Learning from Interviews

Greenhill’s Director of Marketing Kerry Shea writes about her recent visit to a history class during end-of-trimester presentations.

Walking into the African American Experience class this morning, I was surprised to find the lights off and all of the students watching a video. Art Hall, Greenhill’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, and the teacher of the class, had shared that the students were doing their final trimester presentations and that it was a great day to visit. Where was the student standing at the front of the room, I wondered. Where were the props, the poster, or the PowerPoint?

When I looked at the screen, I saw one of Greenhill’s faculty members talking about her experience as an African American woman, and I quickly realized that the video was the final project. She talked about her family history and her own stories from growing up. She freely shared her experiences and the class was riveted listening to her.

The next video was of another woman that had previously tutored the student, but now worked at Southern Methodist University. Her video, equally fascinating, was more painful to watch. Her discomfort with the subject matter was palpable: she left a large puffy jacket on for the entire interview, and continually shifted from having crossed arms to sliding her hands under her legs. Her responses were short, causing the student to ask multiple questions to extract her story. The video itself, a tall, narrow rectangle, showing not much more than the woman seated on a chair, felt cramped and uncomfortable.

At the end of both videos, the students and the teacher discussed them. What did they find interesting? What was surprising? One student was surprised that the teacher, who grew up as the only African American student in her class, didn’t identify with other African American girls when she switched to a high school with a larger African American population. The other student couldn’t believe that his tutor, a middle-class African American in her early 30s, never voted until the 2008 election.

Using the interview as a final project was powerful for the students. The students gained an in-depth knowledge of someone from their life, not only from the stories that they told, but from the way that they told the story. Watching all of the videos gave them a rich perspective of the similarities and the simultaneous diversity of experiences that occur among a group of people with similar skin color.

While the students are learning, so, too, is their teacher. “I teach, but I am also the school’s Director of Equity and Inclusion. This course reminds me that every experience is unique. Every person struggles, and we all look to one another for help as we try to heal wounds from the past,” he shared after class. A heartfelt conclusion at the end of a meaningful end-of-trimester project.

Helping Children Solve Problems and Develop Confidence

Michael Simpson talks about a typical day as the Head of Lower School at Greenhill involves helping students solve their problems and in the process, build their confidence.

When I took this job five years ago, I did not anticipate the stereotype that comes with being a school principal. Our culture feeds that stereotype in books and movies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off comes to mind), and I see it and hear it when a parent drops by my office and jokes “Ooohh, been a long time since I was in the principal’s office.” Yeah, right. The stereotype is that principals only do discipline in a school. I would beg to differ, at least in my situation. There is no paddle in my office! My contact with students is about much more than discipline. Take this past Monday, for instance:

At 7:55 a.m. I meet with a first grade student who a difficult day at school Friday and I wanted her to check in with me so I could let her know that was behind her and she was going to do better.

After our assembly at 8:00, I meet with a fourth grader, at her request, to talk about her frustration with another student. We talk for about half an hour and we strategize ways she can assert herself with this classmate.

At 11:30 I walk over to the pool to meet with a student and the PE teacher to discuss pool safety.

I return to my office to find a letter from two third grade boys who would like to talk to me about another boy in their class.

Walking to a classroom, a fourth grader finds me. She wants me to know she is concerned about Hurricane Sandy and the people who will be affected by it. She informs me that she is standing ready to lead any support drive at Greenhill. We talk about how that works. She emails me that evening to let me know she is still following the hurricane’s devastation and is eager to help.

I join a second grade science class and have a great time with a table pair that is refreshing their worm habitat and making worm observations. They teach me all about what the worms need to grow and how they function.

I drop by the Primer classroom, and on the way out another second grader finds me and has a letter for me. I read it and discover she has seen much wasting of food in the cafeteria and wants to make some signs reminding people to take sensible portions. We discuss this and I tell her what the next steps will be.

On my way back to my office I spot two first grade boys heading back up the walkway toward the classroom building. They look a little disappointed, and there is no nurse slip in their hands so I know it was not a nurse visit. I ask what’s wrong and one says that he lost his fleece jacket. We spend some time retracing steps, then I remind him there is a lost and found in the gym. He brightens, sure that’s where his jacket is.

Of course there are many other aspects of being a principal: working with teachers, parents and other administrators, developing curriculum, operating the divisional budget, providing resources and support, helping out with Development and Admissions, and participating in the school leadership team. But ask any educator in our Lower School what they enjoy most, and they’ll tell you it’s working with the children to help them solve problems, develop confidence, and learn from mistakes.