Note: this post is part of a series about Noble’s preparation for the upcoming school year.

Each year Noble gathers leaders from across our organization in June for a retreat where we come together to inform the path for the upcoming year. The group includes campus Principals and Deans, Assistant Principals and Department Chairs, Noble support staff from various departments and senior leaders. The group discusses Noble’s vision, mission, and identity framework – the set of core values that guide our work. This year the leadership retreat had a special focus on Noble’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion – and specifically our journey toward becoming an anti-racist institution. 

We sat down with Brenda Cora, Chief Schools Officer and former principal of Rowe-Clark, who led the planning for the retreat. She gave us insight into what went on and how the retreat informed the year ahead.

MM: Thanks so much for taking the time!
BC: Happy to share.


MM: Could you give us some background on the retreat from this year, what were you hoping to accomplish and how did the program come together?
BC:  The objective of this year’s retreat was to forward our ability to achieve our ambitious vision by:
1) fortifying our Noble identity
2) strengthening our leadership identity and developing our individual leadership skills
3) fostering an anti-racist approach that demands we examine ourselves and our systems to strengthen our focus on equity

The reality is that we cannot ignore the current climate of our world. Covid-19 is a worldwide pandemic that has impacted millions of lives; we will never be the same and there is a “new normal” on the other side of this. At Noble, we also know that these critical times have highlighted painful truths that we already know too well. So while many prioritize food, health, and safety, at Noble, we must also continue to center efforts that interrupt the deeply embedded inequities in our educational system to keep the opportunity gap from widening even further while we navigate the pandemic. We’ve made great strides that we should be proud of and our work is not done. The continued work of dismantling white supremacy forces us to look deeper and work harder. We, as leaders, must promote an anti-racist approach to our equity work, and it is crucial that we do this by examining the very systems we employ in order to ensure that they are not perpetuating the hierarchies we profess to be disassembling. The leadership retreat challenged us to evaluate ourselves and our systems to ensure that our focus on equity is fully realized.

MM: Could you share a bit of detail on some of the sessions that were offered? I think readers would be interested.
BC: Oh absolutely, we had some rock star presenters – from Chiefs, Principals, Assistant Principals, and a Director from our Network to community partners from Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Academic Group.  Our presenters did a lot of thoughtful planning as they prepared for a dynamic, engaging TED talk or working session that was in complete alignment to our leadership retreat theme and objectives.  Each session challenged us to evaluate ourselves and our systems to ensure that our focus on equity is fully realized.  Session descriptions can be found in this document.     

MM: How do you think the leadership retreat with the focus you just described is going to inform the work of this year with remote instruction?
BC: This is a year unlike any other and in the midst of uncertainty we know inequity can rear its head. Having Noble’s lens of DEI and antiracism is absolutely pivotal for us having a successful year. As we make decisions about remote instruction, about our health and safety protocols, about the ways in which we support our staff and students we have to keep this work in the forefront – it is the only way we’ll deliver on our vision for our students.

MM: Did any particular moments stick out to you from the retreat?
BC: The TED talk from Butler’s Principal, Brian Riddick was a powerful moment for me. He spoke personally about policies and systems that he had consciously and unconsciously supported that were racist in hindsight. I realized that it’s important that we name and confront our past in order for us to make Noble a truly anti-racist organization. 

Trauma, Racism, and Inequity: Building Resilience in School Leaders

Presented by Tali Raviv, Ph. D. Clinical Psychologist and Mashana Smith, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been incredibly stressful for many people in America. And in the midst of this worldwide pandemic, a wave of global protests against racism and police brutality have heightened the visibility of a second pandemic in our country: racism. The experience of COVID, coupled with the recent race-related
uprising, can result in an enormous amount of stress for students and educators alike. For some, stressful experiences have risen to the level of traumatic stress. As educators so often do, many of us have begun (or are preparing) to support our students and families through these challenging times and related traumatic experiences. However, before delving in to
support our students, it is imperative that we understand and practice self-care for ourselves. In this session, we will engage in dialogue and activities that will allow our leaders to:
1. Reflect on the many ways in which recent stressors have impacted us personally and/or professionally
2. Learn about the most common reactions to stressful or traumatic experiences
3. Learn practical ideas for practicing self-care across the many areas of our lives
4. Discuss and share leadership strategies that create cultures to foster and support network and schoolwide self-care and resilience

Belief in Our People

Presented by Ben Gunty, Principal at Noble Street College Prep

A central part of becoming an antiracist organization starts with how we treat our people. In this session, I’ll make a case that fostering a culture of belief in our people is necessary for both achieving our mission and being antiracist leaders. But what does it take to exemplify this mindset? And how do we inspire the people on our teams to believe in our colleagues with equal passion?
In this session, we will examine our ability to empower our people by:
1. defining antiracist leadership
2. examining a case study of belief
3. using a tool to develop yourself and your leaders
4. collaborating with other leaders to identify specific opportunities for growth in your practice

MM: What else might you want people to know?
BC: Noble’s been around for 20+ years and in that time, while we most definitely began the work of serving and empowering our communities, our intent hasn’t always matched our impact. If racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, and not the other way around, then we have plenty of staff members (white, Black, Latinx, Asian, etc.) waking up every morning with deep beliefs about our students that they don’t even know are racist and wrong.

I want us to ensure that, as we review feedback from parents, students, and staff, that we are elevating their experience, first and foremost, and that we ask ourselves the tough questions that lead us to assess both policy and practice as we live them out.

The work of the leadership retreat was to begin (and continue for some) the work of pushing the mindsets of our people away from white supremacy thinking and towards anti-racist beliefs about what our people and the communities we serve really deserve from Noble.

Now that the leadership retreat is over, we must go from learners to leaders. We have to reflect critically on the feedback we receive and ensure our policies and practices don’t perpetuate what we aim to dismantle. 

MM: Thank you so much for the time and for all your work at Noble.

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