Our Journey with Not In Our Schools: Teacher Tips on Beginning NIOS on your campus | Not in Our Town

Our Journey with Not In Our Schools: Teacher Tips on Beginning NIOS on your campus


By Kristy Blackburn, Daisy Renazco, Todd Summers
NIOS Coordinators/Teachers
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



My concern is that teachers will find this being a "burdon" at my school. Not everyone is interested in impletementing these sort of programs but like to go on with things "like its always been". How do you deal with such staff? Wouldn't it be important that this is followed through by every staff member and not just a few?

 When I initiated Not in Our School in my district- I heard everything from: "I don't have the time to add one more thing." to "How can you change anything with an activity that is only one week per year." to "I think we need to keep things positive- not focus on the negative."

My answers-

With regards to time: when students are bullied or harassed, it takes their minds away from learning, When fights or incident occur, it takes much more time than if you had front-loaded it.

One week a year serves as a reminder for the rest of the year. It is a loud and clear statement- Not in Our School- this is a place where racism, homophobia, and intolerance are not acceptable. Sure, it must be a foundation of the school climate that is practiced all year long, and some of the initial training takes longer, but I found that given the many time constraints and the many ways people are intolerant- race, gender, disability, generic bullying, etc. Not in Our School brings it all under one umbrella with a clear message. 

Not in Our School takes very REAL negative aspects of every school environment and makes the positive statement that we can be UPSTANDERS... we focus on the positive responses to negative things.

Finally, I believe that anyone in a system can begin a positive change. I was at the district level when I started not in our school. In another case it was a counselor, and yet another situation it was the principal. Most often it has been classroom teachers, starting in their clasrooms and students in clubs or groups that also have kept it going. In truth, my plan was to do a Not In Our School Week one time, but it was the students who said we need this every year. It has been going for the last 8 or 9 years. Of course, it is always good to find an ally- or a team and begin to spread it. 

Has anyone implemented this program at the elementary level?

Did you get administration support?


Do you think the material is appropriate for elementary school children?


I started a district-wide Not In Our School (NIOS) campaign that included elementary, middle, and high schools. I was working as the Director of Elementary Education at that time- and had support of the School Board and the Superintendent, as well as the principals. Activites that were implemented included friendship quilts, a respect poster contest, and one school even had the entire student body pose for a schoolwide rainbow photo, emphasizing the value of all our differences and the different families.

One NIOS activity- dissolving stereotypes can be done at any level. Everyone gets a small piece of rice paper and a non-permanent marker. For children who are too young to understand the concept of a stereotype, the activity can be adapted. They can draw or write one sentence about something mean that someone did to them or that they did that want to see disappear. The older students write a negative stereotype that they want to see disappear. Everyone puts their small paper into a child-size swimming pool- or even a big bucket  and watches the stereotypes and mean things dissolve. You can find a film of that activity and lesson plan in the NIOS video section.

NIOS is absolutely appropriate for elementary. That is where we need to begin our efforts to address bullying and promote acceptance and inclusion. While, it is not appropriate to go into issues of hate crimes and killings with younger children, they certainly need to learn about issues of bullying. The only problem is that NIOS has not yet made elementary videos for that level. It is one of our goals to make those videos.

Feel free to contact me at info@niot.org to further explore the elementary options.

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director, Not In Our School


We began an anti-bullying campaign at my elementary school last spring.  We are working with Becki Cohn-Vargas of NIOS, a local insurance agency for funding, and a life coach instructor.  Becki has already presented a bilingual parent-student family event identifying what bullying is and what it's not. She conducted the Dissolving Stereotypes activity which was very powerful.

It is very important to begin in elementary school.  We teach children to read there, and we need to empower them to be upstanders from Kindergarten forward.  The two concepts are intertwined.  Without a safe learning environment, academic achievement will lag.  

We are committed to building a program where our 6th graders have a voice and become student mentors and leaders.  

The silence must be broken.


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