An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Rachel Maiorano, Upper School assistant director

Lots of people think teachers get the summer completely off, but for many of our faculty, summer is a time for professional development. Among them are English teacher Emily Chu, chemistry teacher Betty Benson (formerly Rogers), and history teacher David Dunkin, who recently devoted a week in early August to being trained in "Deep Listening" at the Stanley King Counseling Institute in Colorado Springs. I accompanied them on this adventure, as did 57 other independent school educators and counselors from around the country. Our goal was to learn and practice skills that would make us more effective advisors and mentors to our students, because we know adolescents learn and function best when they are connected to important and caring adults in their lives.

We stayed on the campus of the Fountain Valley School, a beautiful boarding and day school surrounded by mountains and prairie. Our days were long, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later, but we were very well fed (access to a soft serve ice cream machine at every meal! Gummy worms and Pop Tarts for snacks! – facts that would make Tom Doelger shudder with horror, but which we fully appreciated) and cared for throughout the week.

The faculty members at the Institute have a great motto: "Don't just do something, stand there." This makes humorous reference to our tendency as educators to quickly try to fix things for students when faced with their problems or dilemmas. The Deep Listening technique trains us to resist that urge to make everything better right away, in favor of helping students fully feel and understand whatever it is with which they're struggling. Listening, reflecting back, summarizing what you are hearing, asking clarifying questions, and offering support are the short-term goals. The long-term goal of Deep Listening is greater connection between a student and an adult, often an advisor and an advisee in the scenarios we practiced through role play and discussion.

Our morning sessions were largely informational and taught by faculty, with topics ranging from typical adolescent development to race, sexual orientation, and self-harm situations, while the afternoon and evening sessions took place in small groups of 12 participants and one faculty facilitator. Those small-group sessions allowed participants to share their experiences and responses, building trust and allowing for the kinds of connections we hope to later create with our students and advisees.

Emily, David, Betty, and I will bring our experiences back to the larger Lakeside faculty in a number of ways, ranging from lunch-table conversations to a professional development day in November devoted to advisor/advisee relationship-building, featuring members of the Stanley King faculty as facilitators. We hope we'll be able to pass on these valuable skills and approaches to our larger community, so that the web of connections we all share is strengthened. These faculty members gave up part of their valuable summer break to help build this connection with their own students and colleagues, and we are grateful for their dedication to student growth and well-being.