About Us

Respectful Dialogue


Severn is a community guided by its mission and values; a community committed to cultivating an environment where we approach the world with questions rather than answers, engage in the healthy expression of diverse ideas, explore a wide range of viewpoints, and thoughtfully assess and reassess what we think.  The purpose of this statement is to establish guidelines for engaging in respectful dialogue.
At Severn, we strive to create a climate where we can engage in conversation around complex issues in good faith, especially online, where the norms of civility often fall away. At times, we may strongly disagree with one another, yet we do so in an environment where mutual trust and goodwill undergird our shared membership in the Severn community.  It is important to recognize that different conclusions arrived at by different people are not a result of character flaws, but, more likely, the result of diverse experiences and those differences merit respect rather than ridicule.
Severn encourages a robust exchange of ideas; however, language that deliberately demeans or threatens others is not aligned with our mission and values and will not be condoned or tolerated. To foster a culture of productive disagreement, we encourage community members to enter conversations, whether in person or online, with the goals of closely listening to and carefully evaluating the arguments and ideas of others.  This kind of open-minded critical thinking will enable us to recognize the complexity and nuance of the issues we confront, to reconsider our positions when counter-evidence is presented, and to respect everyone’s right to have their own ideas.
Respectful conversation at Severn requires courage, empathy, and humility as we – together - seek to know and value all members of our community.

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  • Background and Purpose

    As an extension of Severn’s Strategic Plan, a representative committee composed of trustees, faculty, administration and staff thoughtfully crafted this Respectful Dialogue statement.  It was adopted by the Board of Trustees as an expression of our foundational values and helps ensure our community understands and appreciates the assumptions that sustain respectful dialogue at Severn. 

Respectful Dialogue Examples

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  • Classroom Instruction

    • Socratic Seminars
    • Art Critiques - we learn to talk about the art without making personal comments; instead, the dialogue is focused on the art itself and the intent.
    • Mindful Speech lesson - in the 4th grade Mindfulness class, this lesson encourages students to look deeply into their speech by asking four questions:
      • Is what I'm about to say true?
      • Is what I'm about to say necessary?
      • Is what I'm about to say kind?
      • Is what I'm about to say helpful?
    • Community/Restorative Circle in the Preschool
    • Friendship Circle in Lower School Library
    • Tone Lesson for first-graders - this lesson taught them to understand their tone of voice when disagreeing with someone
    • Heartstrings - role-playing exercises
    • Open Doors programming
    • AP Government - the curriculum is built on this practice, as students analyze government from a dispassionate place.
    • Health & Wellness for Grade 9 - lesson on healthy relationships with a heavy emphasis on honest communication.
  • Clubs, Organizations and Other Service Initiatives

    • Unity Day - this annual student-led initiative includes a full day of seminars hosted by the leaders of Severn's various clubs and organizations. These seminars involve discussions of challenging issues and the students do an excellent job of establishing and upholding norms for respectful dialogue.
    • Middle School Book Club - emphasis on respectful discussion
    • Belonging Day - in Grade 6, they take a day to discuss and teach norms in the community, reinforcing the lessons through activities such as skits and posters.
    • United Spectrum - Severn's LGBTQ+ Club promotes inclusion and belonging through activities such as Unity Day and participation in GLSEN's Day of Silence.
    • Amnesty International -this club regularly discusses "hot button" topics (immigration, gun control, death penalty) and students are modeling respectful discourse as they listen to the viewpoints of others and respectfully disagree.
    • Civil Discourse Club - At the 2023 Unity Day, they hosted a seminar titled "Family Supper: Having Inclusive and Civil Discussions from Differing Backgrounds." In this workshop, participants learned how diverse options tie into their own and to be sensitive and accepting of different backgrounds in discourse.
  • Professional Development

    April Seminar: Hosting Classroom Discussions
    As part of the seminar series offered to Severn faculty and staff, the April meeting focused on having discussions in the classroom on current topics. In particular, the focus was on how to have conversations with students about topics that are considered difficult, such as race, gender or politics.

    Severn Summer Institute: 
    During the Severn Summer Institute, a series of workshops is offered to all faculty and staff for professional development. For the 2023 SSI, the following workshops are being held, all of which support a culture of respectful dialogue:
    • Adding Diverse Perspectives to the Classroom
    • Asking Powerful Questions
    • Facilitating Discussions in the Classroom

Lower School

Upper School