A Safe, Caring School Environment
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According to the National School Climate Center, a safe and caring school environment is one in which students feel positively connected to others, respected, that their work is meaningful, and that they are good at what they do.
We know these words describe the kind of inclusive school climate we want for our children—an environment where students, parents and staff feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. It’s a climate where students are encouraged to be leaders and positive role models speaking up about issues such as bullying. It’s an environment with a culture of high expectations for students, but there is also a culture of high expectations for adults—staff, parents and community members.
And whose job is this to promote such a positive inclusive school climate?
Everyone has a role to play in building a positive school climate since it begins with healthy, respectful relationships throughout the school community. We know this requires an ongoing, long-term collaborative effort. Let’s look at the important aspects of promoting a positive school climate.
Promoting a Positive Climate
Collaborative, Supportive Teams
The same factors that influence a student’s motivation and performance in the classroom also influence the success of collaborative teams—belonging, trusting, and valuing each other. Collaboration takes time and trust, and the student is always the focus.
Shared Information and Shared Responsibility
Does your school have a Code of Civility? Civility is the affirmation of what is best about each of us individually and collectively, not just an absence of harm. In my school district our Code of Civility guided communication and collaboration and was respected by staff, parents, and all members of the community. It read as follows:
1. Treat each other with courtesy and respect at all times:
- Listen carefully to each other, even when opinions differ.
- Share opinions and concerns without
- Loud or offensive language
- Gestures or profanity
- Threats (physical or verbal)
- Causing bodily harm
- Causing property damage
2. Take responsibility for your actions:
- Share accurate information.
- Manage anger appropriately.
- Do not disrupt or interfere with classroom/school operations.
- Notify each other when we have information that affects student safety and/or success.
- Respond when asked for assistance.
- Understand that compromise is key.
3. Cooperate with one another:
- Obey school rules
- Respect each other’s time.
Focus on what is important – the child!
There has been too much emphasis on the adult issues of inclusion. Inclusion is about what works best for children and embedding the principles of equity and inclusive education in all aspects of the learning environment.
Connect: “Put away the gadgets and find activities that build face-to-face social connections,” said Abadesco. Students are looking for authentic connection and a place where they can feel safe. As parents, we must ask ourselves how does our home and school rate? Make your home or school that safe place by providing activities that build “togetherness.” At school this might be participating in community service projects or daily “check-ins.” At home this could be volunteering for a cause everyone believes in or spending the evening sharing a meal and sharing what you appreciate about one another.
Share Feelings: Young people are constantly confronted with situations that can cause them fear, worry, shame, sadness, anger and confusion. “Most young people don’t know how to talk about these experiences and to be honest, most adults don’t either,” Abedesco said. “If you want to help your student, then talk about feelings.” Share experiences you’ve had when you were feeling afraid, angry or confused. If a young person hears a personal challenge you experienced and how you got through it, he or she will be more likely to come to you when faced with a challenge.
Teamwork: Abadesco believes this is the key to creating safety. “As adults, it is our job to create safe and nurturing environments for our youth,” she said. One of the ways to do that is by teachers and parents working together to support student needs. Have appropriate contact information and communicate the best ways to stay connected. Parents, find time to have regular check-ins with your child’s teacher. Teachers, consider sending a weekly email with updates on how your classes are doing. This is an important relationship, so honor the relationship and take the time to get to know one another. The key to creating a bully-free school is getting everyone on the same page about how to care for students, and that begins with a strong, caring community.
Cathy Giardina, Stetson & Associates, Inc.