Safe and Supportive Schools
All students need to feel wanted, safe, and nourished to achieve to their highest capability. They can not learn if they're absent, suspended, or upset about something. Learning in school is disrupted when their families change their residences and ceases when students drop out. So schools and the public need to know how the kids are feeling about school itself and about certain aspects of their life outside of school. Teacher advisers or mentors need to stay in touch with kids' lives and feelings at least on a weekly basis, if not daily.
Researchers have been adamant for over 40 years that all children need to be known well by at least one adult in their school building.
Rhode Island's regulations ask schools to organize themselves to make personal closeness possible, and calls the practice "personalization." Strategies for personalization — advisories, teaming, clusters and houses — succeed at solving potentially serious problems quickly, before they fester. Personalization helps students develop their own problem-solving skills. When teachers have time to get to know a dozen or so students, they provide coaching and modeling skills relevant to daily circumstances. Every school professional should be mentoring at least a few kids.
This simple closeness achieves a number of goals:
- It maximizes the child's ability to achieve academically by identifying and working on, if not removing, social and emotional obstacles to learning.
- It greatly improves safety. In fact, the need for personalization was the big take-away message from researchers who studied the Columbine massacre.
- It reduces discipline referrals, suspensions and "acting out" behavior because adults get to the bottom of the child's issue.
- It reduces bullying because students talk to adults they can trust instead of trying to tough it out on their own. Bullies are outted. Victims are supported and bolstered with strategies.
- Students care more about school when they feel cared for.
While there are a great many sites on the internet for information on this subject, we recommend the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.