Addressing Differences With Grace, Honesty, Sensitivity, and Empathy

Mount Vernon is a school community made up of many voices and stories. Our Head of School Dr. Brett Jacobsen continues to remind that it is important to be anchored in Christian values — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. As relationships at Mount Vernon are foundational to learning, we welcome the opportunity to engage with voices and perspectives that challenge our assumptions through a deeper dive in civil discourse and courageous conversations.

For two days at the beginning of the school year, diversity trainer and speaker Rosetta Lee visited the Mount Vernon campus, from Seattle, to consult our faculty and staff, while leading workshops throughout each division with parents and students on topics such as cross-cultural communication, identity development, prejudice reduction, coalition building, gender diversity, facilitation skills, bullying in schools, and gender bias in the classroom. Ms. Lee first educated adults on both external and internal identities to bring awareness of our vast characteristics and how they intersect in the world. With her warm and welcoming personality, Ms. Lee helped create an environment in which adults and students could feel vulnerable to discuss difficult and sensitive subjects. She empowered our Mount Vernon community to have courage over comfort and recognize that authentic relationships and close friendships across differences are created not by avoiding topics of conflict but by addressing them with grace, honesty, sensitivity, and empathy. Students also had the pleasure of learning from Rosetta about welcoming differences, inclusion, and implicit and unconscious bias.

A Dance of Balance

How do we learn about our various group identities, such as female, African-American, Buddhist, middle class, etc.? From whom do we learn the meaning of these terms? What messages have we internalized about ourselves and others? What are the differences that result in one person having a healthy self-identity and another person experiencing own-group shame and hatred? Learn how we can instill positive self-identity in our children and coach them to be positive influences on the identities of others. Together, we can co-create inclusive communities, working toward success for all.

I am not a parent. I’m not here to say, “You should parent this way because I’ve raised 15 amazing, identity-conscious children who are taking over the world,” but more like, “Because I’m NOT a parent, I have all this time for research.” I’m hoping what I have discovered is something parents and guardians find useful.

Think about this. Identity models are like a map, but it doesn’t actually determine the path that a young person will go through. It turns out we go through different journeys depending on which assets of identity we’re talking about.

Many identities are forming at the same time as our attitudes are shifting. So, how to support that identity journey is to help children understand that they have identity frames, like picture frames. You can have a whole vista, but as soon as you put a frame around it, you see a limited piece of it. These identity frames are informed by things such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation. The same thing can happen in a setting where you and I are looking at the same thing, but you won’t see it the same as I do, because of our different identity frames.

Read the full transcript 

Excerpts from Lee’s Self-Identity Assembly  

Intentional Conversations

Lower School Students: Welcoming Differences
What are some ways we can approach differences so that everyone can share openly, feel “normal,” and be valued for all their unique experiences and ways of being?  Learn to accept likes and dislikes of others, be curious about something you’ve never seen before, and try things you’ve never tried.

Middle School Students: No Joke Zone and Pump Ups
Everyone has something that can bother them, even if it doesn’t bother anyone else. Everyone is also uplifted by different things. Learn about No Joke Zones (NJZs) and Pump Ups, identify your own, and communicate them with one another to become a better friend, classmate, and community member.

Lower School Faculty: Inclusion in the Early Years
Folk wisdom tells us young children don’t notice differences or have any biases, yet research is telling us otherwise. What are age appropriate ways to develop intentionally inclusive and identity conscious children?

Administrators: From Safe to Brave: Courageous Conversations
Talking about topics such as identity, difference, and oppression can raise anxiety for many people, and yet we must have the conversation in our schools and our lives in order to be more inclusive and culturally competent. What are the fears and common pitfalls that keep us from broaching topics like race, gender, class, etc.? What are ways we might engage more authentically, respectfully, and effectively across difference?  Learn to participate in truly courageous conversations.

Middle and Upper School Families: Parenting with the Teen Brain in Mind
Adolescence is a turbulent time of changes, searching for identity. What do brain science, identity development, and educational psychology have to say about raising connected and resilient kids primed to learn and be successful in school and life? What are some practical tips to help kids maintain healthy developing brains? How do you maintain connections with your kids, even as they draw away from adults? Learn to empathize with your teens and with yourself, as well as inform how you approach your teens in healthy and productive 

Middle and Upper School Faculty: Talking to Youth about Heated Topics
Young people bear witness to challenging or traumatic events in current events, media, and our local communities. They are often trying to process thoughts, feelings, and reactions without our explicit help an guidance – thereby increasing their confusion and anxiety. We adults have a natural instinct to protect our children from harsh realities and yet prepare them to navigate this complex world – is it possible to do both? How do you reinforce the School’s values without instilling disrespect for other perspectives? How do you coach them toward authentic and respectful dialogue across difference?

Preschool and Lower School Families: Parenting with Identity in Mind
How do we learn about our various group identities such as female, African American, Buddhist, homosexual, middle class, etc.? From whom do we learn the meaning of these terms? What messages have we internalized about ourselves and others? What are the differences that result in one person having a healthy self identity and another person experiencing own-group shame and hatred? Learn how we can instill positive self identity in our children and coach them to be positive influences on others’ identities.  Together, we can co-create inclusive communities that work toward success for all.

Upper School Students and Faculty: Implicit and Unconscious Bias: Bridging the Distance Between Professed Values and Daily Behaviors
We want to create organizations that are inclusive and culturally competent toward all people no matter what their identities or backgrounds. Yet, we know that there are implicit and unconscious biases that get in the way of our acting in congruence with our beliefs and values. Learn the science of cognitive biases we all have and what we might do to mitigate them.

Executive Team: Cross-Cultural Communication for Leadership
Humans communicate on many levels: spoken language, tone, body language, style and personality. The fact that we have complex cultural identities and a host of differing past experiences increases the probability of cross-cultural miscommunications. This workshop presents major cross-cultural communication theories, ways that cultural values, power, privilege and differences affect the way we communicate, tools for questioning assumptions, and ways to improve cross-cultural communications skills.

Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee Bio

Rosetta Lee serves Seattle Girls’ School in dual roles. SGS is an innovative school for Junior High School girls, aiming to empower women leaders and change agents and dedicating its energies to a diverse community of students and faculty, an anti-bias mission, and an integrated curriculum.  As a faculty member, Rosetta teaches subjects such as science, math, technology, art, ethics, model building, and more.  As a professional outreach specialist, she designs and delivers trainings for all constituencies of the school community, as well as the local and national educational and nonprofit sectors.

Since 2004, Rosetta has been a diversity speaker and trainer on a variety of issues, including cross cultural communication, identity development, prejudice reduction and coalition building, gender and sexuality diversity, facilitation skills, bullying in schools, and gender bias in the classroom.  Rosetta has presented at numerous conferences and nonprofit organizations such as the White Privilege Conference, Junior League, and City Year.  She has also worked with over 90 K-12 public and independent schools throughout the country, as well as a number of colleges and universities. She has served several years on the faculty of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Diversity Leadership Institute, as well as NAIS’ diversity think-tank cadre, Call to Action.

Rosetta has served as President on the Board of Directors ofSMARTgirls, a Director on the Board of the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR), Chair of the 2006 Seattle Expanding Your Horizons Conference, Co-Chair of the 2006 NAIS People of Color Conference, Think Tank Member of the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference, and as a trainer/facilitator with the National Coalition Building Institute. Rosetta is the recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Partner in Education Award from the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research and recipient of the 2005 Distinguished Teacher Award for the Washington Federation of Independent Schools.

You can follow Rosetta Lee on LinkedIn and Twitter

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