A lot of kids are coming to school angry, and I’m convinced this is the source of much of the violence we’re witnessing. Children seem disconnected to their school community, and now is the time for educators to recommit efforts to fostering a culture that ties the binds kids have with the adults who care for them 10 months of the calendar year. Let’s use a multi-prong approach to rebuilding the bridge between students and their schools by doing three things.
First, let’s shift away from a punitive discipline mindset and more towards a restorative practices approach to fostering a stronger sense of belonging. We should face the truth- Kids aren’t “scared” of being punished by disciplinarians as was the case in the old days. They need behavioral and mental health support, and they need the tools to make better social and emotional decisions. Reach out to organizations like Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility (morningsidecenter.org) and The International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu) to build togetherness and to restore kids to their school community who would otherwise have been shut out and isolated after serving suspension time. It’ll take three years, but if the research-proven payoff comes to fruition, the school will evolve to become closer-knit.
Second, lets help kids feel more confident about themselves, strengthen their interpersonal skills, and encourage them to have strong and healthy relationships with their peers. Build a Responsive Classroom environment in the elementary grades (responsiveclassroom.org), and pair it with a Social-Emotional Decision-Making Lab (tinyurl.com/yb4txdge) so kids learn how to relate to each other on deeply personal levels in the age of social media. Launch Sources of Strength (sourcesofstrength.org) in the upper grades so disenfranchised adolescents assume meaningful ownership of providing support for their peers who are contemplating self-harm.
Third, enhance school adults’ awareness and attitude about the different cultural traits kids bring to school. Understanding hidden biases, recognizing how we may inadvertently “microaggress” and identifying the influence of dominant “narratives” that may suppress kids’ identity are vital learnings in which we must continue to engage if we are to truly wrap our arms around all of our students so they feel a sense of belonging to the school community.
An all-in attitude to safeguarding kids has as much to do with deepening their connectedness to their school as does staffing buildings with security guards. Being a parent during this time is very difficult, and it is incumbent upon educational leaders to send the clear the message that they are welcoming kids 1,260 hours a year to a nurturing, supportive, and empathetic environment.