Hearts are breaking in communities all over our nation in the aftermath of yet another devastating school shooting. How do we keep our children safe? How do we change our culture? I contend that if parents, teachers and leaders would teach and model kindness, empathy and perhaps even courage, we would make significant progress in our quest to keep our children safe.
Part of having a safe community involves us taking care of one another. How well do we know our community and how much do we reach out and support others? Get to know your neighbors. Check in with them. Help each other out.
At The Sycamore School, we’re teaching our students how to positively impact their community. At school, students apply for jobs that include a school counsel member, peer mediator, timekeeper, dog handler and shopkeeper. Through these jobs they learn not only how to monitor themselves, but also how encourage their peers and shape pro-social behavior.
The change we are seeing in our students just 5 months into their tenure at The Sycamore School is remarkable. At the beginning of the year, our students were just like any typical middle school students. Some were old souls, introverts, shy, outgoing, goofy, and/or sullen. The staff did a lot of front end teaching and modeling of behavior and then something magical happened. The students started stepping up. They started to learn how to take initiative, both academically and socially. I started having students come to me and comment that they noticed a classmate seemed upset and asked how they could help. Students started making suggestions of how we could make our community better. Is every day perfect? [Have you ever had a perfect day with your adolescent?] No, but our students are learning how to take personal responsibility for their learning and behavior, and how their behavior can positively impact others.
I believe that there are lessons here that can help inform how we create meaningful change in our culture. Adults and youth can model the behavior we want to see in others; adults can invest time, not only to help themselves and their family, but to connect to neighbors and our larger community to make our world better, stronger, and hopefully safer.