SJLS: Curious Leaders

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

Samuel Johnson

 

We are all born curious. And if lucky…our curiosity grows.

Tapping our students’ innate desire to know more about each other and the world around us—that is the inspiration behind the Social Justice Leadership Summit (SJLS).

I attended the SJLS in 2014 and wrote: “In more than thirty years as an educator, I have never participated in an event that built as much trust, or inspired as much faith and hope as the SJLS.” Nearly three years later, the SJLS continues to thrive. There were 35 students and faculty the year I attended. This year (January 28, 2017), there were sixty.

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, Director of Inclusive Excellence & Leadership, describes the SJLS to students this way: “SJLS is a one day leadership retreat where you will explore your own personal identities, learn about perspectives different from your own, and most importantly seek commonalities with classmates. With all the divisions in our world right now, we should all be working a little harder to find commonalities.”

The SJLS is also a catalyst for student leadership, as Dr. Bramlett points out: “Two years ago students put together ideas that inspired the launch of my new American Cultural History class. Last year, students saw a need for more diversity programs in Middle School and this year, those same students will run a Middle School workshop called Ally Afternoon. Another idea that students made a reality is “Dive-Ins” where students host conversations and welcome diverse perspectives. They don’t just talk. They take action.”

I’m particularly enthusiastic about the Dive-Ins because they foster civil discourse—an essential leadership skill.  Topics have included Colin Kaepernick’s controversial protest of the national anthem and a Dive In about students’ hopes and fears around the new president. More than 50 students have dived in to tough, important conversations.

My hope is to have a student or two share reflections from this weekend’s summit. The positive anticipation leading up to this weekend was palpable. According to Dr. Bramlett, senior Matthew Lindsay best captured the pre-summit excitement: “It’s going to be lit!”

I’m pretty sure that’s good 🙂

St. Luke’s is a private independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: an exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit!

Diversity: Messy, Imperfect, Essential

“The problems we face in the world are very complicated. Any one of us can get stuck. If we’re in an organization where everyone thinks in the same way, everyone will get stuck in the same place.”

Scott Page, a professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, in an interview with the New York Times, illuminates why our diversity initiatives at St. Luke’s are so critical.

Diversity is not a matter of opinion, or a political posture. It is deep within the DNA of our school and central to our mission. As we wrap up this year’s theme of Building an Inclusive Community, it’s important to note that our work in this area is certainly not done. Unless our world changes drastically, we will never be finished teaching and learning about diversity.

Our focus on diversity and inclusion (the atmosphere that makes diversity possible) is not a sign that St. Luke’s has a “problem.” It does not mean that our families are racist. Quite the contrary, the fact that we spend valuable time focused on developing our students’ compassion, respect and appreciation for all is a sign of a healthy community—one that understands the deep benefits of its diversity work.

Does this work sometimes feel uncomfortable? Boring? Annoying? Accusatory? It may. These are things we need to talk about. With each other. With people outside the community.

Because diversity not only makes us better people—it also makes us smarter and more successful.

Data supports the cognitive benefits of diversity: Research done with college freshmen and high school seniors examined how students’ experience with diversity in college improves their critical thinking.

The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014 study shows that students who are enrolled at campuses with stronger acceptance of diversity tend to realize greater benefits from interacting with other races and ethnicities. Among these benefits are diversity-related skills, such as “ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective or openness to having their own views challenged.”

The business world has also embraced diversity and its direct ties to corporate success. From a recent Forbes article: “The business case for diversity has never been more front and center than it is now…and why not? Basic economic theory suggests that consumers will correct for a company’s lack of diversity by simply not spending money there—making slow-to-change organizations extinct.” The writer goes on to point out: “Perhaps most exciting, top workplaces are approaching diversity problems with a more forthright, open tone. A long recognized best place to work, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ diversity division is led by Maria Castañón Moats who proclaims on their company webpage, ‘At PwC, we believe in confronting the hard realities—and then doing something about it.’ Then there’s a Clorox corporate blog post which aptly rationalizes, ‘…If you cannot answer the diversity question clearly and favorably when it is asked in the recruiting process, young people are going to choose to work elsewhere.’  These examples represent a more resolute stance compared to the old days of corporations simply valuing difference or promoting a tolerant environment.

Research fully supports the need for diversity and inclusion, but the research doesn’t say that it is easy. Diversity work is bumpy, uncomfortable, messy and imperfect. But we have to talk about it—honest conversations help us move forward.

These are times that, more than ever, we need to remember our school’s mission to increase our students’ knowledge, compassion and ability to thrive in the world.

How could we be St. Luke’s without a passion for and dedication to diversity?