On Tuesday, Aug. 27, KO organized this year’s SPHERE event, hosting over 200 educators and cultivating discussion around how schools can better address hate and bias incidents.
Founded in the 1970s, SPHERE is a consortium of independent schools in the Greater Hartford area that collaborates on programs dedicated to solving equity issues. Some of those schools include Renbrook School, Ethel Walker School, Suffield Academy, Westminster, and Loomis Chaffee.
Head of School Thomas Dillow said that SPHERE has evolved in creating programming that focuses on diversity, cultural equity, and inclusivity. “It has grown since and become more robust, with addition of deeper commitment,” he said.
Every year, one of the schools hosts an opening and mid-year event. This year, KO took the lead and invited representatives from the CT chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to speak. ADL representatives Marji Lipshez-Shapiro and Michelle Pincince presented a talk about how schools can respond to bias and hate incidents and further create safe and brave spaces at schools.
They talked about the importance of schools developing protocols and being able to not only respond to issues, but also prevent them. By clearly stating three steps schools can take in dealing with hate/bias incidents, the ADL representatives presented a clear picture of how to foster and create a more inclusive culture. First, the school must be clear and specific about denouncing the incident. Next, they must listen to the targeted students and try to understand their experience and perspective. Finally, the school should not try to cover the incident up or excuse hateful behavior.
Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency Joan Edwards said she was impressed by how the discussion was involving and interactive. “They engaged us in information about how hate shows up in schools and clear information, as well as strategies for addressing it effectively so we can have safe and brave spaces,” she said.
Mr. Dillow agreed that the event was of great value to the community. “I think it reinforced the importance of confronting hate,” he said. “It reinforced the importance of not simply being reactive, but becoming proactive as a school in being anti-racist and anti-hate, and it got us thinking about ways we can continue to create that culture here.”
School Counselor Chastity Rodriguez said that she is happy that SPHERE is working towards education. “Where there is a lack of knowledge, schools can sometimes respond in ways that end up hurting,” she said. “This presentation gives schools a blueprint to follow when feeling unsure and is a wonderful model for cultivating diversity and inclusion.”
Ms. Edwards said that she learned a school is not defined by an incident, but rather how it chooses to respond to an incident. “It’s about building an environment that echoes a sense of belonging,” she said. Mr. Dillow said that the event was a valuable opportunity to learn and grow as a school community. “It’s great to both have the opportunity to collaborate and learn with other educators,” he said. “It is important schools are addressing common issues and teaching empathy and respect.”