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Mission & Motivation: Uncomfortable in a Comfortable Place

By Net Assets posted 01-29-2020 09:28 AM

  
HERstory

Leadership |

Diversity and inclusion leadership training pushed this business officer outside her comfort zone — by design.

Article by Rose Neubert, Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart

From the January/February 2020 Net Assets magazine

Feature image: dancers from Stuart's HerStory II performance, billed as "An Artistic Celebration of Black Women in History." Held in February 2019, the event involved other schools in the community, was free and open to the public, and hosted at the school. All photos courtesy of the school.

About five years ago, I attended the Diversity Directions Independent School Seminar, a national program for school leaders and educators committed to diversity and inclusion. When my school announced a last-minute opening to participate, diving in to an intensive six-day program on such short notice seemed daunting. Not only would I be away from my family, school community and work duties for a few days, but I also felt I would be stepping outside my familiar zone of finance and operations. However, an impulse took over, and I volunteered to go.

I can say without a doubt that this seminar was life-changing and fulfilling. I had the opportunity to learn more about topics such as recruiting a diverse faculty, establishing diversity leadership positions and crafting a diversity and inclusion statement that aligns with a school’s mission.

Although the topics clearly intersected with the strategic goals of the business office, I quickly became aware that I was the only finance professional in attendance. The other participants were diversity and inclusion directors, heads and assistant heads of school, and faculty. How did that feel? To be honest, it was great — I was a novelty! My colleagues warmly welcomed me, allowed me to listen and learn about their incredible experiences, and encouraged me to engage other independent school business professionals in this work.

When business and finance professionals contribute to a collective understanding of how diversity plans advance equity for the whole school, schools can better identify and meet their goals.

Aligning your school’s diversity processes and business goals can be a fruitful experience, and business professionals have a unique role to play. Most independent schools have committed themselves to diversity and inclusion, presenting it in their mission statements and school website and engaging with the student body. Many have developed standing committees on diversity and begun to recruit a diverse faculty, while others have also established diversity leadership positions. Despite taking these steps, however, schools often find themselves unable to achieve their original goals. When business and finance professionals contribute to a collective understanding of how diversity plans advance equity for the whole school, schools can better identify and meet their goals.

herstory ii

Joining the Dialogue

The diversity committee at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart has been active for nearly 10 years. Committee members developed a diversity mission statement that reflects the school’s unique history and culture, and the statement is backed by robust and regular faculty and staff professional development and action.

One such opportunity is Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED), a national professional development program in which participants use their own experiences to widen and deepen their connection with others. We hope to expand the number of participating faculty and staff until ultimately every school employee has received this training. The training teaches participants to use conversation tools to engage in peer-led conversations, listen to each other and address critical issues, including tensions between socio-economic classes, ableism, race relations and the gender spectrum.

At Stuart, we discuss how each of these issues are reflected in ourselves and the Stuart community. SEED training seeks to create a respectful community of learners and a safe, constructive space to share, disagree and work together. That doesn’t mean that these conversations are always easy or comfortable, however. In fact, one of the core goals in our work is to create a “comfortable place to be uncomfortable,” meaning to stretch outside our comfort zones and try new things.

We business professionals may find ourselves naturally drawn to data and objective work. It’s our comfort zone. We may feel awkward joining dialogue on diversity topics in which each person’s unique life story — some painful to tell and listen to — cannot be “fixed” with a mathematical formula or tangible solution. But over time and with training, we can gain more comfort with the unfinished nature of this work.

When we are put at the center of our own processes of growth and development, we are better able to put the growth and development of young people and colleagues at the center of our classrooms, communities and workplaces.

In order for us to achieve this, we at Stuart agree to do our best to:

  • Speak your truth.
  • Listen with respect.
  • Respect the roles of silence.
  • Balance speaking and listening.
  • Share the airspace.
  • Consider what is confidential.
  • Trust that learning is a process.

When we are put at the center of our own processes of growth and development, we are better able to put the growth and development of young people and colleagues at the center of our classrooms, communities and workplaces. The significant investment in time, care and concern for each member of the cohort leads to deepening relationships, and these relationships carry over into everyday interactions, including work in the business office.

Bringing It All Back Home

What does it look like to align diversity with administrative and operational work? At Stuart, our goal is to connect all of our diversity work to the student experience.

The diversity committee plans events with visiting speakers as well as in-house faculty and staff speakers. Student groups also have attended our all-staff meetings to express their ideas and experiences. These student-led discussions are moving, thoughtful and action-provoking.

At the first diversity committee meeting of the current school year, we spent time reflecting on Stuart’s diversity statement. We all expressed a longing to cultivate a community where every single student, parent, teacher and staff member is able to present their most authentic selves and have them be celebrated and acknowledged. We acknowledged that understanding, exploring and acting on diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the leadership, service and wellness of our community.

We took time to reflect on core areas of diversity and what we have accomplished and what work remains. We broke down our work into the following segments: student recruitment and retention, faculty and staff hiring, diverse school-wide curriculum and school-wide programming and culture. We are now forming sub-committees that will spend this school year determining what resources and professional development each area may need to address fears, obstacles and challenges. 

Will we develop solutions in all these areas during this academic year? Most likely our learning will go beyond that timeframe. We all come into the diversity and inclusion space from different places, and we are growing and changing as we participate. As our Stuart community leans into discomfort, we are trusting that learning is a process. It takes work.

Rose Neubert is director of finance and operations at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, New Jersey, an all-girls K–12 school with co-ed early childhood programs. She also serves on the NBOA Board of Directors and the board's diversity, equity and inclusion committee.
In Mission & Motivation, an independent school leader shares a core belief and/or source of guidance or inspiration. Interested in contributing? Please email netassets@nboa.org. In the subject line, type MISSION & MOTIVATION.

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