Interview with Outgoing Dean of Students, Mr. Joe Coleman

By Parker Watt ’19

Mr. Coleman has been a vital part of the Woodberry community since he stepped on campus as a member of the class of 1979.  After being a student, he served the school in the classroom as an English teacher right out of college, then returned in 1996 to work in admissions, and went on to serve as the Dean of Students.  Atop that, he has been a devoted advisor, friend, and confidant to many members of the Woodberry community.  Mr. Coleman is one of the most thoughtful people on the faculty and is always willing to talk.  It is rare that his door is closed, so I dropped into his office to ask him a few questions about his time at Woodberry.

PW: When you were a student at Woodberry, did you ever think that you would come back and work?

JC: Never. Typically the folks that grew up in Orange, Virginia moved away, so that was my mindset. I never thought that I would return back to the area to work.

PW: What did you think you would be doing, and how did you end up back at Woodberry?

JC: I was going to be an investment banker, and I had a joint degree in political science and economics. I actually was offered a job, but was approached by a former teacher at Woodberry.  They were in a bind and needed a teacher right out of college, so I agreed to come back and teach— but that was just for a year. Then fast forward, I wanted to get back to the area to take care of my mother, and I had been after Woodberry about diversifying its faculty. The Headmaster at the time, John Grinalds, called my bluff and asked me if I were interested in coming back to work in admissions. So that happened at the same time I was trying to figure out how I was going to better position myself to take care of my mother. Being here was only twenty, twenty five minutes from my parents, so it made a lot of sense.

PW: Do you think Woodberry is working to better diversify itself now?

JC: Yes.  I think the school recognizes that it needs to make a commitment in this area.  I think we are taking steps towards that, so we can have representation that better mirrors what we actually see in society.

PW: What made you stay at Woodberry?

JC: I enjoyed the work— I enjoyed the connection with the students. I enjoyed traveling and being the external face to the school.  I also saw as part of my responsibility to be the gatekeeper to the school, be sure that we had a wider range of students demographically and socioeconomically. Those two were very important to me, so I really enjoyed talking to families about the school and my experience.  I felt like the school was in a really good place to welcome students of various backgrounds.

PW: Do you think that was your biggest impact here?

JC: Probably.  I’d have to think more on that one.

PW: Do you wish there were anything you had done differently in your time here or still hope to do before you leave?

JC: I wish we had invested more in working with our younger students on this idea of leadership— what it means to be a leader—so that when boys reach Fifth and Sixth Form they have a foundation to run a club, be in charge of an organization, or be a peer leader.  I wish we had done some more groundwork with our younger students. 

PW: What’s next for you?

JC: I am going to work for a group called Southern Teachers Agency, and they place teachers and administrators in independent schools throughout the South.  Schools approach them when they have openings, and then they work to develop a pool of candidates for the school to consider and hopefully fulfill an opening.

PW: Any final words to Woodberry?

JC: The one thing I will say is to continue to focus on the health of the boys.  I think there are so many challenges that teenage boys face in that area—temptations— so I think that this whole piece of teaching boys how to live a healthy life is critical to Woodberry.

As a student, I know Mr. Coleman is loved by students and faculty alike.  He will be deeply missed next year.  He has left the school in a better place than when he found it, and I hope that Woodberry will take his advice and continue to invest in the diversity, health, and leadership of the student body.  Thank you, Mr. Coleman.

Categories: Today