As part of Margaret Szegvari’s long-term commitment to building a talented and more diverse faculty at Pike, she knew she needed to venture beyond the Northeast to broaden her reach. She also knew that she would not be successful alone. Following last summer’s Administrative retreat, Margaret reached out to Michael, aware that working in partnership with a senior leader who shared educational philosophy and different cultural perspectives was essential to helping build an intercultural, educational collaboration. Having a white female educator and a black male educator working together on equal footing is not the norm in today’s world, but when embraced can be life-changing.
Take a moment to read their reflections from their trip to Atlanta this past February. They fondly refer to it as Leading Together. You will not only get a glimpse into their time together, but you will also hear how intercultural models of leadership can be agents of change in today’s world.
Margaret: You don’t always know what will come your way, traveling together. Michael and I have been on our own journeys to build equitable practices in schools, but this particular trip took us in new directions, directions that quite frankly neither one of us had journeyed on before.
Michael: As a black man working in predominantly white institutions for the past 15 years, I have been accustomed to building across cultural divides, but I rarely have seen professionals engage as a learner in a way of life to which they are not accustomed. I wondered at that time when Margaret asked me to join her on her recruiting trip to Atlanta if she really wanted to use my expertise of that culture or merely have me tag along to “talk to black folks”. Going to Atlanta and specifically, Spelman College was personal; I have two nieces, one that’s graduated and one who is currently attending, and I didn’t want my visit to be seen as a ruse. Would we be welcomed? Would we be seen as people who have come to take rather than professionals looking for collaboration?
Margaret: Shortly after our arrival on Spelman’s campus, one of many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Atlanta, we went to the Department of Education Studies and soon met with the Chair, Dr. Andrea Lewis. We sat in the red leather chairs purchased for Dr. Christine King Faris, former Spelman professor, and sister of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Faris had passed down this furniture to Dr. Lewis along with the beautiful photo taken of Dr. Faris, Coretta Scott King, and Rosa Parks that now hung above Lewis’ desk when she retired from the position. The room breathed history, a history that is often not openly discussed where colleges were forced to be built due to racial segregation and where systems of racial and gender inequality have kept us apart through centuries.
Michael: To sit in this room – what a powerful experience it was for us to consider the genesis of this type of institution. Peeling back the pages, in 1890 the second Morrill Land-Grant Act specified that in order for states to use federal higher education funds that black students must be recipients of higher education either by the integration of public universities or by establishing schools specifically serving black students. This college was established because it had to be.
For one hour, Margaret and I connected with Dr. Lewis and shared our journeys – how we got to where we are now, and, better yet, what could be.
We acknowledged that we have the opportunity to be among the few schools that look at the systemic barriers that have segregated education and together use a process of learning that takes into account the lived experiences of others. It was so much fun to engage with another black educator whose scholarship was leading in the area of responsive teaching. There was a sense of familiarity of lived experiences both in our personal and professional lives that allowed us to talk effortlessly across issues impacting education and life. It was a unique opportunity for Margaret, as a white woman, to be in a space and active in the conversation, sharing her knowledge of teacher training and her shared desire to enact change.
Margaret: I have come to think of it as our elegant dance where Michael and I have learned how to share voice and space with one another. We dance in the worlds we know best and watch and listen when it is the other’s turn. I know that I could never have had this level of conversation and relationship building with Dr. Lewis had Michael and I not been there together.
Michael: What felt like a historic moment was only extended to our next meeting with Dr. Rosalind Bass, Director of the Health Careers Program and a family friend. We shared stories of our families, our children – white, black and brown, and the opportunities that await them if our generation gives rise to thinking about new pathways for collaboration. One that empowers student-to-student mentoring and intercultural leadership development opportunities hinging on STEM pedagogy. What felt energizing was the possibility of jointly crafting a learning opportunity that has the potential to impact the living and learning of so many.
Margaret: I have visited over 120 colleges in my professional career but never before have I gone to an HBCU. As a white, female educator, I felt incredibly privileged to
have spent time with Dr. Lewis, Dr. Bass, Michael, and so many others I met while there. For the first time in my 30+ year career, I was at the table with those with whom I share purpose but with whom I had not previously been able to talk, really talk. I left Spelman in awe of a community driven by incredible intention – intention to provide robust mentorship, scholarship, and study abroad opportunities so that young women of black descent will develop into leaders of social change. I left honored and hopeful that Pike could be part of a collaboration with an institution that shared our values for social change.
Michael and Margaret: The last stop on our journey ended at the Teachers of Color Hiring Fair held at an Atlanta independent day school. Just as we had done throughout the trip, we worked together to build real, honest connections. We worked relationally, talking, listening, connecting with those we met. We can’t imagine engaging in this work in the future without doing it together. We are grateful for the time we had to discover what can occur when two colleagues with a common goal stay in the moment, navigating across culture, gender, and expertise.
The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership. To learn more about admission to The Pike School, visit our Admission page.