Tackling Brave Conversations in the Upper School

Kate Collins

Living Our Mission in the Upper School

By Kate Collins, Upper School Division Head

At Carroll, DEI is all about “GECing” our students, and meeting them where they are. However, in the 8th and 9th Grade, they are still trying to understand who they are, let alone everyone else.

It’s easy for our students to forget about being open-minded, and to forget to consider who other people are, and how to engage with them. Our work in diversity has to be centered on us knowing our kids… and then “Carrollizing” how we deliver the critical work we’re doing around identity.

On one hand, we have some “social justice warriors,” while others are at very different places in their self-exploration—yet each group is exactly where they are supposed to be. That’s what I love about the DEI work at Carroll; there is no, “you need to be here on this day… or the bus is leaving without you.”

Recently in Foundations for Brave Conversations, we were talking about stereotypes and bias, unpacking the language and morphology of the words—again, “Carrollizing” how we approach this challenging topic. We discussed the biological nature of stereotypes, and how they exist in all of us as a way to make sense of the world. In our discussions, we’re not saying “don’t do it”—but rather that it’s important to be aware of your bias, and the stereotypes you embrace.

We’re reading and discussing scenario stories with our students so they can understand how stereotypes look in today’s society. In a real and authentic way, we’re also trying to teach perspective-taking… but not explicitly. We want our students to imagine being someone else, how they’re feeling, and what they would do in situations.

Tackling Brave Conversations in the Upper School

At one point, a student bravely shared that they often did what the person in the scenario was doing to stereotype another person. I thanked them for being comfortable enough to recognize that, and vulnerable enough to share their experience as a part of our close community.

With DEI work, you have to be willing to make mistakes, and we have a culture at Carroll that is open to mistakes; it’s how we build trust and safety. The idea that “you’re not perfect and you don’t have to be,” extends from our academic approach into the work we do to build our community—and that’s what helps our students to become their best selves, even when mistakes are a part of the equation.

We asked Upper 9 students to describe Foundations for Brave Conversations (FBC). Here’s what they told us:

Alexander Choi: FBC is a time to sit down and talk about really different topics that are all very relevant today. Some people might call them uncomfortable topics. But because you’re in a group and not alone in your uncomfortableness, it makes it much easier to engage.

Peyton Brown: I think they're a little uncomfortable just because a lot of people try to avoid them. But by talking about it more, everyone's in the same boat—they're learning just as much as you are. So it gets less uncomfortable the more you're talking about it and the more open you are with it.

Falone Gustafson: When we first started FBC, it was a little bit uncomfortable because of the subjects that we were talking about. It was hard. But if you need time out, the teachers always let you step outside, take some deep breaths, come back in, do whatever you need to do to help yourself to be okay, because we have to talk about these things.

Alexander Choi: The American Dream Game is not information I've never heard before, but looking through the lens of the person you’re playing, definitely adds a level of understanding. There is an emotional level to it that maybe is missing if you just have regular conversation about it.

This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection 22-23: Living our mission every day as an inclusive community of learners

  • Carroll Connection 2022-23

Recent Posts

Exploring Identity through Team Time
Molly McKeever

In the 3rd Grade this year, we're focusing on concepts of identity in our new bi-weekly “Team Time” block. “Team Time” is dedicated to a series of all-grade group projects and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activities—part of the larger work we’ve been doing on DEI at Carroll.

Exploring Identity through Team Time
Lily Durant, Grade 3

“Team Time” is when we think about our community, and the communities around us. Mrs. McKeever has an awesome collection of books that we read, and then do a project on each one. We talk about different perspectives and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, to see things from their point of view. It’s important to have diversity—life would be boring without it!

Exploring Identity through Team Time
Abby Zwetchkenbaum

The DEI Coordinator is a newly formed volunteer role that started at the Lower School this year. We sat down with Abby Zwetchkenbaum, 5th Grade Language Arts Teacher, 5th Grade Team Lead, and DEI Coordinator, to hear about how this role is making an impact at Carroll.

How the Lower School Is Building Community - one Caught Ya! at a time
Michele Hales and Elizabeth Quansah

The Lower School’s values of ERIK (empathy, respect, inclusion, kindness) is a grounding way to concretely talk to students about the ways we should act in a community with one another. We introduce these values throughout the school year through books, videos, and engaging activities that help define what each value means, and what it looks like in action.

Evolving Our Professional Development to Meet Today's - and Tomorrow's - Needs
Alissa Benway

As the Assistant Division Head for the Middle School, I’m involved in developing and providing pedagogy courses at Carroll. The Carroll courses started as a way to train staff to be successful teachers at Carroll. It’s important that these courses continue to evolve each year, and that we remain committed to improving the content to meet the needs of our educators and our students.

How our 6th and 7th Graders Worked Together to Accomplish Team Challenges
Emma Creeden

Every grade at Carroll forms a really nice community amongst themselves, but I had noticed there was not a lot of interaction between our grades. We have so much wonderful space on campus, and the ability to adjust our schedules to create time for meaningful activities and pursuits to educate the whole child—and I saw an opportunity. That’s how the HAWKS Nest project came to be.

Taking Orton-Gillingham to the Next Level to Fulfill Our Mission
Joanne Nimmo and Jenny Talentino

Carroll educators are constantly assessing and considering new approaches and strategies to ensure we fulfill our mission to give each student what they need to succeed academically. This rings true even at the core of Carroll’s academic program—Orton-Gillingham tutoring.

Integrating Diversity into Orton-Gillingham Tutoring
Sarah Napier

Carroll’s diversity and inclusion work is deeply important to me, both in my work as an educator, and personally. When I began working at Carroll five years ago, the school was just beginning DEI training with faculty. Recently, the Middle School has moved towards integrating that work in the classroom with the Foundations for Brave Conversations curriculum. As an advisor and homeroom teacher leading these conversations, it inspired me to think about how to incorporate more diverse books into my tutorials.

Will Close ‘11 on Activating Learning in Bounders
David Johnson

Carroll alum Will Close ’11, recently shared with me that “Multis”—the arts, physical education, outdoor education programs at Carroll—helped set him on a path to become a lifelong learner. It wasn’t just writing papers or doing projects in our classrooms that activated his learning. Rather, he discovered his love of education in the Bounders Woods, in the Arts & Innovation Center, in the gym, and on the rock wall.