Opening Faculty Meetings Focus on “Creating a Just Society”

A central tenet of Norfolk Academy’s Philosophy is that students are prepared to become “responsible citizens of a democracy...aware of their role in creating a just society.”

That bold declaration formed the heart of the opening week exploration of the practices that create a truly inclusive school community, where students feel both trusted and deeply respected. The professional development session for faculty, staff, and administrators was led by Mr. Jonathan Zur, President and CEO of the Richmond-based Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC).

In the opening faculty meeting, Headmaster Dennis Manning emphasized the importance of extending and strengthening the school’s sense of safety in the broadest sense, particularly in light of the recent demonstrations in Charlottesville. “There will be no tolerance for racism, hatred, and bigotry,” he said. “We must extend the sense of the sacredness of a child, to create the most loving, inclusive, and respectful community.”
The school is observing the Year of Listening, and that theme permeated the faculty’s exploration of inclusivity. Zur and facilitators from the VCIC asked faculty and staff to get in pairs and share stories about “a time when you felt completely heard, seen, and respected.” As the storyteller spoke, the listener was charged to restrain from interrupting the tale. Instead, the listener was only allowed to encourage by saying, “What else?”

The exercise, designed to “create spaces” that allow people to feel completely heard without judgment or criticism, elicited some powerful positive reactions.

Afterward, faculty gathered in divisional groups to investigate hypothetical situations that could arise in class, such as a student’s use of a derogatory term in casual conversation. The case studies were designed to fit the developmental ages of students in each division; the discussions helped draw out an array of practices that could be used to respond appropriately. In all situations, the teacher’s ability to remain calm was paramount to ensuring a successful resolution, emphasizing respect for others.

This was the second visit by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities; Mr. Zur came to campus in August 2016, in conjunction with the faculty’s summer reading book, Whistling Vivaldi, by psychologist Claude Steele, which investigates the negative impact of stereotypes on performance, both in the classroom and out of it. This year’s summer reading was Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica.