We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Roald Dahl, Inclusion, and Learning
A few weeks ago when my husband and I visited our daughter in Manhattan, our Broadway show of choice was Matilda, as author Roald Dahl was always a favorite in our home.
If you are familiar with Matilda, you know the ferocious Miss Trunchbull, a teacher who delights in making children feel irrelevant and without a voice. Of course, we know that Dahl’s characterization is extreme, but the play led to a terrific family discussion about supportive school environments, where students and teachers are motivated and free to learn, and not weighed down by anxiety or unnecessary concerns. (You can take the educator off campus but…) It made me reflect on Westridge and all that we are doing to ensure that we create a supportive and inclusive community and continue to grow in this way to best address the needs of our students, families and employees.
Inclusion is one of the four core values I asked our community to recommit to this year. While we value Westridge as a place that’s warm, welcoming and tolerant, when we talk about inclusion we’re talking about something much deeper. We are focused on building a community that takes the time to consider the different cultures, perspectives, and experiences others bring to our campus and how they impact their experiences at Westridge. Even further, we are taking that knowledge into account in our own words and actions so that everyone feels their experiences and voices are an important part of our community.
Being inclusive in this sense is a valuable cultural competency for everyone in today’s diverse and connected world, but it is imperative in school. If our girls don’t feel seen, respected, and valued for who they are and what they bring to a classroom, they won’t be free to learn at the deepest level. There is a great deal of research demonstrating that educational outcomes improve when all students feel safe and truly included in their school community. This is why we hold this core value so dear and are committed to continued learning and work in this area.
During our professional development day this week, our faculty, staff, and administration worked with Alison Park of Blink Consulting to consider the ways in which we can more deeply understand our culture, and develop a keen awareness of self, others, our environment, and our use of language so that we can connect authentically and positively with others, achieve shared goals, and flourish. We have embarked on a series of workshops where we have thought about our biases and assumptions, identified scenarios that could be exclusionary and inequitable and have practiced ways to avoid creating such situations and how to address them when they do occur.
Our students, too, have taken action and have demonstrated confidence to tackle some really big issues. Upper School Student Voices leaders recently gave an assembly presentation on the ways in which certain kinds of verbal and nonverbal communication, sometimes unconscious, can demean, nullify, and create negative and damaging situations. Often referred to as “micro-aggressions,” they undermine the integrity of individuals and institutions and perpetuate a sense of “them” and “us” in relation to racial identity and other key aspects of diversity. And, at our opening assembly, our Associated Student Body demonstrated their commitment to inclusion by revealing the 2014-2015 school theme: “We’re All In This Together!”
Of course parents play a role as well. This year our Westridge Parent Association members committed themselves once more to “Building Community through Parent Involvement,” and, over the past several years, they have developed the Multicultural Parent Collaborative to support parents whose primary language is not English at school events, promote a spirit of engagement among parents with shared backgrounds, and facilitate parent dialogue on topics related to multiculturalism, diversity and global understanding.
Inclusion work is ongoing and difficult. It takes time, and patience, and a willingness to engage in conversation, be open, recognize impact versus intent, and change direction when necessary. I am deeply appreciative that our entire community is willing to engage in these conversations.
Elizabeth J. McGregor
Head of School
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