Continuing Revelation

Professional development isn’t always about how to teach better—sometimes it’s about why to teach better.

That was one of the focuses of the latest Sidwell Friends professional development day, as teachers from all divisions gathered for a wide-ranging series of sessions, many of which concentrated on how to consciously create a more equitable learning experience for all students.

“We wanted to honor the positive feedback that we received on providing choice and substance within our programming,” says Natalie Randolph ’98, director of Equity, Justice, and Community. “The variety of sessions covered several topics, including social justice, art, leadership, and the environment—all of which are key to the School’s mission and equity work.”

Among others, the workshops included “History of Latin America and How it Matters” and “Being Disciplined: Unlocking the Natural Genius of Black Children,” as well as a deep dive into Quakerism and equity.

That particular session “was about reaffirming the case for Quaker education and pedagogy and connecting Quaker pedagogy with best practices in education in general,” says Lee Payton, the assistant director of the Upper School at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, who led the session with Drew Smith, the executive director of the Friends Council on Education. “No matter whether we’ve been at a Friends school for a year, two years, or 25 years, we always need to reconnect with the origins and the roots of what it is that we do, because that’s what makes our work unique and different,” Payton says. “That understanding needs to be refreshed all the time.”

Middle School history teacher Kira Abed was one of the participants in the Quaker pedagogy workshop. She noted that nearly half of her three years teaching at Sidwell Friends has been in virtual or hybrid learning, so she wanted to work on implementing Quaker values into her classroom more now that the students have returned for in-person learning.

“I hadn’t thought about the Quaker idea of continuing revelation in terms of incorporating it into a history classroom, but that fits in with why historiography matters,” says Abed. “The narrative that we tell about a particular group or individual can change if we’re willing to continue to ask questions of ourselves.”

Asking questions and adapting to new ideas is an integral part of professional development at Sidwell Friends, whether that’s looking at new ways to teach about sea-level rise or examining how to guide students into being good digital citizens. No matter the topic, two major themes echoed across all of the sessions: community and connection.

“Learning has to be experiential and community-based,” says Payton. “There has to be something that draws students out of the classroom space and into some kind of community space. It could be with each other, it could be with external people, it could be with the larger school community, it could be at home. Make the subject connect to real life.”

Real-life connections are important to Abed, too. “What we do every day is to teach our students not just to understand content, but to understand themselves,” says Abed. “We are all, students and teachers, trying to figure out who we are.”

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