This week’s grand finale of our season of “Bridging the Faculty/Admin Divide” brings together seventh grade English teacher (and host) Dean Julius to discuss disciplinary systems with Dean of Students, Jen Whitt, and Head of Middle School, Clay Elliot.


Skip to what you are most interested in below: 


4:07-5:25: Why a good discipline system should be based on the mission of the school, which in our case involves “respecting the dignity of every human,” and why detentions might not be the best way to get there. 


5:26-6:32: How restorative justice foregrounds education, why no school can purely enact this model, and the usefulness of a graduated ladder of consequences that everyone understands.


7:15-8:45: A quick definition of restorative justice, and why it is key to find ways for offenders to re-enter the community having learned from the experience.


8:48-10:00: How this looks in practice for us at St. Andrew’s.


10:01-12:05: Jen shares what she has observed to be the most challenging part of this process and shares why being an upstander is a key piece of the method as well. 

13:07-17:37: The complex interplay of teacher life reality with these restorative approaches, and why Clay says that it can take 5-10 years to really make a school culture shift in this direction. 


17:38-20:58: How these methods fit our often-conservative context of the deep south, a surprising truth about Dean Whitt’s childhood, and the recognition that “it’s messy and it takes time and everyone will eventually get there, but when you’re in the moment, it takes a leap of faith to know that it is going to be okay in a few years.”


21:00-23:45 : Conversations about the need for conversation; the power of circles in restorative justice.


23:47-25:47: Clay reminds us: “[This form of discipline] is hard and tiring, but empathy is hard.”


25:47-29:00: Dean asks for more conclusive data about the way these approaches more fairly treat traditionally disenfranchised groups, and Clay shares some research on outcomes in perceived wellbeing. 


29:05-30:18- Jen shares a concrete example of how this all plays out in dress code violations.


30:25-31:38: Why no single system for discipline can fix inequity.


31:40-34:52 - Is there a place for the “teacher voice” and resulting student shame in these approaches? 


34:53-35:50: Why Jen likes the word “accountability” more than shame. 


36:09-37:25: A surprising truth about the greatest disparity in detention-assignments.

So many of the issues and misunderstandings that arise between faculty and admin result from long histories, things that happened in the past in an institution, habits of interaction, and a lack of adaptability or willingness to change.  Well what if you had a blank slate? A fresh start? All smooth sailing? We are going to have honest conversations with faculty and administrators in our fabulous new division (serving Infants-2’s): Foundations.  What successes and challenges have come  along with all the exciting newness? This episode features three incredibly dedicated humans:  Dr. Sheena White, Head of Foundations; Tabitha Gibson, Assistant Director of Foundations and current PK1 teacher, and Brittany Brown, instructional assistant for older 2’s and parent of a PK3. 


3:45-6:02:  Learn about Sheena’s career trajectory . . .and why we should all thank Mary McCall for bringing her to St. Andrew’s :).


6:32-8:19 : Learn about Tabitha’s past experiences, and how she came to be connected with Sheena.


8:20-10:30 : Take a time machine with me back to when I first went on a hunt to find a daycare facility for a six month old Alianna Rust, and listen to us philosophize about why there is such a demand for childcare centers that have lovely spaces. 


11:02-13:00:  Learn about Brittany’s background, why you should beg her to cook for you, and how she became inspired her to pursue a career in childcare.


14:42-16:14:  Why the key to having a better community is building a better team of individuals through great recruitment, and why “willingness to recalibrate” is also essential.


16:18-17:16: Why belonging has a lot to do with setting up equitable work conditions, and how the longer hours Foundation’s faculty worked this year took a toll.


17:25-19:44 : What it was like for Tabitha entering a new division within an already-established institution after 18 years in a previous establishment,  and how she felt each time someone stopped the baby buggy to see the little ones. 


19:45-21:10: Why it was so important to Sheena that Foundations faculty felt part of the entire school, and not just the new division.


24:27-25:56: How easy it is for us to exist in divisional silos, and why fellowship is key to bringing us all together.


26:12-26:37: Why Brittany’s goal in the next five years is for Foundations to continue to expand.


27:08-30:42: Hear Tabitha’s vivid recollection of her interview at St. Andrew’s, the moment she went from feeling anxious to relaxed, and what this might teach us about the essential impact of sharing our stories with each other early and often.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to teach art to first graders or Spanish to seniors? Ever curious how a head of school spends their day?  In this week’s episode, we share stories and lived realities from three distinct vantage points: Nancy Rivas (Co -Chair of the Department of World and Classical Languages), Jessica Farris (Lower School Art Teacher), and Kevin Lewis (Head of School).


4:37-6:12: Why no two days are the same for a head of school.


6:26-7:28: Jessica shares a day in the life of teaching art: a mix of predictability and unpredictability.


7:25-9:39: Nancy describes a day in her life: punctuated with both structure and flexibility, awash with emails galore, and most joyful when she is actually teaching Spanish: “we’ve planned, we’ve dreamed about it, and we interact with our students.”


10:21-14:25: What we all learned from the past few weeks of stormy weather in relation to communication from admin to faculty. 


14:25-17:42 : Jessica shares a list she imagines makes up Kevin’s day to run by him, and she is remarkably on target; Kevin shares one of his biggest challenges in this role: “being accessible and available to every individual so I can listen and learn”


17:44-18:53: Kevin’s philosophy regarding faculty support: “Stay out of your way as much as possible . . . [and] take admin things off faculty’s plates so you can do the magic you do in the classroom.”


19:25-22:07: Real talk about how time consuming communication to students, colleagues, admin is for faculty all day long.


22:20-24:02: Why Jessica thinks we could all learn a lot from listening to each other’s daily lived realities, and how co-curricular teachers at lower school recently worked to bridge the gap with classroom teachers there: “We are all so passionate, we are all so invested in care, and our days are full . . .  understanding what is happening helps you be more compassionate/trusting.”


24:02-26:02: Why faculty to faculty story sharing could also help perceptions of equity across divisions.


26:02-28:00:  How real listening takes “putting the brakes on from ‘I just have to get things done’”; and how listening and slowing down might aid in health and wellness, not just for the individual, but our entire community.


28:26-30:30: Why taking an art class might be the key to bridging all the gaps: “You can’t solve a problem without imagination. You can’t have empathy without imagination.” 


33:22-34:29:  The value of time, not just chronological time but a “mental space” for creative work to go to fruition. 


34:30-38:00: 3 snapshots in time that recently showed Kevin the magic of our community, and why individual interactions with folks helps him relate back to why he does what he does.  


39:08-41:55: How that time Shea jumped in to finish carpool so Jessica could work on her lesson plans helped motivate Jessica to do her best for her students and team; and the vital importance of admin leaders showing vulnerability and cognitive flexibility.

We’re back, and we’ve got an incredible, honest episode unpacking what we mean when we talk about providing teacher support featuring two thought-provoking lower school guests: Michelle Portera (first grade teacher) and Shea Egger (lower school head).  Check out the show notes below and enjoy:

2:35-3:26: Listen to Rachel and Michelle gush about Shea’s supportive, positive, caring leadership style  . . . and why sharing vulnerabilities as administrators is KEY in fostering conversations, connections, and growth.

5:18-8:20: Our panel explores why so many teachers are in survival mode . . . and the implications of anxiety, stress, and “functioning below the line.”  

8:50-13:00: Teachers and admin unpack what has led to the burnout both pre and post-pandemic: teachers putting pressure on themselves, scarcity of time, a sense of being piled on, and society’s “ hurry sickness.” (See Shea’s book recommendation here: Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer.)

13:03-14:43: Rachel goes deeper into “time” as a finite resource . .. and provides some ideas for how to streamline in order to work smarter and not harder.

14:45-16:28: Shea explores some concrete strategies administrators should employ to be mindful about time for faculty: making sure any change is purposeful and done with teacher feedback and efficiently using meetings so that admin is making the best use of the time they are taking from faculty.

16:30- 21:30 : What the dreaded “you must submit your lesson plans ahead of time” move can communicate about trust and transparency between faculty and administrators.

22:25-24:23: Hear how one of Michelle’s past admin took on a strengths-oriented approach that made a real difference.

24:23-25:42: Why communication is the key to building trust and relationships . . .both giving feedback and receiving it; and hear about one of Rachel’s WORST admin wielding “lack of communication” as a “power tool.” 

25:43-32:12: Why it’s worth the time for us all (but I’m especially looking at you, admin) to make connections, be in communion/fellowship with faculty, be vulnerable and authentic, own the mistakes you make, and share your values as a leader.  Also the clear reminder: “we all have to play in order to be healthy.”

32:15-34:20:  Self care as a practice that you do, but the equal necessity of systems that support us (e.g. SAPA dinner for faculty families to take home!) 

34:22-35:00: What parents can do to aid in teacher support on their end: ask them what they need! 

35:00-37:35: Back to our main themes: vulnerability, authenticity, trust, and connection. And why there’s “such peace” in bringing your whole self to work. . . which can increase the grace we have for others as well.

This week’s episode in our season of bridging the faculty/admin divide: Greatness.  What do faculty think make a good administrator? What do administrators think make a great faculty member?  And is there a way we can  all miraculously inch that direction together?  I was lucky to be joined by three incredibly great humans to discuss these big questions: Buck Cooper, 8th grade math educator; Cassie Mendrop, Director of Human Resources; and Blake Ware, Head of Upper School.  

5:27-7:15: Blake Ware’s synopsis of what makes a great teacher, which involves “a real commitment to the human side of things.”

7:30-9:27:  Listen to Buck Cooper illustrate the project of school with the best metaphor I’ve ever heard: “What is school except this ongoing cycle of getting the wheels on only to have them come off only to try to put them back on before they leave us as seniors.” 

10:11-11:07: Learn about the employee lifecycle from Cassie.

12:10-14:05 : Hear real talk from Blake about what it’s like to be an admin recruiting faculty in this particular historical moment.

14:20-19:13: All three guests weigh in on creative ways to approach recruitment in our unique school context.

20:30-22:14 : Buck reminisces about an administrator he encountered in his early career that personified the “north star” of what an administrator should be: “ She took me seriously enough to get past the nuts and bolts pieces . . . and engaged me at the level I really wanted to engage: learning how to think about how children think.”

22:18-23:50:  What keeps Blake up at night, and why trustworthiness is perhaps the most central non-negotiable in an administrator.

24:45-25:36: Cassie shares what Kevin Lewis told her in her first interview that made her want to work at St. Andrew’s, and she elucidates the chief challenge of administrating: balancing the needs of so many constituencies.  

26:48-28:18: Blake’s ideas on how we, both faculty and admin, can inch toward greatness: finding things that are energizing and finding ways to do those things together.

28:25-29:55: Buck describes the double-pronged power of curiosity and love in improving community and helping us inch toward a “greater greatness.”

31:20-33:15 : What Cassie has learned from exit interviews about why people leave, and why preserving relationships is at the heart of job satisfaction.


In this inaugural episode of our fourth season, we take on the controversy of graduation requirements with host Toby Lowe, fifth grade math faculty, and guest Colin Dunnigan, Associate Head of Upper School and Director of College Counseling.  Listen in as we find loads of common ground between faculty and administration perspectives: 

0:00- 2:10: Julie takes a trip down memory lane, and and introduces the point of this particular season’s theme: “Bridging the Faculty/Admin Divide.” 

6:50-14:01: The (pretty juicy) faculty meeting that inspired this topic of graduation requirements, as captured by Toby and Colin’s distinct perspectives.

14:02-18:07: Colin gives his honest assessment of our fairly traditional curricular requirements, cites the importance of giving students opportunities to create with technology for jobs of tomorrow, and mentions Global Online Academy and Malone as key pathways into more interest-driven coursework.

18:10-19:40: Should taking calculus be the gatekeeper of “you are a serious student”? 

19:42-20:45:  The one good thing that came of Covid in relation to college admissions, very vividly described in a way that only Colin could do . . . 

20:48-24:15: What students should do if they want to go to the most selective schools in the country . . . and why this particular criterion makes Colin want to cheer. 

24:57-28:24: What colleges are actually looking for in admission materials, and why Colin is not a fan of the phrase “student’s passion”) :) 

28:39-30:48: Julie chimes in with some “end goals” that she’d add to the list if she ruled the world. . . and wonders how we can design coursework that helps get students to those ends.

31:09-36:38: Can a student learn everything they need to learn by playing the guitar? Come visit Toby-Land’s version of school: “the stuff you’re interested in can teach you a lot if you follow it”; moving from content requirements to domains or habits of mind to produce lifelong learners.

38:08-45:10: How to inch our way to Toby Land, even with a fairly traditional model: identifying habits of mind that matter, incorporating programs that immerse youth in experiential learning, and collectively examining whether our current required coursework mirrors the world we live in today

45:18-46:30: Julie talks about her electrical engineer dad (because he tends to come up a lot) and his distaste of “Legos for Kids,” and she wonders out loud whether our traditional course categories are actually in practice as traditional as we assume. 

48:10-48:42: Toby proposes we need a more systematic approach to revisiting our curricular requirements; are we still doing what we should be doing for students? 

49:22-51:20: Colin’s final thought: We need youth to have the capacity to take on difficult material and persist.

In this final episode drop in our Parent Teacher Conference season, we feature a conversation about the oh-so-fraught topic of academic performance, facilitated by Rachel Scott, our new Lower School Technology Integration Specialist.  Tune in to get some perspective-shifting wisdom from Rachel Rice (mom of five young saints spanning Foundations to fifth grade), real talk from Dalton Howard (third grade teacher and mom of two herself), and honest sharing from Abigail Shannon, third grader who (if she does say so herself) has some pretty great handwriting skills, even if she didn’t totally ace the last timed math test.

See timestamps below:

  • How academic performance is a fluid concept (3:03-3:55)
  • One parent’s changing definition of academic performance; the importance of meeting children where they are; and why what matters most is “mental health, love of learning, and not squashing that” (4:14-5:40)
  • Abigail’s academic performance goals: “I’m trying to be that kid, the kind of kid who knows how to get her stuff done, maybe not on time but she always gets it done.” (6:00-6:43)
  • Why high performers have a harder time dealing with mistakes and feedback than kids were more experience of struggle (7:10-9:05) 
  • Growing from mistakes and how to best advocate for your children by partnering with their teachers (9:07-11:45)  
  • Why the word “bored” isn’t a thing in Dalton Howard’s classroom, and the importance of demonstrating and modeling intellectual curiosity (12:25-13:51)
  • How a mom of five moved from “you need an A” to a focus on instilling good work habits; and a reminder that what your kids learn or what mistakes they make isn’t a reflection on you as a parent (15:00-18:15) 
  • Those dreaded timed math tests: from the perspective of a third grader and a third grade teacher (18:50-21:00)
  • Tips from a very astute third grader on studying (21:20-22:11)
  • Dalton’s plea to parents: “Let kids mess up, let them take responsibility, let them take ownership, let them remember their own library books.  They are old enough; they are ready.” (22:32-24:38)

Fostering independence in three, four, and five year olds may sound like a paradox, but in this episode of Parent Teacher Conference, Kim Sewell (PK4 faculty member and mom of three not-so-tiny young adults) and Leslie Hambrick (parent to Jimbo, kindergarten, and Charlie, PK4) discuss the successes and challenges they have had both at home and school toward these ends.  In other words, we explore the conundrum that parents and teachers share, well-articulated by Kim: “if we do our job well, we work ourselves out of the job.” Enjoy the entire conversation, or skip to the themes that interest you using the timestamps below:


  • Why the most convenient moves aren’t always the best “long view” approaches: parenting and teaching children that will grow into well rounded, independent adults (1:35-4:25)
  • How involving all young children in cooking (and other challenges) sets the stage for vital resilience in the face of life’s inevitable messes (5:02-6:27; 9:26-10:50)
  • What Montessori isn’t and what Montessori is: the centrality of modeling, works, safe structure, and giving children tools they can manage (6:50-8:45)
  • Real talk on the difficulties of following youth’s interest and fostering independence . . . and why they are still worth it (11:08-12:30; 15:25-16:00)
  • The history of Maria Montessori and how she came upon her methods to ultimately build a more peaceful world (12:48-15:00)
  • It’s not a free-for-all; how to avoid chaos by slowly easing your way into choice for youth (16:43-19:38)
  • PK4 classroom footage brought to us by Seesaw along with a description of jobs and routines that Kim uses to foster independence (20:12-22:57)
  • Promoting motor skill development at home and in the classroom (23:05-26:20)
  • How preparing snacks and gardening can build foundational mathematical thinking; “using the materials and the child you have in front of you” to build on (27:10-30:25)
  • “What happened at school today?” and the home/school connection (31:08-32:27)
  • Celebrating cultural identities at home and at school (33:09-35:20) 
  • Parenting as a roller coaster and the reminder to stay calm because “you have years with these kids” (36:40-37:37)
  •  “If you do parenting well you work yourself out of the job”; why fostering independence is “a gift of love over and over”, a series of “slow deaths” (37:50-39:14)
  • Final words of wisdom from both guests: trusting children and regulating your own emotions as an adult (40:55-41:32)

This episode of “Parent Teacher Conference” takes us to the Upper School, where Emmi Sprayberry (chair of our arts department) facilitates a conversation with Raymond Huang, current senior; Tangela Chambers, mother to two upper school students (a senior and sophomore); and Dawn Denham, senior seminar English teacher. 

High school is full of challenges...and for many students it is where they start to figure out who they are and grapple with the idea of identity and belonging. In the past 19 months, our students have had their worlds deeply changed by a pandemic that redefined what was our new normal as well as the murder of George Floyd that sparked a movement. In this podcast, we feature a meaningful conversation about what diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in a high school setting and how we can create spaces that build deeper connections and community:

  • What diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to our guests (3:00-7:00)
  • Bringing people together in a positive way (7:00-13:09)
  • Encouragement for listening and fighting against fear and the “what if’s" (13:15-17:00)
  • How educators can help communicate to students where the safe places are that students can go to have conversations (17:30 - 21:30)
  • The power of a story (21:35-23:35)
  • Personal experiences in relation to DEI (23:45-31:30)
  • The need for more educators of color and systems that impact who end up teaching (33:00-36:15)
  • Self reflection; where it all begins(36:30-42:00)
  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable (42:00-45:00)
  • Suggestions from each guest for one small change in a classroom environment that would help promote more diversity and inclusion (46:10-51:30)

Thanks for stopping by to check out the first episode of Parent Teacher Conference! This episode features a thoughtful conversation with 5th Grade History Teacherand St. Andrew’s parentMeriwether Truckner, Haydenne Archie, a current 8th grader at St. Andrew’s, and Katie Hathcock, a parent of two St. Andrew’s students, Stella and Carter. We chat about classroom management styles and student behavior, centered around an article in Edutopia by Ben Johnson. It was such a privilege to sit and chat with these three ladies. Mrs. Truckner has been a colleague I’ve looked up to since I started at St. Andrew’s because her organizational skills and her classroom management are among her many talents, and I loved hearing Katie and Haydenne’s perspectives on parent involvement in student success in the class as well as what students can do to be more successful stewards of the classroom. Hope you enjoy the episode!

Our conversation is time stamped below: 

  • What makes for the best classroom environment (1:45 - 7:00)
  • Self-care & its impact on behavior/teaching  (7:20 - 14:00)
  • Parent & Teacher communication (14:05 - 19:20)
  • What do you do when things go amuk? (19:30 - 24:00)
  • COVID’s impact on management & behavior (24:05 - end)


We end our mini-series, “Living it: Stories from the Teaching Life” with a laughter and truth-packed episode featuring two of my favorite humans (not to mention educators) in the Jackson Metro Area: Shamia Hopper & Lucy Kaplan.  I had the pleasure of working with both of them while at Millsaps College, and I can quite honestly say that both Lucy and Shamia feature the killer combo of being simultaneously (1) real (2) brilliant (3) 100% committed to more equitable spaces for teaching/learning for all youth (4) super fun to be around. 

Shamia Hopper is a founding fourth grade teacher and grade team leader at Smilow Collegiate.  Her passion is teaching black and brown kids that live in low-income areas in our state.  After school she runs a vegan meal prep business called Shamia’s Food Diaries (Find her on Instagram).  Lucy Kaplan is entering her third year teaching middle school ELA in Jackson, MS.  She is passionate about teaching writing, creating an accessible and inclusive classroom, and education policy.  After school, she self-publishes her own writing and sings in a punk band.  Both have taught for three years which puts them squarely in that sweet spot of “knowing stuff” and “still discovering stuff.”  

During our conversation, we discussed:

3:31-5:15:  How Lucy’s experience with challenges in her own schooling led her to a career situated in the classroom.

8:32- 10:50: Why the best teacher education is steeped in community engagement; Shamia’s story of becoming inspired to educate.

11:20- 14:17: Why Shamia loves math, and when it comes to math instruction, multiple strategies beat out one-size-fits-all recipes.

15:19-18:32: Real talk about what it was like teaching kindergarteners at-home and in-person concurrently during a global pandemic.

18:32-20:03: That oh-so-recognizable-teacher-feeling of “I KNOW THIS COULD BE BETTER!” 

22:25-26:33: Stories from Lucy’s first year of teaching seventh grade English: on the feeling of being “coached” and the vital importance of just being yourself as an educator.

28:10-32:04: The most valuable lessons Shamia learned with her five and six year olds first experiencing school in the midst of a pandemic; “it wasn’t me versus them; it was us together.”

33:50-36:55:  The time Lucy raced one of her students during recess.

37:05-41:10: Two reflective teaching practices you have to try, courtesy of Lucy: (1) keep a list of something good you observe each day when teaching in tweet form and (2) ask your students for “one piece of advice you’d give youth taking this class next year.”

44:58- 45:33 : Shamia’s final tip, bound to inspire us all: “Do it anyway.”


This week's podcast features Tonja Murphy, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Mississippi Book Fest. Tonja is an amazingly passionate and talented woman who uses her skills as author, consultant, and motivational speaker to give back and invest in the community of Jackson, MS. I first met Tonja at a banquet for Red Door Jackson, an after school tutoring program for kids in JPS. I was serving as a coordinator and she had come as a community member and JPS parent to support the work that Red Door was doing within the community. From the moment we met, I was blown away by her heart to empower others to be their best selves. This theme is at the heart of anything she does, whether it is helping kids navigate what books they need to get and how to do online schooling in the middle of a pandemic, mentoring young teens, or promoting a love for reading. I could go on and on with her list of accomplishments and why you should know her if you don’t, but I’ll let the podcast speak for itself. I always come away from my time with Tonja inspired and challenged. I hope you too are able to come away with some strong nuggets of wisdom.  

During our conversation we discussed 

  • The wonder of teaching middle school  (2:00) 
  • Guidance for middle school students vs. telling them what to do (3:00-4:00)
  • Expectations vs. rules (4:00-5:00)
  • Mentoring and tutoring in the middle of a pandemic, using the platforms that students already used to connect with them , and the power of meeting students where they are (6:20-11:00)
  • Using Tik Tok as a means to get students to analyze music, apply critical thinking, and engage in textual analysis  (11:00-13:15)
  • How Tonja came to do working in community, where passion met vocation (14:00-16:25)
  • The importance of having something outside of you to inform your work (17:00-17:30)
  • What do you wish educators knew? (17:45-20:)
  • What advice would you give teachers coming back into the classroom this year?(21:00-21:25)
  • Grace (21:25-22:40)
  • The importance of community engagement  (23:00- 25:50)
  • Instances that have stuck with Tonja (28:20-30:08)
  •  Was there an interaction that was a pivot moment that moved you to turn outward vs inward? (31:30-32:47)
  • Avoiding the scenario of “when helping hurts” and cultivating mental health (33:05-38:08)
  • Living what you preach and teach; fostering the skill of reflection. (38:08-44:10)
  • Socio-emotional-learning and the loss during a pandemic -- getting to know the students and where they are at now (46:15-50:00)
  • Fostering community within a classroom and knowing who is in the room  (50:01- 52:05)
  • What book should every educator read? (52:20-53:25)
  • Don’t let your experience frame how you help them navigate theirs (53:45) 
  • Organizations to connect your students with (54:50-56:25)


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