Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Taking Care of Ourselves and Others: Schools Can Intentionally Build Cultures That Emphasize Kindness and Calm

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Taking Care of Ourselves and Others: Schools Can Intentionally Build Cultures That Emphasize Kindness and Calm

Article excerpt

What kind of world do you see? Are people driven by fear? Is the world a dangerous place? Or are people driven by kindness? Is the world safe?

And, how about students? What kind of world do they see? What kind of world are we teaching them to see?

Young people are bombarded with gloom and doom media images and messaging. Information has never been more accessible--or more toxic. Stress and associated health challenges are no strangers to children, adolescents, or the teachers and caretakers charged with shepherding them from childhood to adulthood.

What if schools could create a different narrative? What if school cultures embraced gratitude and abundance instead of competition and scarcity? What if students were accepted and embraced for who they are and where they are developmentally instead of forcing them to become what a standardized measurement thinks they should be?

Fortunately, such schools already exist. These are schools where teachers are intentionally working to create safe, empathetic learning environments.

Chrysalis Charter School: A culture of kindness

Palo Cedro, Calif.

Just reading the mission of Chrysalis Charter Schools lets you know that it's a bit different from other public schools: "Chrysalis Charter School is a community of kindness, respect, and love of learning which encourages the light within each student to shine brighter."

Even the accreditation report issued by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges recognizes the unique culture of this school: "[T] he culture is one of the school's strongest points helping the school

... Parents know their children are immersed in something very rare and deeply nurturing to the spirits of their beloved ones."

For the past two decades, teachers at Chrysalis, a K-8 teacher-powered charter school in northern California, have been deliberate about developing a community of kindness. Third-grade teacher Crystal Padilla said teachers are at the core of creating this culture through the language they use and the behaviors they model. Their actions are constant reminders to students about their own language and decisions.

In most schools, teachers act on their own, taking sole responsibility for the environment they create in their classrooms. Since its inception, however, the priority at Chrysalis has been to maintain shared norms of kindness and respect among all teachers, students, and parents. The teachers designed it that way from the beginning of the school, making "buyin" unnecessary.

To perpetuate the school's unique culture of kindness, staff pay extra attention to the teachers they hire. Teacher candidates spend a day at the school and teach a 45-minute lesson. Several staff look at the quality of the lesson, but they also observe the ability of the teacher to emotionally connect with students by watching body language, listening for tone of voice, and watching how they correct students. Staff want to know if the teacher has the emotional skill to act kindly, compassionately, and with a genuine affect even in the face of stress. The school employs about 11 full-time teachers plus three parttime teachers.

While the staff role is important in shaping the school's culture, everyone in the community shares responsibility for maintaining the culture at Chrysalis. Students, parents, and teachers are expected to speak up if their feelings get hurt, if they are bullied or teased, or if someone is unkind or rude to them or to others. For example:

* Parents are encouraged to give feedback directly to teachers as soon as they sense that their child is having a problem.

* Students are encouraged to speak to their teacher, the counselor, or administrator if they are having difficulties with anyone in the community.

* Teachers have partner mentors regardless of how long they have been teaching, and they regularly give each other feedback on classroom culture. …

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