Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education
As I read M.
Kristiina Montero's article "Literary
Artistic Spaces Engage Middle Grades Teachers and Students in Critical-Multicultural
Dialogue" (Middle School Journal,
November 2012, pp. 30-38), I thought about student voices and how critical they
are to school safety and climate. Our journey to better school safety involves
tentative steps and uncertain landscapes. We have safety plans, crisis teams,
and protocol notebooks--and thank goodness we do. Maybe our next steps to improve school safety and climate
should include other items on this new path; items that connect to the middle
Step 1: Mirrors can help us create safe schools. Before buying convex mirrors for our hallways, we need the mirrors we
always carry: the reflective mirrors of remembrance. Unfortunately, remembrance
is the forgotten "R" in school safety planning. We talk about rigor and relationships
with admirable authority and adult sensibility. That dialogue is vital. However,
remembrance is missing. We should find that reflective mirror and remember what
we were like as middle schoolers. As adults, we wonder, "What were they
thinking?" Students' concepts of time, humor, nutrition, organization,
socialization, behavior, and safety can be puzzling. But our concepts were puzzling
at that age, too. How organized
were we? How adept were we at
socializing? How often did we make
goofy, or even risky, decisions? How
did we feel about safety in school?
That kind of self-reflection is not just a therapeutic act; it is
essential to school safety planning.
Step 2: Tubas can help us create safe schools. Before walking briskly
to our band rooms, we should think about what buoyed us in the tumultuous
waters of middle school. For me, it was my tuba. I moved a lot, always trying to fit in and find a home in school.
Band became that home. Each day began with a huge brass tuba perched on my blue
chair. I blew my heart through
that instrument--and made big, beautiful music. What does that have to do with
school safety? Everything. As adults, we often scratch our heads when students
disengage and wonder, "What's up with that kid?" But do we know why they're disconnected? Do we know their interests? Do we have activities for them? School safety planning is also about
deliberately creating "homes" in our schools; homes where kids can feel
connected, secure, and special.
Step 3: Notebook paper can help us create safe
Before raiding our school's supply closets, we should think about
notebook paper and how students use it. As a middle school student, I used
paper to take notes, write essays and stories, and doodle. Drawing cartoons and
writing silly captions in the margins of my papers gave me space to express
myself. But when Mrs. Meekins, my seventh grade teacher, drew back, I realized
I wasn't alone in the margins. Her cartoons and comments on my papers made me
happy to be at school. She created a relationship by responding to the voice in
the margins. What does that mean about school safety? We care about what
students write on the lines of their papers--and we should. However, when it
comes to school safety, we also need to see what's written outside the lines. When
students write in the margins, or post on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, even
scribble on the bathroom wall, they are trying to find a space to be heard. The
drawings, poems, and thoughts that end up in the margins can help us understand
our students, and create relationships that show students that we hear and care
about them. Therefore, school safety planning also means listening to all of
our students' voices and creating safe opportunities for them to express those
voices in our middle grades schools.
safety and climate planning is much more complicated than mirrors, tubas, and
notebook paper, those three student-centered steps can walk us in the right direction,
especially for our middle grades students.
More School Safety and Climate Resources:
The Effects of School-wide Positive
Behavior Support on Middle School Climate and Student Outcomes
Reduce Cyberbullying through Climate
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.