When students engage in protests, civil disobedience, or any other form of activism, it’s important for school leaders to listen to their concerns and to support their right to protest, says educational ethicist Meira Levinson.
- Educators can support students' right to protest without taking a stand on those views themselves. Defending students' right to voice their views can help foster civic participation and bolster a strong climate.
- Educators should encourage conversations about difficult or controversial issues, and should do so regularly throughout the year.
To help educators explore the dynamics of student protest — and prepare to confront the inevitable complexities in their own communities — Levinson and a team of researchers with the Justice in Schools project created a case study about a large student walkout in the Portland (Oregon) Public Schools.
For more directed activism, students and educators should consider these 10 Questions for Digital Change Makers, which helps students become effective advocates within online communities, while being safe and managing potential downsides. Civic educators can also download an accompanying teaching guide. Both resources are from Danielle Allen and the Youth Participatory Politics Research Network.
And educators can use Be the Change, a unit from Teaching Tolerance, to stir civic engagement in their students. It guides students to investigate a community problem, research and propose a solution, and develop an action plan.
Approaches to Creating a Welcoming School Climate
In the wake of this tragedy, educators are thinking with renewed energy about how they can ensure that their schools are welcoming, and that students feel a sense of belonging. That feeling of belonging is key to academic growth (as an underlying driver of motivation), but it’s also essential in creating a protective environment that rejects bullying, where extreme violent acts are not thinkable, and where troubled students are identified.
To start or recommit to this climate work, one strategy is to “convene a team of stakeholders who represent different parts of your school community — families, community members, teachers, support staff, and youth,” says Brion-Meisels. “This team can begin by articulating a vision for what a positive climate will look like at their school, whether (and which) young people are feeling safe, and why or why not they are feeling this way.”
- Three steps to counter bullying or change a culture of bullying.
- Our One and All series has articles and videos on how to end a culture of bullying and build a culture of support.
- A webinar from the American School Counselor Association offers various real-world ways that educators can create a welcoming climate.