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Schools Called To Clarify Who They Are And Are Not

I have heard from many schools with concerns generally falling into two categories - incidents ranging from marginalization to discrimination and how to 'handle' the inauguration in a manner allowing space for a range of community beliefs. These events, combined with an escalation of national conversations, compels us to adjust the manner in which we respond to, and provide support for, our students.

As educators, we have long rested on our esoteric mission statements to describe who our schools are and what they stand for. School mission statements provide a more abstract view of our schools and we may now have to supplement them with clear language outlining the behaviors we will not accept or tolerate. Students consistently share a firm sense of who their schools are, but struggle to know what their schools are not and what they will not tolerate. “Jen, I know my school wants me to be a good person and works hard to help us use our voices but I don't know if they share my view on discrimination” shared a student at a school where among adults, there is no doubt that they strongly stand against discrimination. This is the time for schools to be clear about what will and will not be accepted.

Here are few more strategies for supporting your school (and yourself):

  • Take care of yourself individually and as a group. I have seen a contagion factor regarding marginalization lately and you will need the support of yourself and others as your process the individual situations as well as the broader community focus.

  • Tell students you are taking care of yourselves and encourage them to do so too.

  • Encourage faculty to help the girls move away from responding to/gossiping about the individual situations toward creating community norms and expectations so there is not room for them including identifying (and if necessary) check in with faculty they feel they can trust.

  • Share community culture points (decreased morale of faculty, increased dismay of parents, expressions of helplessness from students) to be sure you are getting an overall sense of how things are going.

  • Create schedule options allowing for a community gathering if needed and then focusing on returning to routine with a note to the community that maintaining routine is important in difficult situations but that students and faculty feeling unable to participate in routines can find their trusted adults (note: encouraging the trusted adult is important as these are situations as these are new to many students and therefore they do not have a frame of reference for dealing).

  • Develop clear and unequivocal statements of behavioral expectations.

  • Create manageable short (develop clear and unequivocal statements of behavioral expectations) and long term goals (affect change in race relations).

  • Avoid making long-term policy changes during and soon after a crisis event. Document responses to crises to be considered in revising your policy handbook.

  • Promote a sense of hope and empowerment. Educators are in the profession of hope and students need to see that are hopeful for the future of students and the school.

  • Engage student leadership

  • Partner with parent leadership

  • Allow adult processing time

  • Anticipate that the events surrounding inauguration will introduce students to words, actions and concepts which may be challenging and answer for yourself how you will handle your students, faculty, and parents seeking your guidance and support. I recently attended a Peaceful Direct Action planning meeting, something I have participated in before, but this time there was a strong overlay of messaging about protecting oneself physically and legally when (not if) there are confrontations and that the powers of the deputized National Guard.

  • Acknowledge that in many ways these are new paradigms. Therefore a map does not exist, however, this is also a time for the map to be created with students, parents and faculty/staff engaged equally.

  • Acknowledge, and create space for, when incidents happen on campus or in the greater community some students and faculty will be strongly impacted, some will not be impacted at all and others in the middle.

  • Resist the 'presumption of majority think' (assuming everyone has a shared view on events)

  • Listen to students. I have had many students share that these times (increase in hate incidents, the election rhetoric, etc.) are new experiences for them and seeing adults in panic adds to or even creates student angst.

  • Ask students and faculty to answer for themselves: “What do you need when you are in pain? What do you need to see, hear, eat, touch, do when you need comfort?”

  • Communicate with all constituent groups as fully as confidentiality allows.

  • Look for the helpers and encourage students to be the helpers to be seen.

  • Lean on your school's mission.

  • Include education in your disciplinary measures. Responses to divisive behaviors should include learning more about those who are targeted and impacted.

  • Focus beyond one school incident, one election and one inauguration when talking with students. These touch points are learning moments. Students need to view the skills acquired in these times as transferable and able to be applied to future situations.

  • Focus on kindness, highlighting moments of kindness within and beyond your school community.

Above all, remain hopeful and convey a sense of hopefulness. Being an educator is predicated on viewing the world through the lens of possibility and students need to have many opportunities to exercise their advocacy and activism skills. In view, this is a hopeful time when we can grow our skills, learn from and with our students and create the school environments most desired.

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