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Darryl Johnson joined French American and International as the school’s first Director of Diversity & Inclusion in September 2017. We recently sat down to talk about her numerous goals for her work in our community.
What have been your top priorities since your arrival?
I have been mindfully listening and observing—in classes and co-curricular activities, through conversations with parents, and working closely with the instructional leadership and student support teams. In doing this, I hope to build empathy, trust, and a nuanced understanding of the community in order to be an effective diversity practitioner. I’ve sought out natural entry points for my work, which have included leading discussions on gender expansiveness and identity in Mouna Harifi's 8th grade civics classes using the film Ma Vie en Rose, and facilitating conversations on immigration, gender, media, and popular culture in 9th and 12th grade English classes. I’ve also begun planning four diversity-themed all-school assemblies spread throughout the year, the first of which is on Implicit Bias & Internalized Racism—which offers great continuity given that faculty members have been using the book Blind Spot to engage with the topic in the professional development trainings.
Student leadership in diversity is a central part of your work. How have you been cultivating leadership in this area?
Empowering students to take conscientious, compassionate, and mindful actions toward building a more equitable future is a profound goal of diversity and inclusion work, especially in schools. I have begun this work with students of the International High School Student Diversity Council (IHSSDC), who have written and ratified a constitution, as well as facilitated small-group and student-led discussions in their respective grade-level advisories on themes such as equality versus equity. I also now lead the Middle School Student Council Diversity Committee, and look forward to working with the Lower School Student Council this year.
My goal is to give students the toolkits they need to thrive, and empower them to be architects of their own futures.
Tell us about the Diversity Readers’ Series (which launches on November 15!).
Growing up as a child of color in the British Commonwealth, I was unaware that books could be written about people who looked and navigated the world like me. It was not until much later in life that I discovered books that honored my lived experience, that validated who I was, where I came from. Suddenly I was no longer alone. C.S. Lewis said, “we read to know we are not alone.” I want to give our students, parents and faculty members this gift. Having spent a lot of time in the lower school classrooms, I wanted to create a developmentally-appropriate readers’ series to build a sense of community and empathy across cultural and ethnic lines, and facilitate conversations around poignant and topical themes; around identity in particular.
As a former elementary and middle school teacher, I am also aware of the fact that exposure to disparate world views is central to a child’s socioemotional and sociocognitive development. This in turn leads to empathy-building—a skill needed for healthy, safe, and brave communities to thrive. Books, because of their emotional texture, are really good at helping kids learn how to embrace, talk about, and celebrate differences. With this in mind, the series is designed to help students experience the world, other peoples and cultures, and to inspire introspection, particularly among upper-elementary and middle school students who are experiencing so much developmentally.
Each month, there will be a collection of curated books related to themes suggested by grade level teams and counselors. There will be a book cart at the Maternelle, and three at the Oak Street campus, in the lower and middle school libraries. Multiple copies of most books will be available, as well as resources to help parents navigate difficult concepts and support their child’s socioemotional growth.
Eventually, the series will expand to include 9th and 10th graders, who have more time to read for fun before they begin the rigors of the IB or French Bac!
How do you think our location and urban campus influences our community and your work?
We are fortunate to live, study, and work in a city like San Francisco; a true international mosaic of peoples, languages, art and culture. Not only does our campus location provide our students with an incredible opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life, but it also exposes them to real-world issues on a daily basis. This means that students are positioned to take part in conversations that ultimately shape the culture, aesthetic, and values of our city. Students are thus able to find practical applications for the knowledge they mine during their IB studies, all while engaging in ethically and civically-minded community development initiatives.
You’ve said this work is a collaboration. How are you engaging the community in this effort?
Developing strategic partnerships between parents, teachers, administrative staff, and other educational organizations is vital to operationalizing our strategic initiatives. Faculty members in particular have the unique, long-term ability to shape our campus culture and to act as possibility models for our students. It is therefore essential to provide teachers and staff with the language, knowledge, and tools they need to become more effective diversity practitioners and educators. Our partnership with the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) of the Stanford School of Education helps us to do just this—to make sure we’re equitably supporting all of our students on campus. From our work with CSET and the diligent work of the instructional leadership team, we have begun to identify areas for teacher professional development, especially as it concerns building more supportive student-teacher relationships via a shift towards more culturally-responsive pedagogy. I believe that ultimately this collaborative effort will pay tremendous dividends. I am excited to be a part of this transformative work.