By Kristy Blackburn, Daisy Renazco, Todd Summers
Hi everyone! We are very excited about the launch of the new Not In Our Schools (NIOS) website. This is going to be a great resource for schools. My colleagues and I are going to be sharing our experiences over the past 8-9 years with NIOS at our school in Palo Alto, Calif. What started out as a small campaign led by our Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) has evolved into something amazing in our community and school. We have learned a great deal on our journey and we continue to reflect and grow as a school as we “Strive to Embrace Our Differences.” We hope to write regularly as we plan and celebrate our 2011 NIOS Week March 28-April 1. Hopefully our journey can serve as inspiration to other schools and we can be of help in some way. We look forward to hearing from you!
NIOS can be a program to promote dialogue and acceptance
The objective for our NIOS week is to promote acceptance, awareness, and identity safety within our school community, and to help to increase understanding and encourage discussion about diversity and race relations at Gunn. Over the years, we have found that having a NIOS week actually helps create a sense of community, as well as build empathy for one another. By providing the students and staff a safe space to share their voice and their experience, we have found that students learn more about one another and begin to realize and understand how their words and actions influence the Gunn community. Our NIOS week gives students and staff the necessary tools and permission to stand up against hate or discrimination.
NIOS prepares students for difficult situations, connects well to other programs
In addition to increasing the sense of community here at Gunn, we have specifically seen our school heal when a string of tragedies occurred. For example, last year our students were able to have a successful counter protest to the Westboro Baptist Church that picketed Gunn. Also, this year, our district is working closely with the group Project Cornerstone and its idea of developmental assets, which has connected nicely to NIOS.
Tip: Identify passionate and influential people, create a NIOS Steering Committee
Not In Our Schools week has grown tremendously over the last 8 years since our first NIOS week. We currently have a group of about 10 staff members that organize NIOS week, and we have found that this steering committee format is extremely beneficial to the success of the week. Over the years, we have been able to identify passionate and influential people (staff and administrators) on campus who were interested in leading the NIOS effort and developing lessons and activities that our campus could use during NIOS week. Since some teachers on campus that were already doing this type of work on a smaller scale, finding these individuals was relatively simple.
Tip: Use professional development time to brainstorm, assist teachers in empathy-centered lessons
Watching the grassroots development of NIOS over the years, we have found that making time to collaborate and plan has been vital. This collaboration time can happen anytime throughout the year, but if the school could use professional development time to allow teachers to brainstorm together that would be ideal. When our NIOS committee creates lessons for teachers to use in the classroom, the objective of the lessons is for students to have “empathy” for their peers. We definitely want to provide support for teachers that are willing to incorporate a lesson into their classroom; however, there are some teachers who need a little extra encouragement which we offer in the form of an individual invitation to specific teachers or departments to participate in an NIOS activity. This invitation can come from the NIOS teacher leaders, other teachers or department chairs.
Tip: Communicate plans with school leaders, present activities and events with clear objectives at staff and department meetings
Communicating the events to the staff is extremely important. This communication should occur on a few levels. There should be communication to the administration and the leadership team at the school, in addition to sharing with the staff. The teacher leaders can present at staff and department/team meetings to inform the staff of the NIOS events, and provide clear objectives for each activity/event. Individual classroom lessons are not required for a successful NIOS week, but teachers who are comfortable to have discussions in their classrooms are definitely invited/encouraged to do so. At the end of each NIOS week, we create a document that shows what teachers have done. This document serves as a good tool for reflection and reference to share with other teachers so they feel comfortable doing an activity in their classroom the following year.
Keep checking back in as our NIOS week approaches. We hope to write often! :)
Gunn High School
Palo Alto, CA, Spring 2011