Every year the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) hosts its annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) for people of color who work in independent schools across the nation. This year’s conference was held in Nashville, Tennessee and was titled Equitable Schools, Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord, and the Notes In Between. 6400 people participated in PoCC and its corresponding conference for students of color, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC).
Historically, Prospect Sierra has sent faculty and staff to PoCC, but over the last several years, we’ve taken this commitment to the next level by ensuring that all faculty and staff of color that would like to attend are supported in doing so. This means that 24 individuals, including board members, represented Prospect Sierra at PoCC this year, our largest group ever!
The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.
At Prospect Sierra we commit to sending our faculty and staff to PoCC because we believe that:
- Equity and excellence are only achievable for us if we have a diverse community of administrators, faculty, staff, and students.
- Research shows that academic achievement of all children goes up when there are faculty of color in the community.
- We need to support and retain our teachers of color so that all children in our diverse community will thrive.
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is all of our work.
What happens at PoCC?
Over the course of three full days, our leaders at PoCC attended workshops, participated in affinity group conversations, and presented in four workshops! Prospect Sierra faculty and staff led the following workshop discussions:
- Experiences of Multiracial Female Leaders in Independent Schools: Renée Thompson, Director of Admissions & Outreach, along with colleagues from other schools, shared their stories to elucidate the voices of a population not often represented in leadership studies.
- Beyond the Single Story: Elementary teachers Maria Montes Clemens, Zahra Jackson, and Sandi Tanaka, along with Division Head Abby Guinn, discussed the transformation of our school’s winter performance into a interdisciplinary cultural experience that provides students with windows to see out into the world and mirrors to reflect back who they are.
- Illuminating and Challenging Implicit Bias in the Hiring Process: Director of Diversity & Inclusion Britt Anderson, 5th grade teacher Nathan Tanaka, and Jessica McCann from Brigham Hill Consultancy shared how Prospect Sierra engaged our head search committee in exploring the concept of implicit bias and building in strategies to mitigate the team’s own biases during the head search hiring process.
- The Future of Equity and Inclusion in Independent Schools: How Five Heads are Leading Through Challenge and Opportunity featured Head of School Katherine Dinh alongside fellow heads of school to address the most pressing challenges when it comes to a school’s equity and inclusion strategies.
Our team also attended talks by authors, educators, diversity thought leaders, and more, including Marian Wright Edelman, Luz Santana, Julia Lythcott-Haims, and Marc Lamont Hill. Teachers utilized Santana’s question asking methods to start a unit in 2nd grade science and for developing thesis ideas about Animal Farm in 8th grade humanities immediately upon return. Sharing concrete learnings from the time away was a priority and greatly appreciated by the students.
Overall, faculty and staff reported feeling supported and inspired at PoCC, and reiterated the power of connection they felt with fellow faculty and staff of color. One person noted that when we send so many people to an affinity space for people of color, our school community sends a powerful message about our school’s values and our approach to providing support for faculty and staff of color. Further, it elevates the understanding of the importance of affinity spaces for everyone in our community.
We are committed to an ongoing dialogue around difference, privilege, equity, and changemaking that engages all of our constituents, and supporting faculty and staff to attend PoCC is a critical part of this work. From school-supported cohort groups for students and families, to partnerships with local organizations, to partnering with parents about how to talk with children about race, we believe that these conversations help us to be thoughtful citizens and responsible community members.