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Bracing for an Election By Embracing Diversity

N. Troeger
Early on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, St. Luke’s Faculty and Staff gathered to discuss the upcoming midterm elections. While politics can be contentious, it’s hard to imagine a better real-time example of our democracy in action than the election process — or a better moment to engage with St. Luke’s Faculty & Staff Guidelines for Civil Discourse

The morning started with peer facilitators leading colleagues through the guidelines, which state:

“Our mission statement promises that we will help each student develop ‘a strong moral compass.’ In our roles as teachers, advisors, activity leaders, and professionals in a school, we must communicate the school’s values. This means we are called to lean toward, rather than away from, moments of uncertainty, conflict, and disagreement, and to explicitly foster civil discourse whenever we can.

Because we want to foster civil discourse with and among students, we will:

  • Make clear to students that it is our responsibility and intention to create a community where civil discourse is the norm.

  • Recognize that our opinions on controversial topics are filtered through the power imbalance inherent in all student-teacher interactions.

  • Deliberately reflect on charged or unexpected moments and enlist colleagues in thinking through our next steps together.

  • Go out of our way to create opportunities for civil discourse by deliberately incorporating alternate points of view into our curricula.

  • Refer to the specific language of our Community Goals for Learning (curiosity, open-mindedness, seeking truth & understanding, reflection and integrity) whenever possible.

  • Demonstrate our commitment to unbiased fairness through our actions and by reiterating often that students should take their own reasoned positions when responding to discussion prompts. We will clearly affirm that students will not be penalized for disagreeing with what they perceive as the teacher’s viewpoint.

  • Lead with listening and genuine curiosity, putting the effort to understand others ahead of our own need to be understood.”

The buzz of conversation grew animated as faculty and staff were given “what would you do?” scenarios to play out. “The idea is to practice challenging conversations before they happen,” said the Head of Middle School Amber Berry. “We want to develop the ability to draw out differing points of view.”
Fifth-grade teacher Rob Salandra said the morning was less about learning something new and more of “a reinforcement of how to prepare for the conversations kids will have at school, one way or another.”

Salandra has experience in both Upper and Middle School and observed that while the challenges are different — “Upper School students come ready to debate, while my fifth graders are more curious” — every situation calls for respectful listening, and “encouragement to investigate issues and use facts, rather than just repeating things they’ve heard.”

In a recent letter to families, Director of Equity & Inclusion Jacqueline Nelson highlighted the need to “actively embrace diversity in the broadest sense of the word, including a diversity of viewpoints and political affiliations.” She also honed in on the central goal motivating St. Luke’s faculty and staff as we head into election time: “To encourage students to be politically aware and civically engaged while maintaining respectful dialogue in disagreement.”  

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St. Luke’s School is a secular (non-religious), private school in New Canaan, CT for grades 5 through 12 serving 25 towns in Connecticut and New York. Our exceptional academics and diverse co-educational community foster students’ intellectual and ethical development and prepare them for top colleges. St. Luke’s Center for Leadership builds the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.