On Tuesday, our student body and staff participated in a full-day training program from Community Matters. Tuesday's training made me realize that, even though we have only 54 students on our campus, our middle-schoolers still experience exclusions, putdowns, unwanted physical conduct, and the more rare intimidations. While these mistreatments might appear trivial to larger middle schools, we recognize that each unaddressed instance of mistreatment sticks with our students and affects the culture.
We examined mistreatment on campus, and learned steps to take so that we can become “upstanders” rather than bystanders. We were asked to step across a line when a statement matched our experience. Every single student in our school stepped across the line in response to "I have felt mistreated by another student in our school." Almost every student stepped across to admit, "I have mistreated another student in our school." So, how does this type of mistreatment on campus affect us?
In a school focused on nurturing growth in the personal qualities of a thinker and learner, we intentionally build into our class schedule opportunities for students to be self-aware. Our weekly Advisory groups, made up of eight students and an adivisor, encourage intellectual humility and openness in sharing with the group exactly where we are growing and struggling. I appreciate that self-awareness is a practice that can be also applied to our relationships and can help us address our school climate.
This morning, our teachers asked the 6th-graders, "What can we do to create a better school climate?" Almost half the students responded with "improve our language." The other half focused on "gossiping/putdowns." So, are we more safe? Our students feel safe, but not from putdowns. Our students can trust adults but have gotten used to, and almost accepted, social hierarchies. Which makes me ponder: maybe safe is not good enough.
As middle-schoolers, our students are going to experiment with language and try out unkindness. But this is where I am encouraged that we are in this together. We want to continue to support self-awareness, so we can understand the affects of our actions and words both on our school culture and on each other. What I appreciated most from our training is that we now have the language to discuss mistreatment. Clarity in language allows us to really understand how we want to change.
A timely article in Educational Leadership, "Circles of Concern," examines how to encourage empathy and how to make it last. The authors give us a reality check. The write, "These kinds of activities will have little effect, though, if they are just one-offs. Changing social norms means engaging students systematically and substantially in an ongoing basis."
This is our work. Here is where IVA stands – dedicated to providing a common language not only for learning, but for fostering a safe campus. Here, we aim to be the upstanders.!