By Denise Coffin, SFS Kindergarten Teacher
Teachers at Quaker schools don’t need to be Quakers. But grounding the classroom and curriculum in Friends principles in a way that allows these precepts to take root in students requires educators to have two core attributes: an openness to understanding Quakerism, and a desire to grow ever more effective at seeding Friends ideology into the school experience.
To this end, Sidwell Friends teachers benefit from the efforts of Quaker Life Committees in each division. At Lower School, our Quaker Life meetings have been growing in size and scope over the past several years. We now convene monthly Quaker Education Committee meetings to work on preserving, promoting, and generating ideas about our Quaker identity and how to grow it in our classrooms, and we invite all our teachers as well as parents and members of Bethesda Friends Meeting and Friends Community School (FCS) in College Park. One interesting example of what might come out of our gatherings took place last year, when Jane Coe from Bethesda Friends led a workshop on a Quaker meditative and worship practice called Experiment with Light.
It was at one of these Quaker Education sessions that FCS librarian Susan Smith Bastian ’72 (daughter of former SFS Head of School Robert Smith), PK teacher Kathleen Geier, and I had the idea to bring together professionals from other Friends schools in the region to share teaching ideas, practices, and experiences, creating a community of “teachers teaching teachers” about Quakerism.
We call it a QuakerEd Collaborative.
During the planning stages, Susan and I communicated frequently by video chat, email, and phone. We brought Deborra Sines Pancoe, associate director of Friends Council on Education, into our development conversations. I sought approval from Head of School Bryan Garman and Lower School Principal Shereen Beydoun—and we received their full support!
Because we wanted participants to get insights from a variety of voices, not just ours, we invited teachers from Friends Community School in College Park, Maryland, and Friends School of Baltimore to share their work. We also built “mini courses” into the program on faith and play, testimonies, and Quakerism and the Arts. Drew Smith, director of the Friends Council on Education, agreed to give the keynote address.
On event day, April 5, nearly 30 people—heads of school, division heads, and teachers from lower, middle, and upper schools—joined us at Bethesda Friends Meeting House to learn, share, wonder (and dine!) with peers. In addition to the Friends schools in College Park and Baltimore, guests came from Maryland’s Sandy Spring Friends School; Friends Meeting School in Ijamsville, Maryland; School for Friends in Washington, DC; Wilmington Friends School in Delaware; and the Bethesda Friends Meeting.
In his inspiring address, Drew Smith asked us to consider the outsize effect a Friends education has despite Quaker schools being in the minority. He pointed not just to Quaker stalwarts such as abolitionist Lucretia Mott but also to non-Quaker alumni of Friends schools who are working to better society, including Moses Brown Friends School graduate Jesse Williams, the actor who gave an impassioned acceptance speech at the televised BET Awards and called for social action around racism; George School alumnus Julian Bond, a leader in the civil rights movement; and Darryl Ford, who graduated from Friends Select School and is now at the helm of William Penn Charter School. Quaker school teachers, he said, create alumni who go on to work on big ideas such as social justice, peace, and women’s rights, even though most are not Quakers themselves.
Feedback on the QuakerEd Collaborative has been overwhelmingly positive. Other SFS teachers in attendance and I were particularly struck by the Quaker storytelling session led by Amy Schmaljohn from Baltimore Friends School. She introduced us to a way of using storytelling with learners of any age that we would love to pursue at Lower School. Equally valuable, though, were the many smaller ideas that we can use right away.
We look forward to the QuakerEd Collaborative becoming an annual event.