Five ways schools can strengthen conversations around challenging topics:
- Define your values. It has surprised me how often administrators, teachers, trustees, parents, and students are challenged when asked to articulate the school’s values, thus leaving the definition of the values to whoever is answering the question or to be defined by silence. Take time to define and articulate your values. One idea is to form cross-constituent groups (students, faculty, staff, parents, and trustees) sitting at tables asking, “What are our values?” I like to ask, “If I had a camera with no sound and recorded your school what would I see reflecting your values?” and “If I had a recorder with no camera, what would I hear?” Recently, I added, “If I had never heard of your school but googled it, what might I see reflecting your values?” It’s important to note that the values are not the school’s mission but should inform the mission.
- Develop your social, emotional, equity/inclusion/diversity goals. Do you want your school values in reflected in their actions and words? Should students have a reflective vocabulary? Are students expected to be a voice for change? Do you want them to know how to stand up to the injustice of self or others? Do adults in the community know where the School’s line is (in other words, will they have my back)? Do you want students to apply these skills in all facets of their lives or only when on your campus?
- Go back to the beginning. As you name your school values and community goals, look at when the valued based skills first introduced. Are they conveyed by some teachers, some of the time or by all teachers all of the time? When I was in a PK-12 school we sat down in areas of discipline, for example, in the English curriculum the teachers PK-12 would look at the writing goals of graduating seniors and work backward to PK to ensure they were providing the skills needed to meet those goals. A similar practice can be implemented in this curriculum, start now as you are developing the calendar for next year and an assembly is scheduled consider asking “How are we building to, and from, this assembly? Are we budgeting time support it?”
- Move from person specific to position-specific staffing. Person-specific staffing has a person (or a small group of people) overseeing the program development, curricular inclusion, assemblies/speakers, professional development, parent education, policy examination, and much more of the content around these topics- usually while having at least one other key role at the school. Even if that person/those people ‘enjoy the work’, schools burn out good people, make them feel they can never leave, and delegitimize the school’s value of it. Position specific staffing names the role, demands a scope and sequence, is raised in the interview process and is supported by providing professional development. Position-specific staffing includes this work in evaluations and conveys an expectation of the application of best practice.
- Lean on your values. For example, if your school values “every child feeling respected,” then talking about race-based incidents in your community is a means of living out your values. If you have a value of teaching students to be good people, not just good test takers, then you think of these skills as a curriculum, evaluated regularly, professional development provided, parent education expected, and student’s voice heard.