Middle School Director Jeff Boyd joined the Norfolk Academy community over the summer, after serving in a variety of academic and administrative roles at two independent schools.
He most recently worked at Durham Academy in North Carolina, where he served as an English and history teacher; grade-level team leader; a basketball and soccer coach; Assistant Director of Enrollment Management; and as Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, and Engagement. Before that, Mr. Boyd worked as an English teacher and coach at his alma mater, Greenhill School, in Dallas, Texas.
Mr. Boyd earned his A.B. at Brown University, an Ed.M. from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and is pursuing his doctorate in education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In a recent interview, Mr. Boyd -- who is teaching 9th Grade English in addition to his administrative duties -- shared some of his ideas about teaching, learning, and lessons he's learned from sports and (surprise!) comics:
Why did you want to come to Norfolk Academy?
Everyone I met during the interview process, especially the senior leadership team, did an incredible job articulating what a special place this is. Norfolk Academy sits at the cross-section of a storied history, a tradition of excellence, an innovative spirit, and tremendous resources. The table is set for us to do some amazing things in the coming years, and I wanted very much to be a part of that.
What are you most excited about for this school year?
After spending time with so many of my colleagues over these past several weeks, what excites me most about the year is the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of teachers. The Royster Middle School faculty is the warmest, most dedicated team, and I have been blown away by the hospitality they’ve extended to me and my family as well as their enthusiasm for the year ahead. What a crew!
What are some of your favorite Middle School memories?
My 7th Grade Texas History Trip stands out as a highlight from my middle school years. We spent about a week on a bus, making our way up and down The Lone Star State. For a proud, young Texan, it was a very cool experience.
Who was a favorite teacher or coach in your secondary school years, and what lessons from that teacher have stayed with you?
It is too difficult to name just one. I ended up working at my alma mater, so many of my middle and high school teachers/coaches have become some of my dearest friends. Several of them even attended my wedding. In so many ways, they were mentors and role models, stretching me to give more, challenging me to be better. What I remember most are the laughs we shared between classes or the conversations we had after practice. I could always tell they were genuinely interested in my health, my success, and my development as a moral, happy, and compassionate young person.
What helpful lessons for teachers have you learned over the years?
The following are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned and strategies I’ve used in my attempts to create a safe and inclusive space for students to unpack potentially sensitive/challenging material:
Lean into Discomfort.
Framing difficult topics or conversations as precisely that – difficult – is a useful way to clear the air and encourage people to join you in that space.
Speak from the “I” perspective. It improves the atmosphere around difficult conversations. Grounding your comments in the things you have personally heard, seen, or experienced can help you avoid making a potentially hurtful generalization. We should encourage our students to do the same.
Treat the Candidness of Others as a Gift.
Thanking students for sharing is a great way to acknowledge the fact they didn’t have to make themselves vulnerable. Sometimes we expect this without expressing gratitude.
Do you have a favorite quote that keeps you inspired?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi.
What is a book you remember reading in Middle School that has stuck with you over the years?
Truth be told, I never really considered myself much of a reader until I reached High School. I do remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in Middle School, however. It was an incredibly accessible vehicle to examine injustice on a societal level. As powerful as the text was for me as a young person, the opportunities I’ve had to teach the book as an adult have been arguably even more rewarding. The text requires a critical eye, especially in light of the ways in which our societal conversations about race, class, and gender have evolved over time.
You’ve coached football, basketball, and organized a student rugby club. The last on the list is not one that we have in the Bulldog lineup. How did you start playing rugby and what do you love about it?
I played football and basketball in high school but discerned pretty quickly that I was not going to have much of a collegiate career in either sport. I was grateful, however, to receive an invitation to practice with the rugby team during my freshman year in college. Immediately, I could appreciate the similarities to football, especially having experience running an option-style offense. I played a few seasons with the team, traveled the region, toured in Bermuda, and made incredible friends. Rugby culture is as unique as any sport you will find, and I love that it has a vibrant international community. It was so cool watching the Sevens tournament during the Olympics this summer.
How do you take things you learn on the athletic field and apply them in an academic setting?
The whole notion and necessity of practice is something I do not think students appreciate often enough in the classroom setting. It takes thousands of hours of practice to master skills and techniques on the court, field, or pitch. The same is true in the classroom. When the academic narrative centers too much around tasks and grades, I feel we lose sight of the fact that we’re really working towards mastery of a set of skills and/or content. Reframing some of these conversations might help to shift the attitudes students have about things like homework and assessments.
Breakfast/brunch. I’m up for breakfast any hour of the day.
What do you like to do in your own time/when you’re not working?
I love to play golf and tennis when I’m able to find the time. I also miss playing pickup basketball and going to concerts, both of which I tried to do with some frequency before the pandemic. My new favorite pastime, however, is spending time with my family on the beach.
What’s a fun fact about you that students might find surprising?
I’m a huge fan of comics. I feel they have a unique power to communicate information, to tell stories, and to touch readers of all ages. I have even presented at a few professional conferences on the utility of comic books and graphic novels as a teaching tool. My wife, Amanda, rolls her eyes every time I start talking about comics, but I know that at least a few of my students will appreciate the chance to nerd out with me this year.