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Sowing the SEEDs: Diversity and Professional Development Enrich MCS Staff

Friday, November 2, 2018

The National SEED Project was founded in 1987 by Dr. Peggy MacIntosh, who is best known for authoring “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” According to SEED’s mission statement, MacIntosh “founded the National SEED Project to confirm her belief that teachers could be leaders of their own professional development.” Those who take part in SEED training then take that training to their own schools and communities. In the summer of 2017 I was trained to be a SEED leader. This ten-day intensive training asked us as participants to examine our identities and confront the ways in which systems -- including patriarchy, heterosexism and white supremacy --have shaped our experiences.

SEED believes that in order to understand and dismantle these systems, people must begin with the personal. So, in our training, we were asked to examine the many ways privilege and oppression have shaped our own experiences. Throughout those enlivening and challenging ten days, those leading our training often reminded us to trust the process. My time training to be a SEED leader was a transformative experience. One takeaway for me in particular was SEED’s focus on positionality. Positionality is, most simply, our position in relation to other people and things. Positionality shifts based on the many identities each of us has, some that fall on the side of power, others on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. Understanding our individual positions is vital in engaging in this work and in working in a diverse and dynamic community like MCS.

After having completed the training with another MCS colleague, we were asked to plan and facilitate several full staff SEED meetings. In our introductory meeting last year, we asked the MCS faculty and staff to come having written their gender story, focusing on messages about gender they received both growing up and in their adult experiences. This led to many powerful and personal conversations about the ways gender messages have shaped and limited us all. This year’s opening SEED meeting focused on social class, asking staff members to reflect on why class can be difficult to talk about. Additionally, we engaged in an activity called “Punching Up, Punching Down,” in which each participant was asked to reflect moments when they’ve shifted their narratives in terms of social class. In thinking about this session, Lower School Resource Teacher Kevin Hershey reflected, “The thing that I felt was most useful about the SEED session was it asked us explicitly what students do covertly all the time: figure out one another’s social class. Social class isn’t something we talk about with children in the same way we talk about things like gender. It felt important that we were discussed things connected to students’ lived experiences.” The ultimate goal of our work is to help others in our community, our students in particular, to have conversations that can feel fraught. The conversations in our SEED sessions are meant to serve as a springboard by which we take these ideas and share them with our students and the community at large.

Because SEED sessions ask participants to share honestly and personally, specific protocols are used to give a sense of structure and boundaries. First, when sharing, each participant is given an equal amount of time. They do not need to use all the time, but in cases that they don’t or choose to pass, those they’re talking to are asked to hold the silence until that person’s time is complete. This ensures that no one voice dominates a conversation. Another important protocol that is vital to the work is creating a culture of consent. So, for example, if someone makes a statement during a session that another person is interested in talking more about, that other person must first ask the individual is interested talking more and respect their response. 6th Grade teacher Tiffani Lynch added that “the protocols solve a lot of issues I’ve experienced with previous trainings I’ve taken part in about sensitive topics, not letting certain people dominate the conversation or accost you later when they want to hear more about something you’d shared.” These protocols connect directly to our work in classrooms in which we create spaces for all our students to take positive risks and create healthy boundaries with one another.

Our SEED work is an important part of our teaching at MCS. It also helps us to live the values of MCS’ mission in creating a community that works to “champion excellence and justice, compassion and peace, and the rights of all people.” Conversations about identity can feel fraught and turn into something that people avoid. It is important that our staff do the same work we ask our students to engage in every day: listening to one another, asking for what we need, and developing a greater sense of empathy and understanding for one another’s experiences.