Reflective Practice: Vignette #10

A K-8 school promotes a process of school-wide reflection that brings administrators, teachers, parents, and students together to grapple with an influx of bullying and social tension in their school. 

Well into her sixth year as principal of Patterson Elementary, a suburban K-8 school, Marjory Stevens decides to take a new approach to garner participants for school-wide reflection in her school of 800 students. Unlike in past years, where she issued the directives for the professional learning communities to focus on for the year, Ms. Stevens decides to query the community in a survey issued after the first few weeks of school. She asks teachers and parents to rank (and suggest) the most pressing issues currently impacting student learning: from student assessment to transitions between grades to social issues at the school. Across the board, the community members vote for greater attention and action directed towards the social climate of the school. Increased teasing and bullying seem to be on much of the community’s mind, and by getting the input of ideas from parents and teachers, Ms. Stevens hopes for greater investment and impact in reflection project ahead. 

In order to make significant and meaningful change in her school, Ms. Stevens knows that she must provide opportunities for leadership for her teachers. Aware of at least five teachers who have extensive social-emotional/bullying prevention training and four other highly respected teachers known for their exceptional leadership and authentic rapport with students and colleagues, Ms. Stevens taps them to lead “study groups” that meet monthly to evaluate, discuss, and make action plans to help support a “culture of kindness” in their school. In addition to creating the space and time for these professional learning communities to meet, the first twenty minutes of the monthly faculty meetings are allocated for groups to share their learning and reflections. Although all the groups start by tackling common essential questions and readings to assess and reflect upon the current challenges around bullying and social tension, they ultimately decide upon different “action plans” to pursue for school improvement. One group decides to create a “professional library” of materials around bullying prevention. Another group welcomes parent involvement in organizing a “community read” that they hope will provide opportunity for cross community discussions around tolerance. A third group organizes topics/articles for a weekly “brown bag” lunch series that they will lead for teachers/administrators.  A fourth group creates a student survey to pursue greater understanding of student perspectives on how they are experiencing power dynamics among the school community. A fifth group researches the effectiveness of current anti-bullying programs and ultimately proposes a program (Steps to Respect)*  that has been developed by the Committee for Children, a non-profit organization in Seattle, and tested by the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington. 

Connected through shared dialogue and purpose, the teachers at Patterson Elementary report feeling a greater sense of community since beginning the – reflection project. The increased cohesion among the adults in the school community is making a difference in the way students relate to the adults and each other. In The Students Are Watching, Ted and Nancy Sizer state,They watch us all the time. The students, that is. They listen to us, sometimes. They learn from all that watching and listening.” As the level of trust strengthens among teachers, administrators, staff and parents, the students respond positively. With strengthened and expanded relationships among teachers throughout the building, a safety net is further built for students, especially for those who tend to fall through the cracks (York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere, & Montie 2001). When issues come up with students that require greater support, teachers report that they now have a better sense of who to go to, or at least know someone who knows. Through this transparent and inclusive process of school-wide reflection, the students ultimately benefit.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE:

Steps to Respect: Bullying Prevention for Elementary School   –  A comprehensive website that shares the philosophy and research behind this anti-bullying program. Video and class lesson samples are available, as are testimonials to the efficacy of the work.

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