As the Hawken community bids its farewells to Kim Samson, we say hello to Hawken’s new Upper School Director, Suzette Dyer Redwine. Mrs. Dyer, who hails from Georgia, has lived in Cinncinati, Oklahoma, New York City, and now Cleveland. Mrs. Dyer holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree (English Rhetoric and Composition) from the University of Central Oklahoma, as well as a Master's in Education at Long Island University in NY and a school leader certification from the graduate center at CUNY (City University of New York).
Surprisingly, Ms. Dyer didn’t even plan on pursuing a career in teaching after graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma. After earning her Masters in English, she had been teaching freshman composition at Univ of Central Oklahoma while researching a thesis in New York City when she stumbled upon the New York Teaching Fellows. Ms. Dyer has a few close friends and relatives who were teaching, but it was her experience in New York City and her interest in urban education that led her to teach. Ms. Dyer was “thinking about how education should liberate someone, and [how all] students [should be] provided access to [that perspective] was something that I was thinking about”.
A program designed to bring individuals who did not have a teaching background or certificate, joining and engaging with the New York City Teaching Fellows engaged Ms. Dyer in a way that ignited her passion for teaching. “For me everything until that moment, I didn’t know it, but all of my life was preparing for that transition. I fell in love with teaching”, says Ms. Dyer. Ms. Dyer fell in love with engaging students in self-directed learning, engaging students in texts she had known her whole life, and learning literature that represented who her students were and their cultures. She earned her Master’s in Education and dedicated her life to teaching. “There was this giving of birth to a new person when I became a teacher”, Ms. Dyer says.
Ms. Dyer taught for ten years before taking on administration. She had been a founding teacher at The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice (SLJ) in downtown Brooklyn. During her tenure as a teacher, she lead both inside and outside the classroom, creating opportunities for teachers to come together and share their strengths, techniques, and successes in the classroom. Advocating for teachers to get into each other’s classrooms and to “build this peer feedback model in our school”. She worked with the college and career and enrichment team, preparing students for their post-secondary lives. She also was involved in working with lower-skilled students to develop literacy knowledge and skills.
During her ninth and tenth years as a teacher, Ms. Dyer started to feel a shift in focus. “I really took on a lot of leadership but I didn’t know that I wanted to be an administrator. I thought I wanted to live as a teacher leader.” So, Ms. Dyer focused on earning a degree to becoming a reading specialist.
During her year at Teacher’s College, Ms. Dyer went through a self-discovery, realizing that what she wanted to do was to lead, and she was already doing it. “My passion was really how I would get other teachers, my peers and others involved”. From there, Ms. Dyer switched gears and got her certification to be a school leader. Soon after, accepted the opportunity to become the Assistant Principal of Instruction at her school.“I kind of married the two things I loved the most. Teaching and learning how to engage all students and provide all students access to quality education”.
After being encouraged by her peers and continuing to lead in her school, Ms. Dyer naturally shifted into becoming the School Leader at SLJ. “To me, that was a really special and important learning experience, an opportunity to really help continue building out the work that I was really passionate about and to do that with my peers”.
For the past few years, Ms. Dyers has been living in Hawken’s backyard of Cleveland, Ohio, working with an organization called Spring Point. The organization works closely with school districts and charter organizations to rethink what high school can look like. Ms. Dyer explains it as a way to take “more traditional classrooms and really make them come alive for students and build more engaging experiences and really try to connect students’ learning experience to being in the outside world”. If this sounds familiar, it’s because a lot of this work is similar to the intensives at Hawken, just tailored to each school, promoting a rich, engaging workplace with opportunities for real-world experiential learning.
Ms. Dyer has also helped teachers and leaders feel comfortable with their work and develop classrooms that are more student-driven and directed. Working with school leaders and teachers across the country, “it’s been so inspiring and I have learned so much and felt a great opportunity that I was able to take advantage of”, says Ms. Dyer.
However, a teacher at heart, Ms. Dyer simply missed being in the classroom. She missed “being with students and being with teachers day-to-day and being part of a community that is my community. I really missed it”. Hawken was the perfect opportunity for Ms. Dyer, as “it really felt like a no brainer”. She was interested by Hawken’s innovative student environment and similar passion. Specifically, Hawken’s dedication to “provide the highest quality of education for any student and access for every student no matter what their unique needs are.” is what Ms. Dyer said drew her to Hawken.
A value that is most near and dear to Ms. Dyer is collaboration. “I think a collaborative spirit and the importance of engaging in work together and learning together is really important”, says Ms. Dyer. Collaboration to Ms. Dyer means teachers opening up their classrooms and others providing feedback as an opportunity to learn from each other, as well as sharing strengths and victories with peers. Ms. Dyer provides an example: “when a teacher says, ‘Oh, there’s this bright spot that’s happening in my classroom and we’ve really created something neat’, teachers can come in and learn from that and think about how they take the best of those bright spots and take them back to their own classes”.
In terms of student learning, Ms, Dyer wants students to take charge of their learning experiences in ways meaningful to them as individuals. “I think the way that that looks is that teachers are facilitators of learning, or sort of coaches. Students really driving the vehicle and saying ‘this is the direction I want to go’, and there’s a teacher who is an expert and could really use that expertise to help that student along their path”.
Students defining their goals and seeing their success while working alongside teachers are what Ms. Dyer envisions as an ideal student environment: student empowerment and building engaging experiences for themselves. She believes students should have “the “just-right” program of opportunities and experiences and academic enrichment. It’s the “just-right” schedule for them that’s important to me”.
As far as excitement goes, Ms. Dyer is eager to join the team start working with teachers and students alike. She’s excited to come along to join work that is already aligning with her vision of personalized learning and experiences, a theme she’s highlighted. Ms. Dyer is interested in learning more about intensives and the process in which they are developed. Although she only engaged with a small number of people in Hawken’s community, Ms. Dyer was blown away by how remarkable and incredibly interesting they were. “I just loved the authenticity with which they engaged me and the rich conversations I had”, says Ms. Dyer. It’s safe to say that Ms. Dyer is most excited to meet students and get to know them.
When she's not working, Ms. Dyer loves to spend time in Cleveland. She often finds herself at the Edgewater Park and the Holden Arboretum. However, her favorite spot is the Chapel at Lakeview Cemetary, and Ms. Dyer describes the walk from Lakeview Cemetery to the Cleveland Museum of Art as "one of my favorite walks in the city". Her favorite places to eat are Salt, Cowell & Hubbard, Lucky's Diner, and Kasai. She favorites types of food are sushi, Tex Mex, and Indian food, however Ms. Dyer states that "I just love good food. I am a terrible cook so I am always impressed by what others can do in the kitchen". When Ms, Dyer isn't out and about in Cleveland she likes to curl up with a good book, and she has many favorites. Some of the books most impactful on Ms. Dyer are Maggie by Stephen Crane, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Color of Water by James McBride, which is personal to Ms. Dyer because she was able to visit the areas in Red Hook, Brooklyn in which they were set.
If Ms. Dyer has a million dollars to spend, she would definitely invest most of it. Rightfully so, Ms. Dyer does envision herself spurging a little by funding some important initiatives. "I use some to fund a few teachers on Donors Choose and projects in my church community, use a little to support a small local business or two I'm growing to love. If I could afford it, probably build a little cabin in the woods".
Ms. Dyer has some ideas as to how interdisciplinary learning could look like across the school, but she’s quick to identify herself as a learner first. “I think that Hawken is a rigorous community and so I have a lot to learn”, says Ms. Dyer. She really hopes to start by learning from teachers, students, faculty, staff, and parents. “I think it wouldn’t be wise of any person in this position to come in and say ‘here are changes I think we should make’”, says Ms. Dyer. Instead, she wants to observe Hawken’s ways and learn from work that’s already been incorporated. From there, she wants to “pepper in” ideas as she sees fit and right for the community.
Ms. Dyer’s favorite movie is “There Will Be Blood”, with the movie “Usual Suspects” trailing close behind. She loves the character development, story, and the performances of “There Will Be Blood”. “I just think it's all around such an entertaining and interesting film!”. Other of her favorites are “Giant”, “Casablanca” , “Love Jones” , “Amadeus”, and “Pride and Prejudice” (BBC version).
“What’s most important to me is that I see myself as a learner in this community”, says Ms. Dyer. She sometimes refers to herself as a “lead learner”, learning how to drive other people’s learning and development. Ms. Dyer wants to work alongside members of the Hawken community to continue to build self-disciplinary learning and a self-navigated experience. Ms. Dyer is a doer, she wants to focus on how she can get involved. “I see myself as a member of the community who rolls my sleeves up and does the work alongside teachers and students as much as I see myself as an individual who reminds us of what our mission is and shepards us to that mission”.