A Q&A With the Assistant Head of Academics and Inclusive Excellence

 

 

Camille Seals knows how to make things happen.
 

She comes to Agnes Irwin from the Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where she oversaw its Center for Multicultural Affairs, which created culturally responsive policies and programs for the school community. Ms. Seals also led the school’s Aspire Program — a summer academic enrichment and leadership development program for high-achieving girls — and was responsible for its strategic planning, academic programming, faculty hiring and professional development, enrollment management, advancement, marketing, and financial sustainability.

We sat down with Mrs. Seals to learn more about her newly created role as Assistant Head of Academics and Inclusive Excellence, her vision for our Center for the Advancement of Girls, and the musical artist that inspires her during her drive to school.  

What attracted you to Agnes Irwin?

Seals: I’m deeply passionate about girls’ education, and think that girls’ schools and women's institutions play an important role in preparing young women to navigate a challenging world. Agnes Irwin reflected the same values that I have about the importance of a dedicated academic environment for young women where they can learn and thrive. Coming to a school such as Agnes Irwin — where everybody is mission-aligned and part of a larger, united community focused on the wellbeing and rigorous education of girls — was very important to me.

You are the product of an all-girls’ education. How has that prepared you personally and professionally?

Seals: I have always told my students that I am 100 percent of the mindset that there is nothing I cannot accomplish. I believe that approach is absolutely the product of being an alumna of an all-girls' school and college. That sort of confidence — not arrogance, but a true belief of “If I study, work hard enough, and learn what I need to learn, I can achieve many things” — is emphasized in an environment where the leadership is female and all girls are empowered.

I also have a deep appreciation for the diversity of women due to my experiences growing up as a minority in an all-girls' institution and attending a historically black women's college. I witnessed the camaraderie of a “we're all black women, but also so different” mindset, which provides me with a unique lens through which to approach my work as an educator. Though we all share some common identities, we also have very different narratives that come into play and can create a dynamic and diverse community.

What qualities and skills do you think are essential for girls to learn in order to be successful in today's world?

Seals: The world can be tough, so learning resilience and perseverance are critical. Resilience is more than a big concept that we think means never struggling; it is the ability to overcome and persist the inevitable challenges along the way.

Cultural competency is also very important. The ability to understand yourself — your own lenses, your own stories — and give honor and respect to someone whose experience or point of view is different from your own, will help our students learn to navigate diverse spaces and reach common goals. We are sending students off into a world where they're going to be at a boardroom table with a number of people who are ready to talk, and we need to prepare them to be present, express their perspectives, and also honor someone else's as they seek middle ground. In my studying of Gen Z, I’ve learned that all students — regardless of their values, politics, or upbringing — are growing up in a world that is more diverse than that of their parents, and are much more likely to engage in conversation to seek understanding, particularly around issues of equity and inclusion.

Hard work is vital as well. Because we do live in a world where everything is on your phone and there's this desire for instant gratification, we have to buckle down and dig into that concept of diligence. I think it was P. Diddy who said, "You have to be in relentless pursuit of your dream." It’s crucial to set your mind to something and pursue it relentlessly if you want to find success.

You are assuming a newly created role, Assistant Head of Academics and Inclusive Excellence. What are your aspirations for Agnes Irwin in both of these areas?

Seals: My aspirations for Agnes Irwin are the same as those for the girls: to achieve at our highest level and live out our mission of learning, leading, and living a legacy. We offer a strong academic program that is a balance between classical preparation and critical thinking about core subjects — including science, math, history, and English — as well as electives such as international relations, computer science, engineering, economics, and the arts. We need to constantly challenge ourselves to deliver content in innovative, relevant and engaging ways tailored specifically for girls, and in a manner that allows students to, for example, hear a bioethics debate at the dinner table and thoughtfully contribute to the discussion. For me, pursuing academic excellence means there will be moments when we'll try something really bold and it may not turn out the way we expected, but we will learn through that failure and persevere.

I've always aimed to make the institutions I work in a safe place for people to be the purest essence of themselves. As Agnes Irwin strives to be a school that simultaneously values academic excellence as well as an inclusive community, I want to create a place where everyone can be authentically themselves and together strive for inclusion in meaningful ways. That means that diversity, equity, multiculturalism, and cultural competency ideas are embedded in our curriculum, hiring practices, and evaluation procedures — as we as a community of learners pursue that excellence while keeping inclusion, equity, and justice at the center of what we do.

You are also leading the work of the Center for the Advancement of Girls as well as professional development for faculty and staff. What excites you about this?

Seals: I'm excited to have the opportunity to work with, learn from, and support the professional development of both veteran teachers and educators who are relatively new in their careers.

Embracing the process of reflective practice is important as a teaching community, and I'm eager to accomplish that with the faculty. Taking the time to sit down, look at the curriculum we are delivering, and ask if there are new ways to engage students by incorporating the latest girl-centered research into our classrooms will help us continue to be the best teachers we can be for our students. What was effective in educating girls in 2001 is not necessarily going to work with students in 2019.

I love how we talk about the Center for the Advancement of Girls as the superpower for the school. I want to really dig into that superpower, spend time thinking about what it fully means to our pedagogies, partnerships, and programs, and how we manifest it in tangible, powerful ways for our girls and school. The Center is unique to Agnes Irwin, collecting the latest girl-centered research and best practices that should be central to our educational experience. I’m excited about this newly created position because I am passionate about girl-centered research, academic excellence, professional development, and equity and inclusion in support of the school’s inspiring mission.

What hobbies/skills/interests do you have outside of work? 

Seals: As an English major, most people expect that I read books all the time, but I do love a great TV show or a good movie. If you find a series that’s done well, it’s almost like reading a series of novels. I also enjoy baking, and hopefully I can get my kitchen together so that I can bring in cupcakes — my signature dessert.

My favorite interest outside of work, though, is my family. I love being a mother to my two daughters, one of whom is a second grader at AIS this year.

If you could learn a new skill, what would that be? 

Seals: I would love to learn the basics of party planning and help people celebrate their weddings, babies, anniversaries, and other important events — digging into the coordination of elements that make an event successful.

I also dream of learning how to garden. I've been watching one of my friends from college who started a garden in his backyard, and am inspired by it.

You're on your way to work on any given morning. So what's playing on your car radio or your phone speaker? 

Seals: Almost anything Beyonce. One of my farewell presentations at Aspire was “Mrs. Seal’s Life Hacks,” in which I talked about the importance of having a theme song. More often than not, one of my theme songs is playing in my car — and for sure it’s almost always Beyonce. If my kids are with me, then we play KidsBop Radio, which is appropriate for them but also has songs I know some of the words to as well!

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