How do we create safe schools?

Administrators and school officials also face a tremendous challenge as they try to create safe spaces within their schools. The first video below features a school administrator addressing a bullying incident after the fact. The second video features various voices discussing the impact that Facing History and Ourselves can have to expand leadership skills, empathy, and moral insight. 

 

When you have finished watching these videos, Click Here to view some sample educator responses about the creation of safe school environments.

Facing History: Creating a Safe School Environment

Dragana Miloradovic: I loved Anna’s rules in her school. They focus on eliminating the small things and issues first. Sort of nipping it in the bud before it gets out of hand. Fix the smalls cracks first before the whole window shatters. At that point more damage is done. In addition to that, her definition of what a friendship is! What a wonderful way to explain how relationships and friendships should work and also involving the community! Allowing the students to understand what is acceptable and what isn’t in a friendship helps them learn how to recognize if something is wrong and possibly seek help from and adult. 

 

Bridget Brownell: I liked much of what Ms. Nolin shared on being proactive. I also thought it was interesting how she hinted that adults (the parents) were not able to define friendship. Certainly I witness many parents not being in healthy relationships. We need these adults to be our partners, but many of them do not have this information either. Although the solution seems to be to educate/work with both the parents and the students, that would be an oversimplification of the issues (getting parents to come to the school, having time to attend workshops, sharing these same values, etc). 
            I was also writing in my journal about how I am finding the term bullying overused. Students are now using the term as part of a joke (calling the assistant principal a bully because he is enforcing school policy for example) and I need to remind them of the actual definition.
            I was left with many questions for Mr. Brown. Why do they have single gender groups? What if some students feel more comfortable in an opposite gender group? How do you have the freedom and funding for these special programs if you don’t have the test scores? The lower the scores in CA, it seems the less funding and freedom you have to create change...

Alison Morse: Relationship mapping sounds like a great idea and I can see having students in an advisory working on this exercise. A middle school class on friendship seems amazing and imperative! I will share these ideas.

Lesa Thompson: We tried social contracts for the first time this year, but I don’t think they’ve made much difference. Most of us, myself included, had the students do the activity, and we posted the contracts on the wall, and while we did revisit them a couple of times throughout the year, we didn’t include them on a regular, say weekly, basis. Yep. Reflecting on this, and on everything in this workshop, has definitely made me more aware of my own shortcomings, but that’s okay. If I can acknowledge my errors, I can correct them, right? :)

Kim Robinson: I love the idea of relationship mapping. I think this would help identify many of the children who are disconnected, as well as groups that run “the show.” It could help bring the school community together in many ways. 

Beverly Nevils: One wonderful (and sometimes difficult) class that we teach in our school is called Advocacy (it used to be called Family Group). The idea behind this being that a group of students would enter the school and see one Advocate (Teacher) until they graduated. This gave students some sense of stability in having one static group to which they belonged. In that space, students were able to discuss openly, as the group collectively agreed upon and signed to respect certain rules that would make our Advocacy environment safe for all. We could discuss issues brought up by the teacher, or issues brought to the class by a student. It was an environment where every voice could be heard. Topics ranged from etiquette, maintaining grades and academic focus, family/personal problems, or social issues. This particular class helped students to accept each other, become more intimately familiar with people they might otherwise not have associated with, even though they may have had a Core Content class together.

Additionally, our school is a small one — about 250 students. With this student population, teachers know just about every student and that in and of itself helps students to feel grounded and cared for. It helps to build trust and allows students to feel that they have at least one adult in the building that they can really latch on to and discuss issues with, if they felt uncomfortable or challenged.
            Small schools + opportunities to discuss issues integrated into the school culture + teachers as advocates —that’s our winning combination.

Ami Takahashi: I agree that an adult “advocate” is crucial for students, especially for students who may not have a positive adult role model at home. Our school holds “advisory” 4 days a week, an hour each day to talk about social issues, relationships, academics, etc. However, with 30 students in advisory, I sometimes feel like I still do not have a chance to get to know all the students. Even when the topic of “bullying” arises, I feel like there is only so much I can tell the student and report the incident to the counselors and parents.

Karen Ninehan: A culture of care must be nurtured. Including every person in the school community, although many times the secretary, lunch lady, and custodian may be overlooked, will create an atmosphere that values relationships and works towards social justice. Students in my school are not identified as “belonging” to any one teacher. Every teacher looks out for and after every student and the teachers do work together when situations arise. The administrator and parents are also involved.

Lesa Thompson: I agree. I think that, at my own school, we tend to overlook the custodians, cafeteria workers, and other staff when it comes to their role in putting a stop to bullying. I had never really thought of that before, but it’s true. We don’t include them in professional development on bullying and other similar issues, but we need to.

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