Articles in the School Climate category

Managing board conflict

Trust and conflict are opposite sides of the same coin. That means managing conflict productively is much easier when boards first take steps to build trust, two experts from the New York State School Boards Association said at a Sunday session.

In a presentation called “Building Trust and Overcoming Conflict on Your Board,” NYSSBA Leadership Development Manager Darci D’Ercole-McGinn and Editor-in-Chief Eric Randall led board members through exercises to help them recognize types of conflict and practice tactics for dealing with it.

The stakes extend beyond the obvious goals of leading smooth, productive meetings, Randall said. He summarized research that found a correlation between high levels of trust among school leaders — including teachers, administrators, and board members — and improved achievement among students.

Trust also was one of five key emotions necessary among members of a superior work team, according to a NASA consultant who was hired following the Challenger shuttle disaster.

Randall likened trust for a school board to lubricant for a machine: It helps a group function efficiently and effectively because members feel comfortable that they can rely on each other to act and communicate honestly.

D’Ercole-McGinn said even simple, informal steps, such as social conversations and board seating arrangements that allow members to see each other when they speak, can help lay a foundation for trust.

The two presenters also pointed to more formal habits that invariably contribute to healthy decision-making and help boards avoid getting bogged down or side-tracked by conflicts, petty or otherwise:

# Use respectful and courteous body language. That means refraining from eye-rolling, heavy sighs, or constantly checking text messages.

# Use data, which can include statistics, research, or simple anecdotal examples, to make points. That should encourage other participants in the discussion to do the same.

# Don’t interrupt others when they are speaking. Acknowledge their points and don’t dismiss them. Disagree without being disagreeable.

# Follow parliamentary procedure, a tool for keeping meetings moving in a productive, respectful, and efficient manner, said Randall.

D’Ercole-McGinn urged boards to consider annual retreats, facilitated discussions, and new member orientation programs to help members build trusting relationships and establish good habits for working together. Almost any time a new member joins, she said, there’s a perfect opportunity to do that.

It’s wise to set trust-building as a high and early priority, she said, because “conflict is not an ‘if’ question, it’s a ‘when’ question.”

Cathy Woodruff

Erin Walsh|April 22nd, 2012|Categories: Leadership, NSBA Annual Conference 2012, School Climate|

New online at ASBJ.com: Dealing with adult bullying

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the American School Board Journal on bullying. It was a belated follow-up to a decade-old article I wrote in the wake of the 1999 Columbine shootings. The education world changed after Columbine, particularly in the area of student safety and security. I was pleased to find out in my research that school leaders, administrators, and educators were taking bullying and student aggression much more seriously than before the tragedy. 

I interviewed counselor and author Stan Davis for my article, and I’ll never forget what he had to say about bullying prevention.

All schools have an overt culture and a hidden one, he said. “Kids are paying attention to the hidden one. They will see if we welcome new staff, and if we will listen to hate speech.”

If adults are permitted to bully and mistreat each other, or their students, no program, assembly, or curriculum will have much impact.

I had his words in mind when I assigned Senior Editor Naomi Dillon ASBJ’s October cover story, “Adults Behaving Badly,” now online on ASBJ.com. Dillon looks at the phenomenon of work place bullying. Lean budget times, school layoffs, and high-stakes testing pressure have created a toxic environment in some districts. In some cases, the toxicity is fueled by social networking sites. If not addressed, bullying among adults will spread to students. As educators and parents all know, children are watching your actions more than paying attention to your words.

Also as part of our school climate coverage, Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy writes about how some districts are working to reduce racial, ethnic and cultural tensions while creating an environment where children can thrive. “How’s Your Climate?” is also available at www.asbj.com.

Take a look at what we have online this month and please feel free to comment.

Kathleen Vail|October 12th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Bullying, NSBA Publications, School Climate, School Security, Social Networking|Tags: , , , , , , |

October issue of ASBJ now online

While national attention and energy has rightfully focused on the phenomenon of peer-to-peer bullying, what’s been missing from the scrutiny is a hard look at the relationships and interaction among the adults in the school community.

Enter the October issue of American School Board Journal, which is now live and online. In the latest issue, you’ll find a collection of articles that examine the issue of school culture and climate, from a variety of perspectives and perpetrators.

It’s an important and timely read on a complicated issue that has real implications for school reform efforts.

Naomi Dillon|October 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Climate|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA releases family engagement resource

A new document by the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) School Health Programs, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aims to cultivate the relationship between schools and families, with an eye toward nurturing healthy students and a healthy school environment.

Families as Partners: Fostering Family Engagement for Healthy and Successful Students, provides an overview of this critical component of student and school success and offers guidance, strategies, and resources for developing and implementing effective family engagement policies and practices.

According to the document, family engagement in schools has been shown to reduce risky behaviors and improve academic achievement and attitudes about school among students.

The publication also suggests that building connections around school and children’s health issues not only serves as a less intimidating entry point for families, but can reap multiple benefits.

“Family engagement is important to a positive school climate, as well as, to the development of promising school health policies and practices that benefit all students and prepare them for a healthy and successful future,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director.

It should be noted that families come in all shapes and sizes, and the use of the word family is an all-inclusive generic term. Regardless of their makeup, according to the document, “families and school staff share the responsibility to counter unhealthy influences and help students lead healthy, productive lives.”

And coordinated school health—an eight-step model that the CDC developed— is a sensible way to address risky behaviors among students. Not surprisingly, one of the key components in the CDC coordinated school health framework is family involvement.

Families as Partners highlights a handful of well-regarded strategies to bolster family involvement, including the model developed by noted Johns Hopkins University sociology professor Joyce L. Epstein.

Among the steps a district should take is a review of their own policies on family involvement. Chances are districts can build on their existing efforts to address family engagement in health, nutrition, and safety.

In tandem with an internal review, is an external strategy to bring families into the fold, whether it’s through community meetings, surveys, standing committees, or other opportunities where two-way dialogue can occur.

Besides the Families as Partners document, more smart tips and best practices, including a fact sheet on health and learning, sample family engagement policies, and sample surveys to engage families, can be found on the new family engagement webpage on NSBA’s website.

 

 

Naomi Dillon|September 28th, 2011|Categories: Nutrition, School Climate, Student Achievement, Wellness|Tags: , |

Magna Award highlights California district’s strategies to improve elementary school

Each year American School Board Journal’s Magna Awards, sponsored by Sodexo School Services, honors school districts that show exemplary examples of innovation and excellence in school governance.

For the past 17 years, the Magna Awards panel of independent judges has reviewed programs that showcase school district leadership, creativity, and commitment to student achievement. Magna nominations are judged according to three enrollment categories (under 5,000 enrollment; 5,000-20,000 enrollment; and over 20,000 enrollment) with one Grand Prize Winner in each category that receives a $4,000 contribution from Sodexo.

This year’s deadline to nominate your district is Oct. 31, and only nominations made online using the online Magna Nomination form will be considered.

Here is an example of one of last year’s Grand Prize Winners, Moreland School District in San Jose, Calif.

In 2006, Moreland School District’s Anderson Elementary School was the lowest performing elementary school in Santa Clara County, Calif. The school’s Academic Performance Index (API) score was nearly 200 points below the California goal of 800, and far below the district’s highest-achieving school’s score of 915. Anderson’s student population was 81 percent Hispanic, 87 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged, and 78 percent English language learners. The school board and Superintendent Glen Ishiwata asked Anderson’s leadership to create a new approach to the schools’ teaching strategies to improve student achievement. Academic excellence for all students was the aim. With support from the board, administrators, and the community, Anderson’s leaders embraced the challenge. They developed an approach that uses current data to make decisions and trains teachers to use a standards-based method for instruction.

Anderson’s administrators use benchmark assessments to collect data to shape classroom instruction. The principal and assistant principal worked collaboratively with teachers to establish a system to analyze classroom data and identify concepts to address. To support this new system, the board approved the request to purchase an electronic assessment management program. Teachers then created curriculum maps to guide their instruction. This initial work with data and standards provided a focus for all future professional development and decisions about instruction, which is at the core of this program. Developing a testing cycle and feedback loop allowed teachers to get instant feedback about their students’ progress before moving on. By using flexible groupings, and small group instruction coupled with targeted intervention, teachers were able to address the deficiencies highlighted in the testing cycles. Using their community contacts, board members reached out to volunteers to support the small-group work. In additional to being a highly effective program for low performing subgroups, it has proven to be effective at raising the academic achievement of students of all levels.

The first goal of the district’s strategic plan is to close the achievement gap while raising the achievement of all students. After the 2006 API scores were released, the board made it clear that an all-hands-on-deck approach was necessary to transform student achievement at Anderson. The first step was to make staffing switches to support the aggressive goal, including hiring a new principal and assistant principal. Next, the board directed resources to support new methods, including additional professional development time and the purchase of targeted instructional programs. The board backed up its directive by frequently putting updates on the board agenda and scheduling site visits to see the new methods and talk with teachers.

By listening to Anderson teachers, board members heard the need for classroom volunteers. Using their role as community leaders, they reached out and found volunteers to support the small-group instruction in the classroom. The program consists of residents, retirees, church members, and district parents. It provides more than 80 volunteers annually who work up to three hours a week.

Learn more about how these programs dramatically boosted student test scores for Anderson.

Also, don’t forget to take a look at our new, searchable Magna Awards Best Practices Database, where you can browse through past Magna winners and other high-scoring programs for innovative best practices, proven and practical solutions, and new ideas.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|September 6th, 2011|Categories: Diversity, Professional Development, School Board News, School Climate, Teachers, Uncategorized|Tags: , |

Video: NSBA discusses school climate and bullying on Comcast Newsmakers

BoardBuzz recommends you check out Mary Broderick, President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), recent appearance on Comcast Newsmakers.

Broderick discusses school climate, bullying, and cyberbullying, and promotes NSBA’s Students on Board: A Conversation Between School Board Members and Studentsproject to get school board members across the country to start talking with students about school climate.

Alexis Rice|August 18th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, Center for Public Education, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Climate, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , , , |

New NSBA guide helps school officials discuss bullying, climate issues

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has launched board-student conversations to help school board members better address bullying and harassment issues in their schools and facilitate conversations with students.

Dubbed Students on Board: A Conversation Between School Board Members and Students, the project focuses on practical, straightforward guidance to help engage students. A brochure created by the Center for Public Education outlines ways to set up a meeting with students, school board members, and other school staff and what questions to ask to encourage a conversation about school climate.

In addition, a new website, www.nsba.org/studentsonboard, compiles existing resources from NSBA and other groups.

“To address school climate, local school boards must listen to students and create an environment to analyze root causes and generate solutions that work for their community,” said Mary Broderick, President of NSBA and a member of Connecticut’s East Lyme Board of Education.

Research has continuously shown that schools where students are safe, academically engaged, and supported by the adults in the building are more likely to have fewer dropouts and higher student performance. One-third of students aged 12 to 18 report being bullied at school with the most common form of bullying being verbal, either through insults, ridicule, or being the subject of rumors.

Unfortunately, a survey by NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) found that most teachers and administrators believe students are being bullied at least once a month in schools and classrooms. Bullying appears to be the most prevalent in middle schools, based on CUBE’s surveys and data from the National Center for Education Statistics. However, about three-quarters of teachers and administrators say they are able to discourage bullying.

“Students on Board helps school board members incorporate practices that ensure they hear directly from the young people their schools serve,” said Mark Nieker, President and CEO of the Pearson Foundation, which funded the project. “Research-based surveys can provide an immediate, detailed snapshot of their own school climate. With this baseline, schools can take concrete steps to improve their students’ experience—and they can provide similarly focused and informed support for their classroom teachers.”

Joetta Sack-Min|August 10th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, Center for Public Education, NSBA Publications, School Climate|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

Here are two unsettling statistics on school discipline, based on an unprecedented study of nearly 1 million Texas secondary school students: Nearly 60 percent of these children were suspended or expelled over the course of the six-year study, and African-American students were disproportionately disciplined for infractions that the researchers described as “discretionary” – that is, the school had the option of not suspending or expelling the student but chose the harsher path.

As it turns out, it’s not as much the behavior of the students that leads to vastly different kinds of discipline, says the study by The Council of State Government’s Justice Center and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. It’s the policies of school leaders.

“The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies,” Michael D. Thompson, a co-author of the report, told the Washington Post. “School superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact.”

To that list we should also add school board members, who hire the superintendent and, through their policy-making decisions, have significant authority over the way schools handle discipline.

The day after that report was made public, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder issued a new Supportive School Discipline Initiative that aims to dismantle the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” that pushes students into the juvenile justice system for school infractions that could be handled in other ways.

Citing the Texas report and the high number of suspensions and expulsions it found, Holder said, “I think these numbers are kind of a wake-up call. It’s obvious we can do better.”

In yet another critical look at school discipline, journalist Annette Fuentes, in her new book, Lockdown High, examines the heightened national concern about school safety – and its negative consequences – since 9/11 and Columbine.

“The Columbine scenario is terrifying, but the odds of it occurring in your hometown are about one in two million,” Fuentes told the Post.

In a later interview, she makes another point that is well known to most school board members: School is among the safest places for children and young people to be.

So how about those ultra-safe playgrounds, with nothing too high or too hard, too fast or too rickety? Not good for kids, says Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University of Norway. Yes, they may prevent a few physical injuries (and even that is open to debate) but the psychological toll – in children becoming more fearful because they’re not given the chance to adequately explore their world — outweighs the benefits, she says in a New York Times article.

So too safe is bad – psychologically. What about too extravagant, for example, the $248,000 playhouse a former CEO built for his grandchildren? Not a great idea, notes the Post’s Ruth Marcus. Could make for overly indulged, uncreative kids. Imagine that?

At least that’s one problem cashed-strapped school districts don’t have to worry about.

Lawrence Hardy|July 22nd, 2011|Categories: Reports, School Climate, School Security, Teachers, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , |

Schools, the cornerstone of a community

800px-LittleRedSchoolhouse1913-RestoredIf you’re planning on coming to music and arts night at my daughter’s elementary school, better get there early — way early – because it’ll be standing room only.  And that’s five or 10 minutes before the show even starts.

“Parent involvement run amok!” I like to call it, and, of course, I’m being facetious, because it’s wonderful that so many parents in this Washington, D.C., suburb, care so deeply about their children’s education and that of others in their community.

It’s not like that everywhere. And that’s not because parents in inner city Newark, N.J., or Cleveland, or Detroit,  or St. Louis don’t care about their children and their communities.  But it’s hard for many parents to make it to school events when they’re working two jobs and just trying to pay for food and rent.

My point is this: Our elementary school has become a “community school” of sorts by default.  The parents make it that way.  But schools in many areas – the ones that most need to be vibrant centers of their communities – these schools need our help and financial support more than ever.

That’s the message that the Coalition of Community Schools and its supporters across the country will be emphasizing at the National Community Schools Advocacy Day, June 10 and 11 in Washington. The Coalition is rallying in support of three bills in Congress that would make community school principles a centerpiece of any reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

A community school is one that is concerned about the “whole” child and his or her environment. And it either houses or has links to community resources that address family needs.  A model school I wrote about four years ago, George Washington Community School in Indianapolis, includes a health clinic, a mental health clinic and about 50 partnerships to support families and the community.
(more…)

Naomi Dillon|May 25th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, School Climate|

In Minnesota, nearly half of students report being bullied

0001-0405-0521-2248_TNYou don’t have to be a Prairie Home Companion fan to have heard Garrison Keillor’s famous description of Lake Wobegon, that mythical Minnesota town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Everyone knows it’s impossible for all children to be “above average,” yet we believe somewhere in our hearts that maybe ours are different.  Or that maybe there’s a place – bucolic Minnesota perhaps? – where all the children are doing just great and aren’t touched by the kind of social problems that plague the rest of us.

A recent survey on bullying by the Minnesota Department of Education puts those fantasies to rest. It seems some problems are, indeed, national in scope; and, unfortunately, bullying is one of them.

According to the survey, “more than half of Minnesota students reported they had been bullied or had bullied someone else at least once in the past year,” said the Associated Press. And 13 percent said they were bullied once a week or more.

According to the survey, bullies and their victims were more likely to skip school, less likely to have As or Bs, and more than twice as likely to be obese as students not involved in bullying. And they had higher rates of alcohol and drug use.

“On a positive, note, nearly half of all students responding had no involvement with bullying as a victim or bully,” the report said. “This group benefits from not being a target or engaging in bullying activities, but also seems to be supported by assets in home, school, community, and peer contexts.”

ASBJ has written many stories on bullying and how schools can confront the problem. The most recent was my December 2010 piece on harassment of gay students.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|May 17th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate|Tags: , |
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