Faculty and Staff engage in a Cultural Competency workshop.

Faculty & Staff Wrap Up a Year’s Work on Cultural Competency

This spring, faculty and staff at MICDS concluded their second year-long equity and inclusion education professional development series, a program created by Head of School Lisa Lyle and Director of Faculty Equity and Inclusion and Student Activities Erica Moore. This year, faculty and staff continued to work on building their capacity to best serve the needs of each and every child at MICDS. For the 2018-2019 academic year, 36 percent of the MICDS student body identifies as students of color, students come to MICDS from 65 different zip codes across the greater St. Louis area, and over 40 different languages and dialects are spoken in students’ homes.

“This is an important piece of our ongoing work to make our community one where each child feels valued, affirmed and included. Faculty and staff are eager to continue this work as we better ourselves and best serve our students—students who will need to be fully prepared to meet the complex challenges of this world and stand for what is good and right. As educators, we have an obligation to prepare the world’s future leaders in this way,” said Ms. Moore.

The program begins with Ms. Moore offering a variety of Equity Learning Groups for faculty to choose from. The online sign-ups fill quickly, as educators are excited about exploring topics both new and interesting. Ms. Moore predicted an amazing year based on the topics available, which included American Systems and Structures: Socioeconomics; Bias In Your Backyard: Uncovering the Racial History of STL; Confronting Unconscious Bias: Learning to Sit in Discomfort; Finding Voice: Reading Educated: A Memoir and The Hate U Give; His and Hers: Then and Now; Intercultural Development Inventory: Minimization to Acceptance-What Do We Do Now?; Islam in Context; Mini-Culture Tour: Where Am I? What is It?; Religion: Meaning and Practice; SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity); Using Current Events: Explore Bias, Diversity & Social Justice; The Role Art Plays in Social Justice Conversations; and What Does It Mean To Be White: A Book Study.

Participants were challenged by the work around this and found it impactful and beneficial in helping them best serve the needs of our students. They shared some of their experiences:

“The cultural competency sessions provided me valuable time to have meaningful conversations with my colleagues about how they incorporate relevant, cultural topics into their classroom. Also, the sessions allowed me to share my struggles and get valuable feedback as to how to address these struggles.”

“I participated in Islam in Context. It was enjoyable learning about the religion, especially the history and its role in context of political issues. I also learned about the fasting that is done during Ramadan and how it affects students.”

“It was really helpful in helping me to understand the vast diversity among Muslim people and helped to dispel some misunderstandings regarding commonly held stereotypes. I certainly try to be open to all people and having this additional information and context will definitely allow me to better relate with our Muslim students and families.”

“I thought I had an adequate understanding of Islam when I signed up for the course, but quickly learned that I really didn’t know much at all.”

“Each week, we had a guest speaker who was a practitioner of a certain faith. Our guest presenters talked about Sikhism, the Bahá’í Faith, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and other religions. In our diverse community at MICDS and in the world, it’s wonderful to be aware of these different beliefs and practices so that we can better understand and support our students and one another. These classes help us better live into our Mission of embracing all the world’s people with compassion.”

“I was in the ‘Finding Voice’ group, in which we read and discussed two memoirs over the course of the year. In addition to these texts conveying remarkable journeys in their own right, both texts’ richness enabled us to open our discussion out into our experiences of interacting with students in the classrooms, hallways and sports fields and to reflect on the ways we as educators understand and support our students. Similarly, we considered the gaps that exist in terms of our students being known, valued and encouraged by their fellow community members at MICDS, and discussed strategies for addressing those unmet needs that our students (and perhaps even our colleagues) sometimes have.”

“I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of viewpoints and experiences of the faculty members making up our group. This made for really interesting discussion. My colleagues’ generosity in the way they shared experiences they’ve had both in and out of school and then explained what they learned from these experiences was a really valuable benefit of being in the ‘Finding Voice’ Cultural Competency group. I likewise really appreciated the way my colleagues shared how they’ve applied the understandings they gained from past experiences to the daily work that they do as teachers, advisors and mentors.”

“It was great to have conversations around gender equity. The beauty of having different voices in the room is different perspectives. It allowed our group to really think about our experiences and the experiences of others.”

“I was in the ‘His and Hers: Then and Now’ class. The class got me to concentrate on taking the gender out of conversations to allow all to be more comfortable in the classroom. I became more aware of how conversations include a gender and can make it difficult for young adults.”

“My group was Gender Identity. We shared provocative readings and had great discussions about how gender is shaped in large part by the media. This group made me more aware of how I fall into the two-gender system when I refer to the students and say things like ‘Ladies or Gentlemen…’ or ‘Thank you, sir.’ I am now making a concerted effort to try and be gender neutral as much as I can.”

“I learned the importance of teachers sharing life lessons and other aspects of our experiences with our students. Doing so helps not only increase the ways our students are learning at school, but it also shows our students that we are real people and that there’s value in sharing important parts of who you are and what made you the person you are with one another.”

Ms. Lyle also shared, “The world our students enter will demand sophisticated cross-cultural and critical thinking skills that can only develop through intentional interactions with folks whose life experience and perspectives are different than their own. All children benefit from an educational environment in which they develop both deeper self-awareness and a better understanding of how others see the world. Only within a diverse community of learners can that happen, and while necessary, diversity alone is not sufficient.”