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Professional Day Dialogue Focuses on Importance of Civil Discourse

As students enjoyed one more day of spring break on Monday, March 18, faculty and staff were back in the classroom for a professional development session focused on freedom of expression and civil discourse. While the subject is not new to the McDonogh community, Director of LifeReady Dr. Kevin Costa explains the importance of revisiting the topic. “It is what I call ‘maintenance PD’— this kind of work is not done once; that just doesn't work.” He adds, “As we enter an election year, we need to remind ourselves about how to manage encounters when moments have the potential to get hot.”

The morning began with a plenary session conducted by Allan Carey, Director of the Sphere Education Initiative, a nonpartisan organization that works with grade 5-12 educators and administrators. Sphere’s mission is to provide knowledge, experience, professional development, and viewpoint-diverse resources to bring difficult conversations on the most pressing issues to the classroom and equip our country’s students to engage in civil discourse.

Allan captivated his McDonogh audience with clear and compelling data that drove home the point about the current polarization in our country. He emphasized the importance of being with others with differing viewpoints and values and said it is critical to see each other as full human beings. He called attention to McDonogh’s Freedom of Expression Statement, calling it the “gold standard for such positions” and noting that he often shares it with other organizations. Lastly, he spoke about the School’s stated role with regard to ‘unrehearsed moments.’

“To Allan, such moments are when we need to call on ourselves to understand others' perspectives,” says Costa, adding, “He followed up by saying, of course, that this is different than willful hate speech or the backing of untenable positions. We are not relativists where all points of view are equal.”

After the presentation, the faculty met by division with Allan and two of his colleagues who lead small group discussions and tabletop scenarios.

Head of Lower School Nancy Fleury, who says the professional development day seamlessly blended historical context with practical skills and best practices, noted, “Equipping teachers with the knowledge and tools to navigate sensitive topics, whether planned or unplanned, empowers them to promote healthy and meaningful discussions in the classroom.” She adds, “When students are given the skills–and time to practice them–we can build an inclusive culture of respectful dialogue, helping even our youngest students navigate the complexities of the world with empathy and understanding.”