terminology around equity and social justice.
- Set both personal and group goals, plan strategies for achieving them, and hold each other accountable during the process and spend time evaluating and revising these goals for the future.
Watkinson’s Director of ESJ, Skyler O’Neil ’15, will convene an adult BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Affinity Group, also open to both faculty and staff. This group will provide a space for adults in the Watkinson community who self-identify as people of color to have more frequent and intentional opportunities that allow them to come together to connect, support, and build community with one another.
The third group is the Culturally Responsive Teaching Workshop, led by ESJ committee member Nick Talotta and me. The goal of this group is to provide Watkinson faculty with a space to examine curriculum, instructional and assessment practices pertaining to issues of equity, inclusion, diversity, and cultural responsiveness in the classroom. Teachers can present any number of materials or ideas — an assessment, a unit, a resource, a project, student work, or questions about how to introduce or frame a lesson.
In addition to codifying these important groups which will deepen Watkinson’s understanding of and commitment to anti-racist work, we are in the midst of planning a series of community-wide conversations about the school’s academic program and the ways in which decisions are considered, made, and evidenced through our curriculum, with a specific emphasis on how marginalized people are represented. Ultimately, we want students to understand what we teach and why. Held virtually, the purpose of these gatherings will be:
- To provide an opportunity for students to learn directly from curriculum decision makers about what guides our thinking about curriculum and program;
- To provide a way for students to share their experiences and perspectives as “consumers” of our academic program;
- To engage in dialogue about the beliefs, hopes, values held by teachers and students when it comes to traditionally under-represented people in our school’s program;
- To actively listen for new insights and learning, and seek clarity and new perspectives as a way toward deepened understanding among and between students and faculty.
Curricular revision continues. As a result of feedback and input from current students and alumni voices in letters, conversations, and the BlackAtWatkinson instagram account, our History Department has made the decision to discontinue the school’s annual Civil War Monologues effective this year. We believe that some of the skills within the Civil War Monologue project are valuable and important to a Watkinson education, specifically the preparation for and execution of public speaking, research tied to deep learning, and clear and powerful writing; however, the timeline and content focus of the project will shift.
Going forward, students will work on these skills in the spring of the 10th-grade year within a unit that focuses on marginalized voices in the American 20th century. By opening this lens, students will be able to bring forth a much wider variety of perspectives and experiences, including telling the stories of achievement of marginalized people. For instance, by including the era of 1960s, opportunities arise to include voices representing the second wave of feminism, the Civil Rights Movement, modern environmentalism, and opposition to or support for the Vietnam conflict. There will be less focus on memorization and a greater opportunity for students to collaborate with one another to create innovative and engaging public speaking presentations.
As this letter attests, progress is happening and the momentum created by this work is important and foundational to the work ahead.
Know that everyone at Watkinson wishes you a safe and peaceful holiday season.
All my best,
Head of School