By Osa Osagie, Director of Equity and Inclusion
Carroll’s DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) journey has been organic and beautiful. Our work has been built upon the school’s expert understanding of what it means to support kids who learn differently and applying that understanding to connect with other forms of human difference into our work as teachers, learners, and community members.
Our first few years focused on laying the framework for becoming a more diverse and equitable community through professional development and teacher training. It became evident to me this past summer that now is the perfect time to bring a culturally responsive curriculum into the Carroll classroom.
Fortunately, I have the help and support of my talented colleagues and Carroll’s leadership. Our Middle School Integration Specialist for DEI, History, & ELA Curriculum, Micah Wittmer, spearheaded the process of creating a framework and curriculum called Foundations for Brave Conversations for our Middle and Upper School students.
Interview with Micah Wittmer, Middle School Integration Specialist for DEI, History, & ELA Curriculum
What is the Foundations for Brave Conversations curriculum?
MICAH: Foundations for Brave Conversations is a curriculum that helps advisors and their students create a community of trust so that they can be more equipped to have conversations about challenging topics such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and other isms that foster hate and exclusion.
It aims to develop Social Emotional Intelligence (SEI) in a culturally responsive way, allow opportunities to get to know and celebrate each other’s identities, and help to develop a shared language to be able to effectively discuss race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.
How did the idea for FBC take shape?
MICAH: FBC came about after the unrest of the spring of 2020 and the senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. We realized that we needed to allow space for students to process these events and the subsequent protests, yet so few students had the language or the understanding of how prejudice, racism, and injustice manifests in our society. We also wanted all adults to be equipped to have these conversations with students and put into practice what we have been discussing in PLCs for the past three years.
Since Carroll was in the process of reorganizing the school into pods where all teachers would be advisors, it seemed like an opportunity to involve the whole teaching and learning community in an advisory curriculum centered on identity exploration.
What are the learning goals for FBC?
MICAH: The goal of FBC is to involve the whole Carroll Middle and Upper School learning community in:
- Reducing the tendency to respond out of fear or defensiveness to difficult topics.
- Valuing others’ personal experience and creating an atmosphere of empathy when listening to each other.
- Practicing speaking from one’s own experience --an essential practice for effective discussions.
- Reflecting on how students have or have not experienced privilege, stereotype, and bias.
- Challenging participants to explore and acknowledge their own assumptions and biases of others.
What are some of the topics that FBC has covered this year and how does it help Carroll to “give each child”?
MICAH: We've discussed what identity means, and the idea that how we see ourselves may not be how others see us. We've also been discussing prejudice, stereotypes, “us vs them”, bias, discrimination, racism, and privilege—all of which will help students better understand what is going on in the world today. Because FBC takes place in intimate advisories, teachers are able to tailor the discussions to the needs of their own students.
During a Foundations for Brave Conversations discussion this year, I learned that everyone has their own story. You can't tell what they are going through by just giving them a glance on the sidewalk.
Harry O’Connor, Upper 9th Grade Student
What have you learned from FBC and how do you see it evolving for next year?
MICAH: I already knew that starting with identity exploration was crucial for this type of learning, but I didn't fully understand how fundamental it is for adolescents.
Even though their identity and understanding of the concept of identity is rapidly changing, developing the skill of reflecting on one's identity is essential to engaging in topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As challenging as it is for some students, it is worth the time. Next year, I hope we will be able to devote more time to this curriculum during the school schedule.
As we continue to expand the curriculum, we hope to add the topics of gender, sexism, homophobia, classism, and how to be an upstander.
You can't properly give each child what they most need if you're not also honoring the identities of each and every student. Our diversity-focused Professional Learning Community meetings have helped faculty understand and appreciate the importance that every student sees themselves in the curriculum that we’re teaching.
Allison West, Middle School Division Head
This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection, A Timeline for Transformation: 2005-2021.
- Carroll Connection 2021-22