by Jen Cort, Founder, Jen Cort Educational Consulting
Traditionally at this time of summer the messages from school are about the newness of the upcoming year, faculty summer professional development and leadership reflections on last year and plans for next year. The events of the past weekend have many schools questioning when how to redesign their messages to families, faculty and students. If you are wondering how to articulate your school’s position on the incidents around Charlottesville, you are not alone, I have received calls and emails from many schools in the past few days with this same question and have quickly pulled together a list of resources.
- Reflect your mission. Use it as your guidance to frame your message.
- Clarify where you stand, articulate who you are as a school.
- Say it! Of the many lessons of last year, the one that strikes me the most is schools must message who they are, what they stand for while also stating who they are not and what they stand against. In the aftermath of the election many schools worried about silencing voices of disagreement but these are not political messages, they are value and mission based messages. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post created a robust list resources for the start of school The First Thing Teachers Should Do when School Starts in Talk about Hatred in America. My post election blog Schools Called to Clarify Who They Are and Are Not also supports this topic.
- Reference your handbook. Most schools have statements about physically and verbally acceptable/unacceptable behaviors between students; these expectations can be utilized to frame your school’s position.
- Model the value statements of your accreditation body and other organizations to which your school belong. For schools with a religious affiliation, you might consult statements of the religious organization. Many places of worship are making their position known some examples are Episcopal Diocese of Washington recognized the horror of the events and “the power of collective resolve and mobilized love” and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated “The abhorrent acts of hatred on display in Charlottesville are an attack on the unity of our nation”.
- Establish community norms. Community norms are a set of agreements informing member behavior and rooted in community values, beliefs, interests. Establishing norms creates a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the community, the community and society.
- Ensure consistency of messaging from leadership and faculty (I am using the term “faculty” to refer to every employee of a school a teacher as they all contribute to the educational experience of students) with students and parents.
- Use available resources. Cultivate the references for responding immediately and making long term curricular connections. In addition to the phenomenal list by Valerie Strauss, Teach for Change offers professional development materials.
- Provide parents with tools for engaging in conversations with their children. Jessica Ravitz of CNN posted ‘Talking to Kids About Hate’. My blog “Having Meaningful Conversations With Kids When the Topic is Uncomfortable for Adults” also provides tips.
- Deepen advocacy and social justice in your program. Edutopia offers social justice materials for schools and parents. Not On Our Campus and Not in Our School provide free resources for starting anti-racism and discrimination programs on your campus. One example of kids starting their own is program Not In Our Town Olney, Brookeville, Sandy Spring, which is staffed by Middle Schoolers (full disclosure, my daughter is the founder).
- Build community and kindness skills. The Dot celebrates “Creativity, Courage and Collaboration”. Kindness Rocks help kids of all ages serve as change agents by placing messages of kindness written on rocks around their communities.
- Focus on equity not equality. Equity is everyone gets what they need and equality is everyone gets the same thing. Families need to know their children are physically, emotionally and academically safe and nurtured. This is true of all students, and more so for groups frequently targeted including sexual minority youth and people of color.
- Resist focusing on the incident in Charlottesville as an isolated incident. Memories are short lived and focusing on one incident may cause students and adults to let go of the lessons with their memory. Focusing on the culture of your school as it relates to any act against your values with the incident in Charlottesville being the most recent, in a sequence of incidents, will reinforce the change you seek.
- Ensure your school engages the anti-bias and anti-discrimination work. These conversations are not “other” discussions but are needed for all students and in all areas of student life. Teaching Tolerance (mentioned in the Valerie Strauss article but worth standing restating) of the Southern Poverty Law Center is a wealth of information. The Anti-Defamation League offers frameworks for teaching anti-bias education. Owning Up Curriculum by Culture of Dignity and Rosalind Wiseman “teaches young people to understand their individual development in relation to group behavior, the influence of social media on their conflicts, and the dynamics that lead to discrimination and bigotry.”
These times are consistently inconsistent. Create forums for different constituent groups come together to create strong community partnerships reflecting your school’s values and meeting student needs. Invite families and faculty to include you when they are concerned and to partner with you to create the school environment you all seek.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.