Our Commitment to Courageous Conversations
This morning as I was having my coffee and watching the morning news, the screen broke to a commercial. The first commercial was smearing a candidate from one party, the next was disparaging the candidate that was running for the same office from a different party. The commercials were ugly and focused on demonizing the “other.” I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to the car insurance commercials making a comeback post-election. The political commercials are often misleading and half-true at best, or completely untrue at their worst. What messages are we sending to our young people? We can do better. That's why, at Moravian Academy, we ensure students gain the critical thinking skills necessary to analyze information as well as the empathy and respect to listen and learn from those who might have differing opinions and experiences.
Our Moravian Academy mission includes the phrase, “Our commitment to courageous conversations means that we actively learn from and support the different identities we embody, we respect each other’s views, and we lead with head and heart.” During a contentious election season, this can be challenging as students may absorb some of the tension of the greater society whether it is from television commercials, TikTok videos, social media posts, or friction in their own families. We are supporting our students on all three campuses in different ways.
On the Swain Campus, conversations are framed around the concept of dignity. Last week, faculty members were introduced to a framework from Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs on the essential elements of dignity and the role dignity plays in resolving conflict. The framework has supported conversations with both students and families on the topics of identity, acceptance, inclusion, fairness, and accountability among other elements. School counselors, directors, and deans work with students in age-appropriate ways to support affirming choices and behavior that respects the dignity of all.
On the Downtown Campus, shared community norms are used to guide hard conversations. If there is an issue between students related to appearance or identity, students are held accountable for their words and actions, but they also have the opportunity to learn and grow through targeted opportunities to make different choices in the future. Character education is woven into thematically relevant chapel topics, advisory discussions, and classroom material throughout the year. When appropriate, campus leadership partners with the counselors to engage in restorative meetings to help resolve conflict.
The Merle-Smith Campus has gone as far as to publish “Election Guidelines for Students,” co-created with students! These guidelines align with expectations for student conduct in the community handbook and serve as reminders during what might be a contentious election season.
Election Guidelines for Students
“As a school community, we believe in civil discourse.”
Accordingly, we recognize the following statements to be fundamental to the Moravian Academy experience and share in the responsibility to protect and defend what is best about our community.
● Understand we are a diverse community with a variety of perspectives.
● Treat your peers with respect and kindness.
● Expect that the opinions of others, including adults, will not be forced upon you.
● Expect adults in our community to act as facilitators and not engage in debate with students.
● Know that you have a right to your own opinions and values.
● Expect the classroom will be a space free from campaigning for ideas or individuals.
● During conversations: allow others to speak; listen in a respectful manner, allow others to be heard; challenge other opinions in a respectful manner; don’t insult others or make personal attacks.
● Allow someone who does not want to talk politics with you to leave the conversation without protesting. Not everyone is comfortable talking about politics.
● Be an active listener, be open to the life experiences of others. Keep an open mind to what you might learn from a new perspective.
● Make space for multiple perspectives, don’t dominate conversations with others.
● Feel comfortable to discuss your personal beliefs with your peers.
● Engage in positive discourse with peers and faculty; don’t engage in negative talk about members of our community.
● Understand that these conversations are beneficial when conducted in an appropriate manner with mindfulness.
I am proud to lead a school that holds such values dear and places an emphasis on respecting and valuing each member of our community–leading with head and heart. The partnership between home and school further strengthens our commitment to fostering an environment of inclusivity and belonging, even when, or perhaps especially when, we are such a diverse community.