Regardless a kid’s drive, demeanor, sassiness and attitude, each one of them has to attend school. And our local schools have a responsibility to create an inclusive school climate where all students can achieve their maximum potential, regardless their personalities.
But with all these different personalities milling around any school campus -- elementary through high school -- how does a school go about creating one cohesive climate where all students can be their greatest selves?
Climate is determined by many factors: how discipline is handled, bullying acceptability thresholds, availability of clubs, teacher/student interactions, approach taken with struggling students, the feeling of being safe, among myriad other things.
Reflecting on my own kids again, each of them has different needs to feel part of their school’s climate.
My daughter is social. She needs to belong to clubs, participate in school-sponsored events, and take classes that encourage belonging to a larger purpose. She thrives in being part of the school and feeling like she makes a difference. This is the traditional understanding of school culture -- belonging, participating, leading.
My son is not social. His needs are less about other kids and more about his sense of comfort with his teachers. His day can be made or destroyed because of his interaction with teachers and substitutes. Don’t get me wrong. He has a group of friends he hangs with socially at lunch, but he isn’t motivated by what is traditionally thought of as school culture. He would rather lose a limb than attend a club meeting or an after-school dance. His needs are less traditional -- he needs to feel that the adults care.
Other kids can’t function unless they feel safe.
Others, still, don’t want to be forgotten when they struggle academically.
Regardless your kids’ needs, they all need to be met in order for your child to be successful. And this is not an easy task. Building an inclusive school culture can begin, however, with two simple initiatives: knowing every child’s name and knowing every child’s need. Not easy, but doable.
I work in a school where the English department teachers have made it a habit to greet kids as they walk into the classroom. This happens every day for most every period. Some of us just welcome the kids to class, others give kids a high five, some take that time to address each child by name. Regardless the why, the power lies in simply the doing. Does it take time? Does it mean we have to get out from behind our desks? Does it require we have a good attitude? Yes. Yes. And yes.
You would be amazed at how impactful this small gesture is to the students on our campus. We know it’s impactful because the kids tell us. This momentary interaction requires we look our students in the eyes, requires we see them each as individuals and not just part of a large classroom of kids, and requires us to put ourselves out there to make them feel welcome.
The beauty of this small gesture? I see them outside the classroom. And seeing a child outside the classroom helps me learn his name, see his needs, feel his anxiety, notice his stress, interact on a more personal level, and tell him he matters.
Does this small gesture solve all school culture problems? I’m not arguing that it does. I am suggesting, however, that this is a first step in knowing how I can best support each student.
For my daughter, this means a teacher can make her feel part of that classroom’s social dynamics.
For my son, this means a teacher can appear friendly, thoughtful, and caring, creating an environment where my he feels ready to learn and fully supported.
For us, as parents, this means we can rest assured, knowing that our kids are noticed and known -- giving them every opportunity to be their best selves.
So I ask again: What’s in a name?