Human-Centered Schools

Mar 26, 2024 | About L2L, All Blogs, Deep Listening, Human-Centered Practices, Identity, Power, Schools

Our partnership with Prospect Sierra School.

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Prospect Sierra is an independent K-8 school located in El Cerrito, California. They combine impactful academic experiences with a keen understanding of human emotions to help shape the world’s compassionate future leaders.

The Elementary Division: 35 lead teachers, associate teachers, and specialists for grades TK-4, and the Head of Elementary Division.

Facilitator: Nick Obando

Seeking a New Culture of Relationships

As Elementary Division Head of Prospect Sierra School, Quise Rodriguez noticed faculty discomfort and avoidance around hard conversations. “What could have been a neutral topic, like curriculum, was challenging because we didn’t have the relationships needed to dive in,” Quise recounts. 

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Quise Rodriguez

Elementary Division Head, Prospect Sierra

“We take teacher-to-teacher relationships for granted because our purpose is in our students. I wanted to take a step back and ask, what are you doing for yourselves? How can we build relationships with each other as colleagues?”

Her division needed intentional time together to build trust. Quise told her faculty, “You need to slow down and think of yourself first, otherwise you’re not going to show up authentically for your kids.”

It took a mindset shift for teachers to focus on building a community among themselves. “We are student-centered,” Quise explains. “But it’s the strength of our adult community that helps us create a safe and loving environment for students. I asked my faculty to lean in, even though it was uncomfortable and even scary. Even though no one felt like they had time to slow down.”

“No one has ever asked us before to stop and think about putting ourselves first.”

– Prospect Sierra teacher

Listening to Who We Are

Despite some skepticism about outside professional development providers, Prospect Sierra’s teachers dove into the first learning block. “Identity and Deep Listening was fantastic because it allowed people to think about their identity markers and how their identity shows up in the classroom. The practice of deep listening, which Leverage to Lead does so well, was incredible. When you’re an adult listening to kids all day, you don’t think about being listened to yourself.” 

The time and space to get in touch with their many different identities and their identity story, then to share those stories with each other, began to build the trust Quise had hoped for. 

“Nick helped us with an important reframe–that we were holding human-centered conversations. Everyone felt the value of being deeply listened to.”

The session’s impact carried over into classrooms. “After the session, when my teachers set their goals, they included practicing deep listening in their goals. They’ve even created ways to do the deep listening practice with their students now, and have designed ways for their students to tell their identity stories.”

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Nick Obando, Program Manager

A Facilitator’s Experience and Empathy

With experience as a teacher, Nick brought empathy and perspective to his facilitation with Prospect Sierra.

“Nick’s ability to connect with teachers was really powerful. He understood the faculty-administration divide, and bringing his lived experience into the room was transformative and helped everyone see what this had to do with them.”

The Power in Our Relationships

The elementary model at Prospect Sierra includes one Lead Teacher and one Associate teacher in each classroom. “You two are together all day long. If the working relationship isn’t good, it’s going to be really uncomfortable.”

“There’s power dynamics in those relationships, whether consciously or not,” Quise notes. “I could tell some Associates were struggling. They needed to build trusting relationships with their Leads.”

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A few months after the session, one Lead and Associate team presented at a faculty meeting about how they had transformed their working relationship with what they learned about power and power dynamics. 

Quise reflects on the feeling in the room during the presentation: “It was freeing for everyone to see an Associate stand up and talk about how vulnerable and scary it can be to talk about your relationship. I could see the impact on all the other Associates watching, who felt like, Wow, it’s possible for me to have the ability and the agency to ask for what I need in this working relationship.”

The impact has also been felt across all levels of faculty. “People feel they can voice their opinions and speak up when something is upsetting them, no matter what their role is.” 

“This was the form of self-care I needed.”

– Prospect Sierra teacher

Co-Creating the Future

As Quise continues to create a culture of connection she looks forward to deepening the work in Human-Centered Practices and enjoying the growing freedom her teachers feel to be more fully themselves with each other and students.

“My teachers want more. They want to know when we can do this again and when we will have more chances to work with Leverage to Lead. We’re hoping to send at least one person to the Educators Community of Practice.” 

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