Safe and Engaging Schools
A key determinant of a successful school is a culture that promotes safe and effective learning. Strong, vibrant classroom and school cultures make an enormous difference in students’ well-being and academic performance.
Facing History’s educational model helps students to develop an awareness of the power and danger of prejudice and discrimination, the experience of vulnerable groups in society, and the importance of solving differences through discussion and dialogue, not violence.
How Facing History Can Help
A Facing History and Ourselves classroom is in many ways a microcosm of a strong democracy—a place where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where multiple perspectives can be heard and discussed; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions. Facing History teachers are trained to use a variety of techniques to
- create a sense of trust and openness,
- encourage students to speak and listen respectfully to each other,
- make space and time for silent reflection, in order to offer multiple avenues for participation and learning, and
- help students appreciate the points of view, talents, and contributions of less vocal members.
Through exploring identity and the impact of stereotyping and labeling, both in the past and today, as well as through studying history in a way that not only gives context to injustices but also looks at models of change and resilience, Facing History fosters students’ agency, fortifies their identity, instills resilience, and empowers them as learners.
Facing History Improves School Culture
Research has shown that Facing History classrooms are safe spaces where students’ social-emotional, civic, moral and historical thinking competencies grow. Students’ basic needs for belonging, community, and competence are met, and they develop skills and language to deal with conflict and to talk about issues that can interfere with safety and learning.
Through multiple studies, Facing History students demonstrated
- significantly greater empathy than a control group,
- significantly greater interest in, positive feelings towards, understanding of, and willingness to interact with other ethnic groups than comparison students,
- significantly greater interpersonal understanding, negotiation skills, and awareness of the personal meaning of relationships than comparison students,
- significantly larger decreases in racist attitudes than comparison students, and
- significantly lower self-reported fighting than comparison students.
In a randomized controlled trial, Facing History students demonstrated greater awareness than control group students of the power and danger of prejudice, discrimination, and antisemitism in the past and present. Facing History students also demonstrated more tolerant attitudes towards others whose views are different from their own. Further, they experienced more respectful and inclusive classroom climates than the control group.
The Impact of Whole-School Implementation
When infused school-wide, Facing History supports improvements in overall school culture. The Facing History framework gives principals and other academic leaders meaningful tools with which to shape the vision, mission, academic structures, and expectations of the school. To do this, Facing History helps develop a climate of participation and mutual responsibility by providing:
- in-service trainings and ongoing coaching,
- professional learning communities among faculty,
- a model for student leadership and advisory programs, and
- school-wide events.
Facing History schools acknowledge and connect with families and the community outside the school walls, helping students see themselves as members of a broader community. These strategies help administrators, teachers, staff, and students to work together using a shared language to strengthen the school culture.
Evaluations of Facing History’s whole-school efforts have captured positive impacts on school climate. Students and teachers report improvements in how students speak with and respond to one another as they internalize a new set of behavior norms. Teachers reported that their school community responded more constructively to conflict, including
- increased collaboration to develop a community response,
- reframing an incident to address it constructively, and
- reacting non-defensively and using behavioral incidents as teachable moments.
In another school that has fully implemented Facing History, students praised the open classroom environment and reported that respect permeates the school. 95% of students observed ways in which Facing History has positively impacted the school, and 93% of students in the sample ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement: “Facing History’s presence in my school has increased my capacity to understand and feel for people who are different from me.” Students noted zero tolerance for perpetrating and bullying.