By Clement Coulston
The feeling of social connectedness, sense of safety, and belief in one’s value perpetuates a school environment where students, teachers, parents and the community can mutually embrace the important roles of sharing and learning. But is creating this type of culture possible? And, the big question: who is responsible for driving this culture?
Creating a healthy school climate is not as simple as identifying challenges and proposing solutions for the school and community to adopt. In the face of recent tragic school shootings, and the extension of bullying beyond classroom walls, we need to take action. And with current increased awareness of the power of young people to generate change, we are not powerless in this endeavor. We have all the power we need!
One phenomenon that I see is adults being positioned as “the drivers” of School Climate reform, with students deemed as “the receivers” who will reap the benefits from those efforts. This stoic procedure can engender change, but students do not have to be relegated to this passive role.
Students see what is working well and what is not every day in schools. How often do we consider asking for students input? Perhaps we do not do this because we think we already understand what students are thinking. The practice of engaging students in dialogue about what could improve their school climate could be meaningfully integrated into our everyday work, with an ongoing goal of engaging students more and more.
As it is imperative to have educators and principals on board with School Climate Reform, I encourage us to:
Perceive students as “co-drivers” in co-creating a positive School Climate in order for all to mutually enjoy its benefits.
Engage students in discussions, possibly asking them to complete the prompt, “I learn and share best when…”
Activate students to be Upstanders, rather than Bystanders, by standing up for what is good, what is just, and what is right.
Students and teachers need to work together, with the expectation that students will not just attend school, but be valuable assets to the school. With students and teachers having an open dialogue about the behaviors and values that make them feel safe and supported, we need no longer focus on the typical reactionary models of school discipline. Rather, students, educators, principals, bus drivers, cafeteria staff and the community become contributors, crafting the mosaic of the school life together.
As a Youth Leader with the National School Climate Center (NSCC), I recently co-authored a Practice Brief on School Climate and Inclusion. The NSCC just announced the release of 11 School Climate Practice Briefs for Implementation and Sustainability, which provides students, educators and policy makers with practical, up-to-date guidance on school climate through the lens of essential educational issues such as dropout prevention, bullying, equity, and leadership. These briefs present the latest in research and best practices for effective school climate reform from leading education organizations.
As we all learn about policies, best practices and professional development opportunities regarding school climate, I challenge each and every one of us to commit in engaging students for both a better today and tomorrow!
Clement Coulston (@clementc26) is a social justice advocate, school climate activist and an inclusive youth leader who is driven by passion to ensure all youth are authentically engaged as valuable assets in co-creating positive social change. He is a Global Youth Leader with Special Olympics Project UNIFY and a Resource Specialist for Student Voice continuing to heighten awareness that young people are the leaders of today and tomorrow.