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Adult Support from a Youth Perspective

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 07, 2013

By Yena Kwak

Yena Kwak is currently a 10th grader at Tenafly High School. Her story, From Middle School Student to Bully Prevention Advocate, appeared
in the June 2013 issue of School Climate Matters. The piece featured her perspective of the bullying climate of her then school, Tenafly Middle School, and her desire to engage and encourage students to become active upstanders. Here she describes her personal experience as a student and as a representative at NSCC’s Summer Institute. Read on for ways educators across the nation can support youth facing similar struggles.

 

Learning and Growing

School is where students take their first baby steps into society. This is where they begin to learn the essential social and emotional skills such as communication, cooperation, empathy and reflection. To learn these effectively, students need an environment where they feel accepted and safe. Problems such as bullying can interfere with this-students may be afraid, anxious and even terrified of their peers because they don’t know when and if they will be bullied. Bullying is both psychological and physical, where you feel nervous and also suspicious of the intentions of your peers. This
trauma distracts students from a successful learning experience. Adding to this, victims seclude themselves from others in the same school society, which sometimes leads to being ignored or facing rumors and name-calling. Gradually, victims become alienated in the school. To them, their school climate couldn’t be any worse.

 

Perfect Solutions Don’t Exist

Bullying, in my opinion, has no perfect solution. Many schools emphasize talking to adults when bullied, but I think this keeps the bully victim quiet. From around the age of ten and up, students become embarrassed and unwilling to talk to adults. They think they are mature enough to solve bullying problems by themselves and that time will solve everything. Also, and this is from my own experience, they’re afraid of exclusion. When I was bullied in my previous school, I did consider consulting the school counselor, but I decided against it because I was scared. I thought if I “tattled” on my so-called friends, I would become completely friendless and excluded. I never thought about making new friends because everyone seemed to be involved in
separate cliques. I definitely knew it would be difficult to squeeze into a new group of friends. So, I maintained my silence and tried to ignore the bullying. I had little success with this. When I was in the 6th grade, I was involved in a group called “peer leaders” where students helped other students overcome bullying. I found it easier to help others than to help myself. Even after becoming a satisfactory peer leader, I couldn’t solve my own issue. The problem was the peer leader program educated students to help others but it didn’t teach the peer leaders how to deal with bullying if it happened to them.

 

What Can You Do?

Adults in my school did the best they could to support students. Students sometimes just don’t know what they need or, if they do know, they don’t know how to communicate the feeling. i believe the best way the adults can help bullied students is to be mindful of things going on around the school, especially in the cafeteria. From my experiences, I would say the first step is breaking the mindset of having separate, private cliques. This is especially a problem among girls. A student involved in a clique may make friends with other students but once that student is surrounded by her clique, she becomes much more comfortable communicating their personal problems.

If adults help students break this mindset, new friendships can be formed in the more receptive school society. Another way to help the students is to eliminate the thought that school supervisors exist only to punish bad behavior without wanting to know more about what happened and why it happened. If staff members connect with students outside the classroom in a different situation such as playing a sports game or being available after school to talk, student perspective changes and students become more open to communicate their personal problems.

In addition to breaking student opinion, students need to know how hard their teachers are working to improve the school climates. This summer, I attended NSCC’s Summer Institute. From a student point of view, I was extremely touched by the determination of the school leaders to improve their school climates and address bullying problems in their communities. I was very grateful for the invitation and felt included as a student representative.
Sometimes students need to know that staff are as concerned (if not more) about the problems students are facing. This is something important I learned from the Summer Institute. If I could, I would share with students one thing: I would tell them that their school leaders are striving very hard to achieve the goal of creating the best school climates possible.

 

Read more about schools in action and upstander efforts by connecting to our School Climate Matters newsletter.

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Changing the Culture of Discipline and Punishment

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on July 18, 2013

By Jessica Savage, NSCC Legal and Policy Fellow

 

In his recent Report, NYC Comptroller Liu boldly sees the DOE’s zero-tolerance policy for what it is -- an approach to disciplining students that is shortsighted, damaging and, in a word, failed. The Report makes the forward-looking recommendation to replace the zero-tolerance policy with a restorative justice approach that encompasses whole-school climate reform. In doing so, the Report highlights strategies that, unlike suspensions, are proven to actually help students thrive and succeed in school.

As the Report emphasizes, “sustained positive school climate is associated with positive child and youth development, effective risk-prevention and health-promotion efforts, student learning and academic achievement, increased student graduation rates, and teacher retention” (p. 27, citing Thapa et al., 2013). By calling for a policy that cultivates positive school climates instead of increased suspension rates, Comptroller Liu provides a framework that, if adopted, could serve to reduce problem behaviors in middle-school students and help provide them with the supports they need to progress as happy, healthy and successful individuals. This is what these students deserve. Under the current regime of zero-tolerance, this positive trajectory is near impossible. Attention should be paid to the Comptroller’s Report and its recommendations should be given serious consideration. Comptroller Liu’s full Report can be downloaded here.

Cloudy with a Chance of Bullying: School Counselors as School Climate Meteorologists

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on July 15, 2013

By Carli Segal, M.Phil.Ed., M.S.Ed.

 

“You’re a school counselor? So what do you do, exactly?”

I get asked this question a lot, and there is not an easy answer because in any school environment, we school counselors wear many hats. Therefore, our role has been notoriously difficult to define. Elementary school counselors often function as teachers of classroom-based counseling lessons, facilitators of small group counseling, collaborators on IEP, 504, SAP and other such teams, crisis managers, and liaisons between families and community services, among other roles. Secondary school counselors often serve as career and college planners, individual and small group counselors, testing coordinators, crisis interventionists, and more. We aim to follow the ASCA National Standards, and realistically, that may look very different depending upon setting. For example, a school counselor working in an urban, emotional support program may spend the majority of his or her day focusing on crisis management, where a school counselor in an affluent suburban public school may spend most of his or her time on proactive, classroom counseling.

Though our job descriptions may vary slightly from school to school, the one thing we have in common is that we are, first and foremost, responsible for improving school climate. “Responsible for improving school climate” is not likely listed in our job descriptions, but in my opinion, that is the ultimate goal-- to make sure every student experiences school as a safe, warm, and encouraging environment. Though each student may perceive school climate differently, it is our duty to intervene at the individual, small group, classroom, or school-wide level to remove any social, emotional, and behavioral barriers to learning. Not only are we responsible for improving the school climate, it is our duty to measure and assess school climate. This is why I view my primary role as a school counselor as the “School Climate Meteorologist”.

Historically, principals and teachers have been thought of as being responsible for improving school climate. American School Counselor Association standards have, in recent years, shifted from a reactive “guidance counselor” model to a more proactive “school counselor” focus. Now, with a unique wide lens to the entire school, school counselors are fortunate to have the ability to see the “big picture” and can impact school climate in a big way. School counselors can organize and facilitate school-wide programming that can make the school environment feel safer, such as bully prevention programs, character education assemblies, and school-wide positive behavior support programming. School counselors can also “zoom in” their lenses to focus on counseling individual or small groups of students who may make school climate feel less positive for others. This does not mean that principals and teachers ought to pass the school climate torch to school counselors, it means that school counselors need to, at the very least, be included in the school climate conversations. School climates are best improved when there is a collaborative effort from all stakeholders.

PROACTIVE & REACTIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE COUNSELING

As meteorologists attempt to proactively predict weather based on patterns and analyze data to best prepare people for what’s to come, school counselors aim to anticipate challenging times and provide students with the tools they need to “weather the storms”. One personal example is that based on data from teachers, I anticipated an upcoming standardized testing month to be particularly stressful for students. In preparation for this, I launched a small counseling group for students who suffer from test anxiety. I also co-facilitated a Testing Motivation Team to attempt to keep the climate positive as possible during a strenuous time.

Additional proactive school climate improvement activities that can be run by school counselors include mentor programs, events like Teaching Tolerance’s “Mix it Up at Lunch Day”, and wellness activities for students and staff.

School counselors try to be proactive, but oftentimes we must react to surprising school climate disruptions. As an unexpected rainstorm can disrupt an umbrella-less commuter’s walk, a sudden student-related tragedy can alter the entire school climate, bringing a sudden feeling of fear or sadness over the school community. Schools must be prepared for those school climate-threatening situations in which we must intervene, and school counselors can help. Allow us to develop school crisis plans, connect with families during difficult times, and most importantly—be there for the students who need an empathetic ear and safe place to relax while they process their emotions.

DATA DRIVEN SCHOOL CLIMATE IMPROVEMENT

There are many formal and informal methods to measure school climate, and school counselors are trained researchers. We may use pre/post surveys to gather data, assemble focus groups (comprised of staff and students), or conduct exit interviews at the end of each term or school year. If our school’s positive behavior support program is well documented, behavior slips can indicate positivity of school climate. School counselors can also acquire school climate data by attending grade level meetings, reaching out to parents for feedback, and consistently collaborating with all faculty and staff.

I am proud to be a school counselor, as it allows me to be many things: a teacher, researcher, supporter, motivator, advocate, liaison, and sometimes, a lifeline. This is why it is sometimes difficult to respond when someone asks, “Oh, you’re a school counselor? So what do you do, exactly?” All of our school counseling roles serve to improve school climate to some degree. I am happy to coin “school climate meteorologist” as an umbrella term (no pun intended) to describe our seemingly countless duties, and I will wear the title with pride.

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Carli Segal, M.Phil.Ed. & M.S.Ed., is an elementary school counselor and school climate meteorologist of an inner-suburban public school of Philadelphia. She is the founder of Twitter’s Elementary School Counselor Chat (#escchat) and co-founder of School Based Mental Health Chat (#sbmhchat). Follow her @carlicounsels and join the conversations! Carli can also be reached via email at [email protected].

How Do We Build a Moral and Ethical School Culture in the 21st Century?

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on June 17, 2013

Written by Dimitry Anselme, the Director of Program Staff Develop­ment at Facing History & Ourselves and a Presenter at the 16th Annual National School Climate Center's Summer Institute

I have to admit that I struggled before writing this post: What do I have to offer on this topic that has not already been said or done?” The effort to build moral and ethical school communities has a long history in American education. There are countless examples of schools and teachers, across the country, already implementing best practices on this subject. 

However, as I reflected more on the issue, I was struck by the urgency of now.  What is different is that we are engaging in this exploration today in an education environment intensely focused on raising test scores, on identifying metrics and benchmarks to measure student learning, and on teacher effectiveness as evidenced by clear student outcomes.  Many of these attempts at accountability in teaching are important. It is also valuable not to lose sight of our education mission, and let the national discussion on education reform center around these benchmarks and metrics alone. The dialogue of how to build moral and ethical schools is urgent today because it deepens our national conversation and will allow us not to reduce education reform solely to a set of legislative efforts backed by test scores.

 I realized that instead of thinking of how to build moral and ethical schools, it would be more useful, instead,  if we were to think of the conversation as being about  how to sustain the practice of  building moral and ethical schools. Let us focus on developing the habit or the professional discipline of seeking how to build such schools. We recognize that this is an on-going process. We may never fully get there.  Building moral and ethical schools, is not about identifying one program,  one curriculum or a series of practices to  implement at our schools, but instead building moral and ethical schools is a habit, a practice that we commit to as educators.

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What I Learned during My Week at the Summer Institute and Why I’m Coming Back

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on May 17, 2013

By Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

A positive school climate is essential to a school living its civic mission. I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to school climate, but when I arrived in New York last July to attend the National School Climate Institute’s 2012 Summer Institute, I knew this much, and believed it deeply in my heart.

My expertise lies in civic education and engagement. I taught high school social studies for six years, am a PhD candidate in the field of political socialization, and chair the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, which advocates for school-based civic learning opportunities across the formal curriculum, in extracurricular activities, and through day-to-day school governance.

My combined experiences in the classroom, as an academic, and as an advocate, taught me that a challenging curriculum incorporating proven civic learning practices is alone insufficient in preparing young people for their roles in our representative democracy. Principals must be a driving force for a school’s civic mission, with specific attention to staff development, from hiring to evaluation to professional development. Schools must also build reciprocal relationships with the surrounding community, where both are resources for one another.

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