In our educational leadership series, we’re introducing you to individuals who shape the landscape and school culture at our partner institutions. This week, meet Lisa Sun, lower school principal at The Park School of Baltimore.
She’s sharing Park’s educational philosophies, how she connects with her own children, and her advice for talking to children about tough topics like discrimination and unfairness.
Meet the Principal: Lisa Sun, Lower School Principal at The Park School of Baltimore
We are just thru the first (very busy!) month of school. Now that students are settling into routines at Park and the ‘first weeks of school’ buzz is wearing off, how do you get them excited about learning?
At Park, students are always excited to learn because they are active participants in their education. They engage in hands-on learning to discover, to ask questions, to find answers, and to think through possibilities. And we have inspiring and inspired teachers who draw students in with their enthusiasm and excitement around topics, and often include the students’ own ideas and voices in the learning process.
Give us a little bit of your background. How did you end up in the field of education — and specifically, at Park School?
I was inspired by a phenomenal art teacher I had in high school, and spent most of my early career teaching art to all grades, K-12. In 2002, I transitioned to an administrative role as the Diversity Coordinator at my school in Concord, MA. I came to Baltimore and the Park School in 2011. Many things resonated with me when I visited the school, especially the progressive approach to teaching, the talented and dedicated faculty, and the school’s strong commitment to issues of equity and diversity and raising active and engaged citizens.
Describe your educational leadership style. How does it impact the teaching and learning culture at Park?
I try to listen carefully to all my constituencies and include many voices in any decision-making process. I think that reflects the way we also approach teaching at Park — we listen to the children and treat them with respect and include their voices in the learning process. We have positive expectations for our students and ourselves, and I think that’s reflected in our culture at Park.
Recently you wrote a piece that appeared in The Baltimore Sun about how to talk to kids about current events. One tip you mention is for parents to “lean into [their] discomfort” when talking about tough topics with their children.” Can you give us an example of when you had to do this either personally (as a mom) or professionally (as an education leader)?
As a family, we often have conversations about race and ethnicity. And frequently, those conversations will lead to discussions about discrimination and unfairness. We talk to our children about racial inequity, why we believe that Black Lives Matter, immigration policies, and, most recently, we had a conversation following the protests in Charlottesville. As a person of color, and the mother of two children of color, I was terrified and shaken by the brazen display of white supremacy. My husband and I grappled with whether or not to talk about this with our 7th Grade son and 2nd Grade daughter. Ultimately, we decided to have separate and age-appropriate conversations with each of them, as we felt it was important for them to know about what had happened. It was also important for us to talk about the people who came to protest against white supremacy and white nationalism. We want our children to know that everyday people can stand up and make a difference against hatred and bigotry. We want them to know that one day, they can be the ones speaking up and taking a stand on issues that they believe in.
You conclude the article with the idea that “together, parents and educators have the power — and the duty — to raise informed, engaged citizens.” What does that look like at Park?
Park’s progressive roots are built around raising engaged citizens, and we see examples of active citizenship in our classroom communities. At the beginning of the school year, each classroom community comes up with its own set of community rules or classroom constitution. These are often rules of conduct that the students have thought of and voted upon, and have agreed to abide by. Students will also discuss issues and challenges and brainstorm possible solutions to help.
Another example of active citizenship comes from our 3rd Graders, who each year lead the entire Park School community in sustainability initiatives. Our 3rd Graders educate older students and adults about recycling, composting, and decreasing our landfill waste — they’ve made a strong impact on our carbon footprint at Park.
How do you connect with your own family? What are some of your favorite places to go with your kids?
Our lives are pretty busy, but we love to have movie nights at home, try out new ice cream places, and just hang out without any scheduled events on the weekends. Recently we’ve discovered a roller skating rink, and that has been really fun!
If you had one piece of advice for parents considering an independent school for their child, what would it be?
I would encourage parents to look for the right fit for their child. Each school is unique and has its own personality, and it’s important to find a school community whose values and goals for education align with your family’s. We certainly found that right fit at Park.
As an early childhood educator and Lower School Principal, I would be remiss if I did not also share my firm belief in instilling the love of learning early in a child’s life as families consider their educational options. Nurturing the love of learning is especially important between the ages of 4 to 10, and an invaluable investment in a child’s experience as a lifelong learner.
This article is part of our school partner profile series. To learn more about The Park School of Baltimore, visit their profile in our independent school directory. Photos by Laura Black.