Headmaster Dennis Manning opened the Upper School chapel to install the Honor Council on Tuesday with a personal story from his first experience with an Honor System, when he was an eager and anxious 23-year-old, hoping to land his first teaching job.
Mr. Manning, who attended high school outside of Philadelphia, said that he did not have the benefit of the character formation through an Honor System until the moment he drove onto the campus of Woodberry Forest, a boarding school for boys in rural northern Virginia. His Ford Fiesta was barely chugging along, he recalled, and he was relieved to actually reach the campus, where a dean greeted him with the instruction, “Leave your keys in your car.”
That advice did not seem “especially prudent,” Mr. Manning said, given a campus full of adolescent boys, likely prone to pranks. “I had images of my Ford Fiesta bobbing around Orange County, Virginia.” However, he wanted the job, so he obediently left the keys behind; two days later, when he returned from rounds of interviews and teaching demos, he found his car where he left it...and he also had his first teaching job, at a school that operated largely without keys on doors, thanks to its Honor System.
Mr. Manning’s personal tale was his response to Honor Council Chair Peyton Tysinger ’19, who in her speech to faculty last week made a very direct request: She asked teachers to talk with students in personal terms about life experiences and “why the Honor System is important to you.” That effort, she said, would amplify the Honor System’s educational purpose and forge closer teacher-student relationships.
In her speech to students and faculty on Tuesday, Tysinger stressed the Honor System’s purpose in building a community that is “open, honest, and fair.” She noted that what she called the “exceptional trust” that shapes learning at NA “does not come naturally....it must be practiced.”
She said the Council would work this year to refocus the Honor System toward “the intention to educate.” Last year, the council focused on greater transparency; they took intentional steps to explain what they do and how they operate in adjudicating cases, including making a video and doing more systematic outreach, including lunch meetings with advisory groups.
The council received a great response to those lunch conversations. This year, Tysinger said, the Honor Council will send a survey in advance to gauge what students want to discuss. Council members will continue to have a special discussion with 6th graders and pursue close involvement with the Middle School Honor Council, as they have done in past years. In her speech to faculty, Tysinger noted that the council would add a reinforcement talk to juniors in the second semester, when the stress of multiple projects seems to lead to more infractions.
Tysinger said that data she had collected indicated an “upward trend in the severity of punishments in recent years for a variety of reasons;” she noted that the Honor Council will redouble its efforts in proactive education and seek judicious punishments. “We will be more intentional in looking for opportunities to educate,” she said. “We want students to learn from their mistakes.”
After the assembly, students and faculty signed their names to the honor boards, which commit each signatory to upholding the Honor System; these boards are displayed in the Upper School.
Honor Council 2018-19, “The Year of Friendship”
(All representatives are elected by their peers.)
Chair: Peyton Tysinger
Seniors: Straeten Avery and James Hood
Juniors: Juliet Lancey and Cole Moore
Sophomores: Maddie Brooks and Ella Deans
Faculty advisors: Dr. Lew Affronti and Mr. Chris Nelson