The topic in yesterday's class was bullying. The class had been discussing and researching bullying for a few days prior, but they felt it important to get the perspective of the school administration. In all honesty, there were perceptions within the class that the school could do more when dealing with bullying and harassment situations, and that we could improve the inclusiveness and tolerance of our school culture. As I was walking down to the class, I wondered how the conversation would go. Would we talk about policies like zero tolerance and what they mean? Would students want bullies kicked out of school or want to look at ideas around restorative justice and restitution? Would they want to talk about the need for the adults in the building to pay attention to what is going on in their classes and in school, or talk about collective responsibilities? Would it be a students versus the adults, "we know and you have no idea" type conversation? Did I need my thick-skin body armour?
And so the discussion began. The dialogue started out slowly, and in an effort to generate some discussion, I took a few minutes to describe a hypothetical bullying scenario and how it might be worked through from the school perspective. At the end of my brief vignette, I asked for feedback about how students felt things could be dealt with more effectively. Two or three students presented some ideas, and the discussion began to take off.
Students are amazing. The conversation turned quickly to how WE could all make things better in our school. How WE have to stop things like bullying not through policy, but through developing a culture of tolerance, of inclusiveness, and of acceptance. How WE collectively could make opportunities for people to get to know each other. How WE could create activities that would give students something to talk about with one another. How WE need to take action to find ways for senior students to role model positive behaviors for our student body. How WE need to find ways to give students a voice within our school. WE.
There was no "YOU need to do this" or "THEY should do that". It was WE. Without fail, from the students, it was WE.
I learned a great deal from our Social Justice class yesterday.
- I learned that having a focus group-style discussion is incredibly powerful, and that in less than an hour I can discover more about students than any survey, online poll or quiz can tell me.
- I learned that students are incredibly in-tune with what is going on in a school with respect to culture, and are chock full of really good ideas on things that can positively impact the learning environment in our building.
- I learned that students are willing to dig in and do their part--they know they have the capacity to be powerful, and they know that their actions can and do influence their learning situation
- I learned the power of the word "WE", and how I need to make sure that I use it more.
But also, and perhaps more importantly, I learned from our students that when there is a call to action, when things need to change, the most powerful thing that we can start with in the change process is to understand what WE can do, and DO it. We cannot sit back and wait for change to happen, nor can we simply will or wish for other people to change before we do. Transformation is not a future endeavor, it is a present activity, and WE need to spearhead it.