Sandy Spring Friends School



Gnu Stories Blog

5 Ways To Help Your Student Develop Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is a multifaceted trait that can be built with practice. It includes students' ability to speak up for themselves, make their own decisions, pursue solutions without handholding, and adjust their strategy based on feedback. Eduardo Polón, the Upper School Global Languages Department Head at Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS),  describes self-advocacy as “the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests."

At its core,” Polón adds, “It’s about establishing one’s independence. As an educator, I prefer to promote a more collaborative take, one that sees self-advocacy as an individual’s responsibility, not only to engage, contribute, initiate, participate, and commit, but also to listen and consider in search of what better might look like.”

At the Maryland independent school serving students in preschool through grade twelve, faculty and staff strive to integrate the tenets of self-advocacy into the daily flow.  “Because of the school’s Quaker morals, I am on an even playing field with peers, teachers, administrators, and even students much younger than me,” says student Joce Motley, a senior at the day and boarding school. “Because of this, my voice is not only respected but listened to. Being in such an environment allows me to be comfortable with speaking up for myself and made me realized that it is always beneficial to do so.”

But self-advocacy doesn’t stop or end in the classroom. As a student matures into an adult, self-advocacy is one of the most essential attributes of success. How can even the most reserved students cultivate their own sense of self-advocacy on a holistic, lifetime level?

Here are five fundamentals:

  1. Understand yourself. Every journey needs a destination. What does self-advocacy look like, and how can a student measurably improve? Is it self-confidence? Understanding? Direction? Simply recognizing that one's metric of self-advocacy is lacking is a solid start. Some people do not understand this and have a difficult time improving as a human. Therefore, being mindful and having a trusted community to help students understand the value of self-advocacy is essential.
  2. Learn through modeling. A student can't decide on a particular strategy or path if they don't know their options. What are some similar ways in which others have self-advocated in the past that could be informative or inspirational in the present? “When actively encouraging students to use the modeling they’ve witnessed, effective scaffolding usually includes questions: What is the problem? What do you think might help? Who should you talk to?” says SSFS’s Upper School Learning Specialist Shannon Needham.
  3. Make incremental progress. While approaching a teacher for assistance may feel intimidating at first, following up with a peer can be less so. A student's level of self-advocacy isn't all or nothing. It's ok to move in baby steps as long as you're moving. Students at SSFS are often reminded that their voice is important and matters. “I truly believe that was pivotal in my advocacy progression,” remarked Motley.
  4. Team up. Once a student has zeroed in on how they would like to self-advocate, it's worth remembering that there is strength in numbers. Throughout history, famous social and political advocates started movements – they didn't just push forward as lone wolves. Appealing to an authority with a group that aligns with you strengthens your case and empowers you as a negotiator. If a student is seeking to self-advocate in relation to the teacher, it helps to already have a solidified relationship from which to build. “We spend a lot of time building rapport and trust, so they feel comfortable advocating for themselves,” says Carla Nally, a lower school faculty member. “I reassure them that I'm not judging them for telling me they need help.
  5. Reflection. Any burgeoning ability takes practice. What's important is how you practice and reflect. Needham asks students reflective questions to gauge student development. Did the self-advocacy work? Were you able to get what you needed? How might you do it differently next time? These are important questions that emphasize the ongoing nature of skill development and normalize the cyclical process of strategy testing and modification.

How vital is self-advocacy?

What are the advantages of developing their skills?

What's at stake when children do not learn them?

Becoming a good self-advocate is a worthy endeavor to improve yourself and become a changemaker in the world around you. Without building self-advocacy skills, there's a risk that its alter egos—learned helplessness and selfishness—will emerge.

In a recent episode of Sandy Spring Friends School’s podcast, Gnu Stories, Head of School Dr. Rodney Glasgow unpacks these questions with members of the School’s faculty. What is often overlooked is self-advocacy’s alter egos:"learned-helplessness and selfishness." Dr. Glasgow and his guests surmise that it was the alter egos at work that may have played a role in the U.S. Capitol insurgency

Do you feel self-advocacy is an important skill?

How do you teach self-advocacy in your school or home?

We would enjoy hearing from you!


Independent schools like Sandy Spring Friends are proud to give their students the tools and feedback necessary to build strong self-advocacy foundations. They can build meaningful relationships, an energized sense of self-confidence, and academic success in every domain they pursue.


Graphic: Gnu Stories Podcast Episode 11

Gnu Stories Podcast | Episode 11: Let Your Lives Speak: Self-Advocacy For All Ages

Air Date: January 28, 2021

LISTEN:What is self-advocacy and why is it important? What do we risk by not teaching this skill? Our Learning Specialists and Upper School Director of College Counseling join Dr.Rodney Glasgow as they talk about the importance of building their self-advocacy tool box, its alter ego of "learned-helplessness and selfishness," and the role self-advocacy could have played in the insurgency at the U.S. Capitol.

Black History Month: Parent Resources

February 2021 marks the 45th year of Black History Month, a celebration that calls on all of us, no matter our race, to reflect and honor the significant roles and achievements of African Americans and their contributions to our collective American history. While Black History Month originated in the U.S., it expanded to an internationally-recognized observance that honors the contributions of Black lives on a global scale. Sandy Spring Friends School has collected these 10 resources for parents to celebrate in February and throughout the year.

Start Here: History, Parents Role, and The "How"

Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History | Teaching Tolerance
This article, which is primarily a resource for teachers, addresses the importance of not simplifying Black history or Black people.

Teaching Black History Should Be A Family,Community Affair | St. Louis Public Radio
Educators make the case for why it's up to families and communities to help bring black history alive for children of all races, not just schools.

Why Is Black History Month In February | Oprah Magazine
Why is Black History Month in February? And who started this tradition? This article offers a primer as well as additional resources at the end.

Literature and Film

Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners | Common Sense Media
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given each winter to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of children and young adult books that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

25 Must-Read Books for Black History Month | Shondaland
This list of essential books for Black History Month offers a vast and rich look at the black literary canon.

17 Movies About Black History  | Women's Health
Explore the richness of Black culture through film by watching these 17 movies that put Black narratives at the center.  

African American Children's Movies... (Children Movies) | The Voices of Black Cincinnati
Make family movie night special by watching one of these African American children's movies that offer a positive message.

Family-Friendly Activities

Everyday Ways to Teach Black History: Board Games | Mamademics
This article focuses on ways to use three different board games to talk about Black History in science, math, and literature.

5 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month With Your Family | Chicago Now
This article includes 5 different ways to celebrate and learn about Black History while also offering a variety of resources. 

Everyday Ways to Teach Black History: Lego Sets | Mamademics
From Bessie Coleman to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this article offers ways to teach children about Black History using a variety of lego sets.

Graphic: 4 Ways to Suppot Your Child's Transition Back to Campus Blog

This week, Sandy Spring Friends School prepares to welcome back some of our students to campus after an extended period in virtual mode. There’s a lot for students to be excited about: building connections with friends in person, engaging with teachers in the classroom, and exploring our beautiful campus. Yet, for many, this will feel like the first day of school all over again as we set our alarm clocks a little earlier, lay out our clothes for the next day, and prepare ourselves for a new way to return to campus. As parents and guardians consider ways to make the transition back to campus easier for their children, our SSFS counselors offer four tips to assist in the process.

Tip #1: Offer A Balanced Approach Between Supporting Independence And Offering Practical Support.

Self-advocacy is an essential skill for people of any age, so providing students with an opportunity to practice these skills is critical. However, as students return to in-person instruction, parents and guardians may need to offer even our older students practical support through gentle reminders.

“There may be times where [parents] have to step in and remind older students of the things they need to do,’” says Nicole Banks, SSFS Upper School Counselor. Reminders may include telling students what time to wake up, what items they need to bring with them to campus, or what days are virtual or in person.

One way to support self-advocacy while offering practical support is to have your child create a checklist of needed items the night before and leave the list in a visible place to reference before they head out the door.

Tip #2: Provide Consistency And Connection

Returning to campus under a pandemic means that there will be a mixture of old and new practices. Erin Rose, SSFS Middle School Counselor, recommends establishing some consistencies at home to adjust to all the changes. 

“...We all thrive when we have some structure and consistency, especially when things don't feel very consistent right now,” says Erin. She suggests scheduling routine activities throughout the day, such as designating a specific time for breakfast in the morning or homework after school. By providing this level of consistency, it can help students as they work to establish new routines.

SSFS Lower School Counselor Joel Gunzburgrecommends adding family time as a regularly scheduled activity, which helps build connection and eases students’ transition away from being at home after being there for a prolonged time. “We're looking at students being home close to a year at this point, and whether things have been tough or not, this is extra time that they've been home with you,” says Joel.

Tip #3: Be Prepared For Exhausted Children

One of the exciting pieces for students returning to campus is socializing with friends and teachers in person. Building community is a critical part of school and social-emotional growth, but --whether your child is an introvert or an extrovert--this process can be exhausting. Joel suggests that parents prepare for children to come home drained.

“One thing that I don't know that students and staff will be ready for is the pace at which we'll go, especially students with movement around the campus,” says Joel. “The end of the day may be met with someone ready to just fall on a bed and go to sleep.”

Preparing for tired children means different things for different ages. Younger children may appreciate low-energy activities such as reading or coloring. It can also mean pulling back on some regular activities and checking in with your child, no matter their age.

Tip #4: Listen To The Challenges

As parents, we dislike seeing our children in emotional pain or discomfort. To help our children feel better, we can fall into the habit of trying to “fix” the problem. Sometimes, however, the best support we can offer is allowing space for our children to process their emotions alongside us by being great listeners.

“When someone feels heard about how they are feeling and what their fears are, that can go a really long way in alleviating those fears,” says Meghan Cassady, SSFS Upper School Boarding Counselor. “Just having someone listen, and [feeling] listened to can be powerful.”

Being an effective listener does not mean sitting entirely in silence. Effective listening often requires that the listener ask good questions that allow the speaker to go deeper, articulate more fully, and feel heard. Example questions that you can ask include “I hear you saying[...], Is that correct?”  “Can you tell me more about that?” and “How did that make you feel?”


With a return to campus, many families are expecting their children to feel a range of emotions, some that can be anticipated, and many that cannot. Considering these four tips can be useful to make the transition back to campus easier for our students. One other step that could help? Taking some time for parents and guardians to manage their own expectations and remind themselves that they are in the process as well.


Gnu Stories Podcast | Episode 10: How do you return? Being back on campus during COVID-19

Air Date: January 13, 2021

LISTEN: After an extended time in virtual mode, SSFS is opening its campus to students for in-person learning. From dealing with an array of emotions to building new habits, hear from our counselors about how you and your student can get ready to come back to school —whether at SSFS or another community.

Inauguration 2021: Resources for Parents

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, marking the 59th inauguration ceremony in the course of over 200 years. What has been a traditionally predictable event in the past is anticipated to look vastly different due to the pandemic and the additional security that came as a response to the violent attack at the U.S. Capitol.

Processing current events in the United States can be challenging for adults to do on their own and can be made even more challenging for parents as they--in real-time--must process alongside their children. Thankfully, there are many great resources to support parents in learning more, helpful tips to assist them in talking with their children about current events, and guides for engaging children with the inauguration.

4 Resources for Engaging Children with the Inauguration

Our White House: Celebration Kit: Activities and Resources
The White House’s Inauguration Celebration Kit includes a wide variety of activities to do at home, including an Inaugural I Spy game, with print-out scorecards. Our White House also includes a collection of books and websites to learn about the Inauguration process, past inaugurations, and presidents.

Seattle’s Child: Election Playlist
Seattle’s Child offers some suggestions to add music to your Inauguration day. Check out their playlist which includes songs from the Muppets, Schoolhouse Rock, GoNoodle, and PBS Kids on voting and the governmental process.

Architect of the Capitol: Notable Dates and Facts about Previous Inaugurations
If your child wants to learn more about previous inaugurations, check out the Architect of the Capitol’s page on inauguration facts. How many times has the oath been administered at the Capitol? Whose inauguration was the first to be recorded by a talking newsreel?

Romper: A Parent’s Guide to Watching the 2021 Inauguration With Your Kids
This article answers some of the basic questions surrounding the inauguration while offering a starting point for additional resources for the more complex questions that may come up for this event.

7 Resources for Parents Talking to Kids about Current Events

PBS Kids: Navigating Scary News Stories
For kids aged K-3/little ones who have seen the news or heard adults talking about it, this article focuses on feelings of safety and support from adults.

The Mom Psychologist: How to explain current events to young children
From Black mother & clinical psychologist Dr. Jazmine, this Instagram graphic offers suggestions on how to support young children in processing what they’ve seen/heard.

Your Parenting Mojo: Responding to the US Capitol Siege
This podcast episode provides suggestions about how to talk to children about the Capitol siege, how to examine your own role, and how to take action. 

Motherly: How to talk to Kids about Difficult Topics
Organized by age, from 2 to teenagers, this article offers questions and suggestions to keep in mind, and uses Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality as examples.

Parenting at a Challenging Time (PACT): Handbook on Parenting Through Crisis
This in-depth handbook offers tips on how to support children after violence or other traumatic events, based on Boston Marathon Bombings. An additional one-page guide focuses on tools parents can use. Anti Racism for Kids
Organized by age (from 0 to teenagers), this resource focuses on hate rather than the racial justice/equity lens. It includes some helpful tips for parents whose teens may be experiencing radicalization from the right.

Parenting is Political: Rebellion and Uprising Kitchen Table Talk
This Podcast episode provides insight on how to talk to kids of different ages about policing and racial justice through recorded conversations between parents and kids about Black Lives Matter protests and policing in the summer of 2020.

3 Resources For Parents/Adults Looking to Learn More

Facing History and Ourselves: White Nationalism Explainer
This article summarizes some of the key beliefs of white nationalism and the ways the far right is spreading ideas online.

Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
This TED talk from Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor offers a history of racist policing and Black Liberation.

Raising Free People: Resources for the Real Feels
This podcast episode, which aired in the Summer of 2020, features Black parents talking about resistance, care, and joy during uprisings and police violence.

Defining a “New Normal”: Design Thinking in the SSFS Middle School

Design Thinking—an SSFS Middle School arts elective—is part science class, part research project, and part artistic discovery.  Steffany Cartellone, a member of the Middle School Science Department and the teacher for Design Thinking, described the class as utilizing the scientific method and an inquiry-based approach to solve problems with well-thought-out solutions. 

“In our Design Thinking class, we use the process of investigation: asking questions, identifying the problem, and coming up with a solution.” Steffany noted, “When a student or a group of students presents a solution, the rest of the class offers feedback, and based on that feedback students tweak their projects to come up with a final product. It's kind of like the scientific method in that you have a question, you form a hypothesis, you do some testing, you collect data, and you come to a conclusion -- one that hopefully answers the question and solves problems identified throughout the process.”

The Design Thinking class, which launched last year, was planned with in-person education in mind. But, like all classes this year at SSFS, what began as an in-person curriculum had to pivot to fit a virtual classroom.

“This summer, I thought long and hard about what projects I wanted to work on this fall, knowing that we were all going to be at home,” Steffany said. “For this semester, I thought, ‘you know, this is an important time in history.’ And I think one of the groups of people most affected by it is kids because they’re being asked to do school in a way that has never been done before. I thought of all of the times when I was a kid where I read instances of people my age sharing their interpretation of what was happening, and I thought, ‘what if we did that? What if I had students record this moment in history for them?’”

This question posed by Steffany sparked a semester-long project for her students to begin documenting their year in virtual school, the “new normal,” and all our lived experiences under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Early in the semester, Steffany posed the concept to the students and shared that throughout the year, they would begin to answer the question, “What is the new normal?” for themselves and those around them.

The students began with photography. “At the beginning of the semester, we started with a simple question: what makes a good photograph? Students took fun photographs and came back and gave each other feedback,” said Steffany. “From there, I asked students to photograph their ‘new normal’ and share it with the group.” The students then shared their photos to the classroom, as well as documented their thoughts by journaling in an online portfolio--a tool that students use throughout the class not only as a way to turn in the work for credit but also to act as a time capsule of their personal exploration of the “new normal.”

Photos taken by Design Thinking students as representations of their "new normal."


Next on the students’ agenda was documentation through interviews. “I had the students learn the interview process, and as a class, we talked about good questions,” Steffany said. “And then I said, ‘Okay, I want you to go and interview somebody and get their story about their “new normal” and what that means to them.’” Students worked on the interview project, choosing parents, extended family, and friends to interview.

Students garnered a unique variety of perspectives on living in a “new normal” from the interviews. Grace C., an 8th-grade student in the class, interviewed her grandmother. “I got to hear a really unique perspective on Covid-19 that I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” said Grace. “Since she has lived through many more historical events than a lot of us, she has more to compare these times to, and a lot more insight on them.” 

Another 8th-grade student, Jacob C.,  interviewed his cousin. Jacob reflected that his interview with his cousin’s experience was mixed due to personal preferences and direct experience with the virus. “He is the type of person who likes to stay at home, so he was happy about quarantine. However, his father got COVID-19 so it wasn’t a very good experience on that front.”

After the interviews were completed, Steffany reflected on how heavy the work had felt for her students.  “I just thought, ‘Man, if I was a 13-year-old, I’d kind of be done with COVID at this point, you know? I would be done talking about it.’”

Putting herself in the shoes of a 13-year-old sparked another moment of inspiration for Steffany, as she reflected on the thing she loved so much at that age. That thing? Music.

Steffany’s next project for the Design Thinking class was to consider the power music has to evoke emotions. The assignment’s goal was two-fold: to give students an escape from the heaviness of the “new normal” project and have some fun in the process. She showed her class a video from NPR, entitled “A Journey Through Musical Emotion,” where host Alison Young took four classical songs to showcase how music alters your emotional state. “In the video, she plays the music from the shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. Very tense!” Steffany noted. Once they listened through the array of songs and identified emotions, Steffany asked the students to pick an emotion. 

“I told them to pick five songs that bring out an emotion--they could choose the emotion--and write a few sentences as to why they picked each song. And I asked them to name the song and the artist,” Steffany said. “I wanted to listen to the song because I love music!” 

Due before the beginning of winter break, the assignment was a successful reprieve from their regular classwork. It was also a perfect way to jump into the winter holiday, with Steffany using the last week of classes in December to play some of the students’ songs. “I was kind of like the DJ,” said Steffany. “I had opened up a whole bunch of tabs, and it was all music.” The selection of songs was eclectic; the playlist included Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Beatles, Claude Debussy, Yo-Yo Ma, and more. “I was blown away,” said Steffany. “Their music variety and knowledge are vast. I  was like, you have some cool parents!”

Although the musical taste was eclectic, positive emotions were the most popular. “I did have quite a few happy or excited or energetic songs,” noted Steffany, “and that was my intent. I was hoping they would pick happy things, and then it would be uplifting to them.” Steffany noted that, although the majority were uplifting, there were a handful of sad songs in the mix. “Sometimes, sad music helps students get the sadness out.” 

During the class, Steffany played a live Coldplay song, a selection from one of her students. “The video is of Chris Martin, and he’s standing on stage. And every once while it sweeps across the crowd, you know, there are thousands of people with their hands in the air and smiling,” Steffany said. “ And I asked my students, ‘Can you imagine what it would feel like to stand on that stage and know that what you created evoked that emotion in tons of people at that moment? You get lost in the song.’ And that was my hope for them, that they would, at that moment, get lost in the song. Just let go and have some fun.”

As students get closer to completing their first semester, they have begun reflecting on the class itself. “I have really enjoyed Design Thinking,” says Grace. “It’s such a unique class to be in, we’ve gotten to be really creative with our assignments, and we’ve learned about a variety of topics including photography, how to design something effectively, and interviewing.”

The Design Thinking class has also offered students a chance to find their own answers to questions such as “what is the new normal?” and “how do we get through these uncertain times?” Part of that answer—and perhaps a solution to the problem of coping in a pandemic—is to find a balance between facing the realities of a challenging year and getting lost in a song.

Find your song in the Design Thinking playlist, made up of music selected from our Middle School students, including these songs with quotes from our Design Thinking students: 

  • Billie Jean, Michael Jackson (Emotion: Energetic) | “This song is energetic because the tone is fast and exciting. And the singer's voice is fast. Also it makes me dance a little bit.”
  • The Swan by Saint-Saëns, Yo-Yo Ma & Kathryn Stott (Emotion: Calm) | “ I like this song because I think it‘s very beautiful and peaceful. It also gives me an amazing image in my mind of a swan swimming.”
  • Trololo, Eduard Khil (Emotion: Silly) “I guess the mood would be ‘feel good.’ I like [this] song and play it if I want to laugh. 
  • Come And Get Your Love, Redbone (Emotion: Happy) | I really like ‘Come and Get your Love,’ because it makes me happy and I smile. I loved “The Guardians of the Galaxy” movie.
  • Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard, Paul Simon (Emotion: High-Spirits) | “Me and Julio down by the schoolyard is awesome because it makes me want to hop on my bicycle and round up the guys in the neighborhood and hang out.”
Navigating Difficult Conversations: 7 Tips  for Civic Engagement Discussions

There is a lot to examine and process regarding the events in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. However, one thing was immediately apparent: the disturbing actions taken at the U.S. Capitol were beyond the role of civic engagement through political protest. They did not model an appropriate response to a disagreement. 

Individuals from both sides of the aisle came together to condemn the U.S. Capitol breach; nevertheless, there remains a very real division between both political parties that reflects a divide within our communities, our extended families, and even our homes. To "keep the peace," these topics are left off the list of possible talking points, but the division—and tension—remains. How does one face the stress and engage in difficult conversations, especially when there is a high likelihood of disagreement? Nicole Lee, Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and our Civic Engagement committee established a list of community norms and skills that support civility in these types of conversations, some of which were directly inspired by the Friends Council on Education and the Glasgow Group.  

These seven norms and skills can act as a guide when engaging in your own difficult conversations:

1. Listen to, understand, and reflect before responding.

"In conversations about issues that are very important, or are very charged, we have a flight, fight, or freeze response. It's a response where we are physically ready to act, but we are not as emotionally prepared to really understand and be in deep communication," says Nicole. To combat the fight, flight, or freeze response, Nicole suggests finding ways to calm down by remembering that our safety is not at risk. "We need to remember that even in a contentious conversation, we are actually still safe. The more we can think about that fact, the more likely we will be able to not only calm ourselves but calm the conversation and produce that deep listening that we need in order to communicate." 

2. Speak from the "I" perspective. 

"Communication is not just the words, but it's also how people feel they are treated in the interaction," says Nicole. "Often, conflicting conversations occur because we assume what other people will feel, believe, or think."  Additionally, stating something as fact rather than using the "I” perspective can alienate others when their experiences do not match our own. "When we speak from our own personal perspective, we are not only taking ownership of what we believe, but we're also allowing room and space for other people to be who they are."

3. Model and make room for authenticity. 

Being authentic in a conversation can allow for a high-stress contentious argument to turn into a calmer, open dialogue. Modeling authenticity can include admitting to areas of oversight or deficiencies in our knowledge or sharing when we're uncomfortable with a point of view. "When we do that, we allow space for there to be more creative thinking and more collaborative thinking," says Nicole. "By modeling authenticity, that allows other people in the conversation to do the same thing. And that's where we get into a more creative dialogue, versus a conversation in which one person must win an argument and one person must lose an argument."

4. Expand your capacity to honor multiple perspectives by challenging the ideas of others, and accepting challenges to your own ideas, with grace and civility aimed at clarity.

In today's climate, political and personal opinions are often intertwined, making conversations around civic engagement that much more critical and challenging. "When we're talking about honoring multiple perspectives, we have to understand that we all come from very different experiences and that we may have a closer proximity to the issues being discussed," says Nicole. She suggests setting up group agreements where possible to keep grace and civility intact. These agreements can help everyone enter the conversation with an awareness that they may be talking about people's identities, not just their beliefs.

5. Question, discern, and question more, allowing for continuing revelation.

Nicole encourages us to "question our assumptions and the belief that our personal experiences are universal," and to embrace the idea that "we are all in process. We don't know everything." When entering a conversation, Nicole suggests we should also be mindful not to disguise our opinions as questions. Instead, our questions -- to others and ourselves-- need to be authentic. "For our questions to other people to be authentic, we have to be in the mode of questioning ourselves," says Nicole. "We have to value being lifelong learners in all things, and see that in ourselves personally."

6. Accept discomfort as an important part of the learning process. 

"Every day we asked our children to go into the classroom and have a learner's mind, and to allow for correction and growth," says Nicole. "As adults, we avoid that like the plague." Nicole suggests that people have to be willing to be vulnerable and sit in discomfort to have a successful dialogue. "You just need to get used to the idea that it's not all about comfort," says Nicole. "You should be willing to have a moment where you cannot be assured you are right."

7. Assume positive intent while addressing negative impact. 

"I think what this really gets at is, until we know otherwise, it's helpful to assume that the person we're speaking with does not mean us harm," Nicole says. "And that a real, authentic conversation with them, about our concerns, will reap a benefit." By operating from this assumption, it opens the door for authenticity, healthy and helpful discomfort, and continued grace and civility. Assuming positive intent does not mean we can shy away from the discomfort or that we must refrain from calling out injustices. " does mean that we speak our truth and allow for that person's humanity to still be affirmed," says Nicole.

Engaging in difficult conversations while operating from these norms and skills can help support civility but does not necessarily ease the tension. However, there's a cost to avoiding the stress. "What we see in today's society is the impact of not having civil conversations that follow these norms," says Nicole.

When we can communicate across differences under these norms, we can see the benefits in our political system, our communities, our families, and even ourselves. "The more we're able to have these types of conversations, the more we will not only understand but be understood," says Nicole. "We'll be able to come up with collaborative solutions for our community and our society that, frankly, would not be available to us as individuals. These solutions can only be found in a collective, in community."

In October 2020, Sandy Spring Friends School released a booklet entitled "SSFS Guidelines for Civic Engagement" which focused on helping all community members civilly engage with one another to discuss topics around politics and issues related to civil rights and social justice. While SSFS created this booklet as a tool for the 2020 election, its relevance remains as we continue to navigate and build relationships in a polarizing world. The norms and skills listed above, along with additional information about Civic Engagement at SSFS, can be found in our booklet.

SSFS Resources For Social Justice & Equity

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion offers a list of resources that may help you to start or continue your work in social justice, equity, and belonging.

General resources

  • Teaching Tolerance: Teaching about race, racism, and police violence 
  • Array Now: Started by Ava DuVernay, director of Now They See Us, this is a compilation of African American independent films-an array of stories and voices.

For parents - How to talk to your children about race and racial incidents:

For white allies - How to be an ally for racial justice:

Lower school student resources:

5th grade and up (may be a bit too complicated for younger children, but could be adapted):

  • Table Talk Guide from that specifically provides context and discussion questions related to the current events around George Floyd that can help you structure a conversation

For middle and upper school-age students:

The resources below are mostly geared toward teenagers and adults, and mainly aimed at inspiring white people to engage in work to recognize privilege and actively dismantle white supremacy and systemic oppression. There are opportunities with these resources for families to engage with their children, with parents to engage with one another, for us to model our own personal work toward ending systemic violence.  

  • Article: "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh 
  • Article: "When White Women Cry" by Mamta Accpadi 
  • Book: How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi
  • Book: Blindspot by Mahzarin Banaji
  • Article/call to action program: "Unpacking White Feminism" - Rachel Cargle
  • Book/call to action program: Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad

Books for parents, faculty, staff:

  • The Condemnation of Blackness Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America By Khalil Gibran Muhammad
    Offers historical account of systemic and structural racism
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
  • Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Black History Reading List


Date Range

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