Lower School Director Michelle Alexander joined the Norfolk Academy family over the summer, after 22 years as a teacher and administrator.
She started her career in Baltimore, as a Russian and Latin teacher. After a brief stint in the corporate world that made her realize her calling was education, she became an elementary school teacher at her alma mater, Roland Park Country School in Baltimore. She then moved to Cincinnati, where she was Director of Diversity Programs and Community Outreach at The Seven Hills School. Her most recent position was Head of the Lower School at Cannon School in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she served for nine years.
Ms. Alexander earned her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and her master’s from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In a recent interview, she shared some of her ideas about teaching and learning to help the Lower School community get to know her:
Why did you want to come to Norfolk Academy?
“If children do not have positive relationships within a community, they’re not going to be successful. Norfolk Academy’s position statement focuses on relationships. It’s not about the grade, it’s about who you are going to be. I like that appreciation for developing the whole person.”
The Honor System, passion of the faculty, and beautiful campus also stood out to her. “This place is pretty impressive.”
What are you most excited about for this school year?
“Getting to know the children and getting to work with the faculty and finding a sense of who they are. This is a year of learning for me and learning what sets Norfolk Academy apart.”
What are some of your favorite elementary school memories?
Ms. Alexander still remembers her first-grade teacher. “She had high expectations but was kind and always spoke words of encouragement. No day was ever dull.” Her fourth-grade teacher also stands out. “She was firm, but you knew she cared about you. I just loved her.”
In fourth and fifth grades, Ms. Alexander was in a gifted program that had a focus on science. Students came up with a question, then researched and found data. She enjoyed working through the process, so much so that she still goes into tasks thinking about ‘What’s my question and how do I carry it out?’
What helpful lessons for teachers have you learned over the years?
Getting to know your students goes a long way.
Setting boundaries demonstrates that you care.
Be prepared and even overprepared.
Children will hand you a gift sometimes. Open that gift.
Have fun. Be willing to laugh at yourself.
It’s OK to make mistakes.
Use mentors. Teachers are always learning.
Don’t be afraid to take a risk and lean into uncomfortable situations. It’s then that you learn the most.
Meet each day with joy. Make each moment count.
What's the best thing about the start of the school year?
“Educators always get a re-do. We can get a re-start filled with hope and optimism and expectations.”
Do you have any favorite quotes?
"We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it." – Jon Gordon
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
“It’s never a dull moment.”
Last books read?
A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe and Range by David Epstein.
Seafood, any kind.
What do you like to do in your own time/when you’re not working?
Playing with my children; singing and listening to music; going to the beach; shopping.
What’s a fun fact about you that students might find surprising?
Was once nominated to be Miss Vermont in a beauty pageant, even though she isn’t from Vermont. She didn’t enter the pageant.