Every day at Deerfield, faculty are influencing the inner workings of school life, whether it be through their committee assignments, classroom responsibilities, or coaching duties. Faculty meetings every other Thursday allow faculty to help define Deerfield’s mission, as do faculty committees, such as the Feedback Committee, which implemented the advisory changes in fall 2017.
Dean of Faculty John Taylor explained that last year, all faculty meetings were centered around a “framing conversation” in which faculty “agreed on a set of values and a decision-making process” to help advance Deerfield’s mission. This conversation evolved into many faculty initiatives, such as acquiring new data in Admissions, working on equity in the Athletics programs, teaching writing across the curriculum, expanding the health program, addressing concussions, implementing mindfulness practices, and more.
In addition to all faculty meetings, department meetings are a time where individual departments focus on their particular subject and how each subject shapes students’ academic lives at Deerfield. History Department Chair Julia Rivellino-Lyons explained that her department often discusses skills for teaching analytical writing and planning “relevant” speakers to bring to Deerfield. They attempt to find speakers that will address topics students are currently considering. For example, the History Department is bringing Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, author of Midnight in Broad Daylight, to campus on February 13 to address all U.S. history classes about American identity, a topic deeply connected to the current American conversation about immigration.
Mr. Taylor also oversees faculty assignments to various committees, such as the Inclusion and Community Life Team and the Feedback Committee.
Each has a unique goal to help advance Deerfield’s mission and enhance students’ experiences on campus and beyond.
Director of Inclusion and Community Life Marjorie Young explained that her team collaborates with all departments “to support a campus-wide conversation and effort leading to the development of institutional priorities for sustaining diversity work.”
The Inclusion and Community Life Team meets at least twice per year as a whole group and in smaller subcommittees for specific projects. They were instrumental in implementing the campus-wide Inclusion Strategic Plan in the fall of 2016 and continue to work on other projects, such as an initiative to bring what Mr. Taylor calls “culturally responsive pedagogy” to classrooms on campus.
Ms. Young explained that through the Inclusion Strategic Plan, which has helped her office to develop the Cross the Valley Cultural Competency Campaign, the office provides “opportunities for students and employees to develop and practice cultural competency in building and affirming an inclusive school culture,” such as through 9th grade workshops. The office works with senior staff members to review “all components of our formal program — academic, co-curricular, and residential — to better align our structures with a culture of inclusion.”
Besides an initiative of inclusion, Science Teacher Brendan Creagh explained that the Feedback Committee, of which he has been the chair for three years, stemmed from the Preparation Gap Task Force, which looked at the differences in past experiences for new students to Deerfield. This task force developed into the 9-10 Committee, from which the Feedback Committee originated.
The recent advisory changes stemmed from a Feedback Committee initiative. The committee changed the old advisory system by asking students to write two letters to their advisors, one about their goals and one about their successes and obstacles, to which advisors responded. Last year, there was no assigned letter writing time for advisories. Mr. Creagh said that the committee hoped “to put students as the central figure in the feedback process, [part of which is] giving them ownership” over the process.
The faculty voted to approve the new advisory practices last spring.
Ben Hirsch ’18 said that he enjoys the new advising process. He said, “It is important that students have firm goals set in place so that their progress can be tracked.” He added, “This process has helped me stay more focused on my nightly routine and has led to more success in all levels of Deerfield life.”
Mr. Creagh stated, “If we can give students the ability and skills to be able to set goals, to be able to reflect and think about where they are in their process and where they can move forward, that’s a lifelong skill that they can use at Deerfield and beyond … that’s the hope of the Feedback Committee.”
Mr. Creagh emphasized that the system is a work-in-progress: “Change at DA is difficult … [This change to advisory] was a culmination of work that started well before me and will continue well after me … We are eager for it to evolve; we hope to make it better.”
In the words of Ms. Rivellino-Lyons, the ultimate goal of all faculty initiatives — such as the advisory changes, visiting speakers, and more — is simply “to affect student lives in a positive way.”