Get to know our faculty and staff, who are stepping into new roles this year! The second interview in our Q&A series is with Deb Brackett, who recently began as Interim Director of Lower School.
Deb is a longtime GFS educator and experienced administrator, who has been the head of our K-12 Physical Education Department since 1995, developing strong programming and providing excellent leadership. She has been a steady presence in the Lower School throughout her 33-year tenure at GFS, completing the inaugural SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) program and serving as an adult facilitator for the 5th-grade anti-bias curriculum. She has a master's degree in Recreation, Sport and Fitness Management from Northeastern University.
Where does your passion for education come from?
Well, you know, it's funny. Of course as a child, I loved to move around and be very athletic, but there were not as many opportunities for women. I loved PE class and when I was in second grade, a student-teacher came to PE, and she was a woman! I thought, "you mean a girl can do this job?" So I decided, in second grade, that I was going to be a PE teacher. Maybe you shouldn't decide what you're going to do when you're only eight years old, but I felt a calling in that moment.
What does equity in education mean to you?
I think there's two things. There's intention, and then how do you make it happen? Those two things aren't always aligned to the extent that we wish they were. People have asked me, what's different about working in a Quaker school? I always go back to the belief that each person carries the divine within them. If you pause and reflect on this, that's a very important idea to keep in your mind and in your heart. As a teacher, I've always felt that it's such an important idea. If all of education was based on that, we'd be better off because it lets us consider what each person can add to the conversation and how we can see the light within each other. Are we taking actions that are helping that light to shine fully? If we're not, then we need to stop and consider how to better proceed.
What is your educational philosophy and how will you carry that into your new role?
I have a lot of intellectual curiosity and a very deep love of learning. I go through different phases where I learn something new. For example, I learned how to swim better so that I could do sprint triathlons, I recently took up fencing, and I've traveled abroad to study German and learn a new language. I have broader interests, which may not be athletic, but they are about learning something new. To be a teacher, you have to keep learning yourself and you have to put yourself in situations where you can feel humbled. That's what keeps you fresh and helps you to understand the essence of what teaching and learning is.
Now, I'm 'learning by doing' in my new role at GFS. I've worked in administration before and have strengths in scheduling, managing, onboarding new faculty and mentoring, creating and supporting a team, but I'm so grateful for the chance to serve in this position. It's interesting, challenging, and exciting! I also have a better understanding and appreciation for bringing a culturally responsive lens to my decisions and interactions with others. I have the opportunity to pause and listen carefully to the stories of others, and do all that I can to make GFS the most equitable and safe place for everyone.
What are you most looking forward to about working in the Lower School?
With Lower School, there's a lot of joy. With the students in this age group, you never know what they're going to do or say next! I appreciate that they tell you like it is. I also appreciate the curiosity and the investment that children at this age have in learning. They love to learn and they want to do well. I think that's true of children at all ages and those at GFS. We try to keep possibilities open so children can be curious and learn, and they can get to the next level and ask more questions. Then, they can tell you how to do it.
What first drew you to GFS?
My college coach was connected with Germantown Friends School and they had an opening for a part-time PE teacher position, so she encouraged me to apply. I went to Ursinus College to play Division I field hockey and was trained as a health and PE teacher (certified in K-12). When I came to GFS for my interview, two things happened: One, I read the mission statement and it sounded similar to the YMCA--body, mind, and spirit. I had an immediate resonance with that because I found a real home working at Chimney Corners Camp YMCA, which influenced my career and trained me to be a better educator. Two, my interview was with Helen Marter, who coached me at Olympic Developmental Camp, and that made me feel at home--to have a connection with someone I'd been coached by.