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Juneteenth Speaker Series: Educator Susan Yao

Educator Susan Yao spoke to the Gilman community, first on Friday, November 19 at the Upper School assembly, and then on Saturday, November 20 to a room full of parents, faculty, and staff. Her presentation examined the concept of solidarity. She referred to Brené Brown’s work on sympathy vs. empathy (watch the video here), and she emphasized the importance of “showing up” for people.

Yao brought the audience’s attention to fire drills, which we use to prepare for the event of a fire. She made a case for why this proactive approach should also be applied to racial unrest and other similarly charged crises that happen in our society.

Yao spoke about the cycle that crises typically follow: First, an incident occurs. Next, there is a response to the incident. Then, there is backlash to the response. Finally, there is the quiet period, until the next incident, and then the cycle repeats. A slide from her presentation read: “We think our actions matter most during a crisis, but in order to break the cycle we need to lay the groundwork in between crises.” Upper School classics teacher Sarah Miller said she liked the reminder that most of the work is to be done during the quiet period phase of the cycle. “When it feels like it’s not important to do the work, that’s when we should do it.”

Director of Wellness Christina Kim said she took away many lessons from Ms. Yao’s presentation as well. “I hope to help students and adults build healthy relationships where they can communicate with each other and lean in during times of discomfort,” Kim said. Reflecting on Yao’s presentation, Kim asked herself, “How can I contribute to creating a culture of solidarity?”

Susan Yao (she/hers) is an educator whose mission is to reimagine school in ways that center people of color. After being a middle school humanities teacher and Middle School Head in independent schools, she is starting the Laughing Rivers School, which asks the question: What does a school look like when designed for BIPOC and LGBTQ families? The school will be anchored in progressive educational philosophy and Buddhist teachings.

Susan is also passionate about building communities of racial solidarity across independent schools. She believes that collective thriving is possible when we learn how to be in community together in ways that are supportive and authentic. She has launched professional development programs such as the Friends Institute for New Administrators of Color and the New Teachers of Color Institute at the Gordon School. She also serves on the board of the New England chapter of POCIS (People of Color in Independent Schools). Her speaking engagements focus on solidarity as an explicit, teachable skill and draw from Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown.

Juneteenth Speaker Series: Educator Susan Yao



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