The Path of Peter Steedman from Senegal to Sturgis (Fall 2011)

Each issue of Sturgis Soundings Magazine will feature a Faculty Profile. The profiles offer an opportunity to learn more about the life and work experiences of our faculty. When we asked faculty to describe their international experiences for this issue, Peter Steedman submitted the following essay. We decided it made perfect sense to include his essay as the first entry in our Faculty Profile column.

The Path of Peter Steedman from Senegal to Sturgis

by Peter Steedman

Photograph by Julie Steedman, Senegal, 1981

Leaning my head out of the land rover, I could smell the asphalt that was practically liquefying under the heat of the West African sun.   The dust of the encroaching Sahara got in my eyes, and I quickly retreated back into the vehicle.  My father’s job with USAID had brought me to Dakar, Senegal, but nothing in my eleven years had prepared me for the adventure ahead of me.  I was off to the northern region of the country to visit a Peace Corps volunteer.  When I entered her village, I was amazed at the simplicity of Senegalese family life.  Throughout the day, I helped families in the millet fields and at night I sat with the local boys around the fire and listened to the elders tell stories.  I didn’t understand a word of Wolof, but I was enthralled by the gestures of the storyteller and the laughter of my peers.  The entire community was energized by a day of planting seed, learning new skills and sharing past experiences.  The day’s work was labor intensive, but the voices in the village that night were jubilant, knowing that each member played a part in bringing a shared vision to fruition.  I would never forget the day I spent in this village, and from that age, I became convinced that personal satisfaction in my future career would come from building that same sense of community within the classrooms, faculty and schools where someday I might have the privilege of working.

Pete Steedman, Skidmore Study Abroad Program – India

The images of the village never left me and for years I have traveled the world attempting to build a similar community atmosphere.  I spent a semester in India while in college investigating reformist Islamic communities outside Mumbai.  After graduation I was a teaching intern in a small town an hour north of Melbourne, Australia.  Although the town was rural, the Kilmore International School provided a curriculum called the International Baccalaureate (IB) to its pupils, over 90 percent of which came from Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan; the rest were Australian.  My colleagues also represented a diverse geographical footprint.  Although we had a large number of Australians, there were Indians, British, Chinese and Indonesians that were attempting to deliver one of the world’s most rigorous curriculums to English as a second-language learners.  As in any experiment that involves people working in teams, there was, at times, conflict over how best to teach and administrate.

Pete Steedman, Kilmore International School, Australia

What I learned through this experience is that tension can be used as an opportunity to further the growth of faculty and students.  Rather than attempting to mitigate all disagreements, the Headmaster would provide weekly opportunities for staff to voice their concerns.  In this manner, the tension was out in the open and all members of the faculty felt heard.  It also provided an opportunity to dispel any rumors or misconceptions about school policy.  The Headmaster was very clear that there were some decisions that were irrevocable, but he was clear from the outset on what these were; while permitting those who disagreed to raise concerns.  This leadership style led to some contentious staff meetings, but more often than not, colleagues left the building with a better understanding of different perspectives and disagreements were not allowed to fester.  I attempted to use this leadership style in other schools where working as a collaborative team was essential.

Pete Steedman,Basketball Coach, Kilmore International School, Australia

At Miami’s Gulliver Preparatory, the IB was used in promoting a common vision of academic excellence.  At Gulliver, the IB could bond students who do not share a common religion, language or cultural heritage.  Students and faculty represented numerous Caribbean, Central and South American countries.  The IB was a key component of the school’s curriculum and required students to learn a second language, work in teams to complete Science labs and write critical reflections across every discipline.  As Dean of Students, I worked with the I.B. Coordinator to galvanize different segments of the international community to ensure that students were using critical thinking skills to promote their vision of the future.  Whether it was raising awareness of the Cambodian Land Mine Project or hosting a Regional Model United Nations Conference at the school, teamwork and collaboration with various segments of the school was essential to prepare the students for the next chapter in their academic career.  I became convinced that to deepen the educational experiences of my students, I needed to engage the entire community not only around academic achievement but also social cohesion.

After I left Miami, I was fortunate to be re-united with my former IB Coordinator in The Hague, Arthur Pontes.  I worked with Arthur in Holland from 1995-2000 where I taught HL and SL History, the Theory of Knowledge and served as an administrator as head of the Humanities Department and also as Dean of Students.   Art Pontes encouraged me to apply to Sturgis by informing me that the school was attempting the impossible, to offer the IB to all its students.  It was a completely different vision of the IB than I had seen in other schools, yet it made perfect sense.  Why should the IB be kept from students who learn differently?  If it provided students with an international perspective and it demands the academic rigor with which all students need to be familiar by the time they enter college, why not offer it to all students?  Art told me that the students on Cape Cod, being far away from a traditional urban setting, could truly benefit from the international perspective provided by the IB.  Under Art’s tutelage, I served as IB Coordinator for Sturgis East from 2006-2011.

In 2009, Eric Hieser asked me to be a member of the Sturgis Administrative Internship Program.  The Program is structured to provide three interns the opportunity to meet and discuss school policy and planning on a regular basis with the Executive Director.  One initiative promoted by East Associate Director Paul Marble, is the Critical Friends Group (CFG), a program created in 1994 by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. Observing how Paul runs the CFG has been invaluable to me as a school leader and has complemented my other educational experiences from around the world.  CFG meets every other week in order to create a team approach to solving the everyday complexities and frustrations of the teaching profession.    There are a number of different discussion templates promoted by CFG, and in each session, the entire group is exposed to these problem-solving models; which, in turn, give each member new teaching strategies to employ in their classrooms.  It is evident that Paul is the leader of the group, but by being reflective of his own practice, he encourages other teachers in the group to take risks and self-evaluate. Precisely due to the fact that teaching is labor intensive and can involve personalities that do not always work cohesively towards a common goal, the CFG works in conjunction with the Sturgis Internship Program to encourage reflection and leadership amongst the faculty.

Looking at my past experiences in international and domestic institutions, I have learned a variety of methods to promote a collaborative school culture.  I am so fortunate be part of this bold experiment called Sturgis West, for only when we harness the resources of the entire community, can we provide a rigorous international curriculum to students on Cape Cod.   I have been working towards that end for twenty years, ever since I sat under West African skies, laughing with young boys I did not even know, listening to stories I did not understand.

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