Among the many programs CFK runs, our Leadership Roundtables stand out as an important way to support our school leaders. They are collaborative forums for understanding schools’ needs and help create avenues to provide the necessary solutions. These in-person gatherings of principals and School Managers generally take place three times over the course of the school year.
Our most recent Leadership Roundtable deserves a loud shout-out of thanks to everyone who participated. It was an incredibly honest and inspirational session, and tangibly demonstrated the value of the work CFK does together with our partner schools. Remarkable for so many reasons, what stood out as each of these passionate school leaders shared their strategies and challenges was the deep respect they have for one another as educators and the exemplary way they consistently demonstrate that respect. The kids in our schools are in good hands with these amazing role models caring about their futures.
The evening kicked off with introductions, then Komal Sharma Patel of the Child HELP Partnership began our discussion by outlining services they provide to families, children, schools, and communities. Founded in 2001, CHP is nationally recognized as a leading source for evidence-based mental health treatment and prevention of childhood trauma. Their mission is to better protect and heal families from trauma and its emotional impact. Trauma affects children in so many ways that prevent them from being able to focus on education and instruction. Maintaining safe, trauma-sensitive spaces is critical for kids experiencing trauma.
The Partnership’s approach is to teach every level of the school community how to recognize and respond to behavioral, emotional, academic, and relationship impacts of trauma while maintaining safety. Workshops can be crafted to cover the prevalence of trauma disorder among children and adults; how it manifests in a school setting; how the symptoms may mask as ADHD; and what are the next steps/consequences and resources available to prevent trauma and create a safe environment at all levels.
The passionate discussion that followed demonstrated how deeply this topic resonates with our School Leadership, and their determination to create safe, welcoming, and nurturing school environments that inspire scholars and can help them through the sometimes scary and dangerous events that may create trauma in their lives. As the principals shared their questions and current approaches, it became obvious that Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is not a disconnect from academic emphasis. It operates hand-in-hand with understanding and
educating the whole child. SEL provides positive school environments to nurture
students’ physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. CFK can and should take a programmatic approach to empower principals and make meaningful matches in resources to improve SEL in our schools.
Next, we heard from Dawn DeCosta, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower Schools (TMALS), as she shared some of the SEL Best Practices in place (and working well!) at TMALS.
Using the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER approach, the school starts with a mission focused on cultural relevance, self-esteem, and social justice. The comprehensive set of best practices Dawn shared emphasize the imperative to take care of kids’ emotional and social needs so they feel safe enough to be able to focus on their academic work. The dozens of programs and strategies she shared got the entire room enthusiastically nodding their heads. Here are some highlights:
- Community Morning Meeting – the school starts every day with a daily breakfast program, including silent reading, poetry, a recitation of the School Creed, and a school-wide meditation session to allow the kids to decompress and focus on the day of learning ahead; these are led by Self-Awareness leaders – students who lead meditations and mood meter check-ins in classroom who also act as peer mediators. Here’s an example of a 4th-grader’s Self-Awareness Leader profile: “I want to be a Meditation Leader because I want to bring peace to earth. I want everyone to hear and feel my calm voice.”
- Class and Staff Charters – Charters are statements of how each group wants to feel and the necessary behaviors to ensure accountability, including how conflicts will be handled. Some example statements that are included in the Charters: We want to feel Respected, Trusted, Supported, Motivated, and Safe. In order to feel respected, we will greet each other, and treat others the way they want to be treated. In order to feel trusted, we will use discretion and express our feelings positively. Etc.”
- Family Charters extend the idea of behavior agreements and accountability. Practices learned in the school are shared with family members. Families are invited into the school in the evenings to learn the same self-awareness strategies their students are learning.
- Encouragement Bulletin Boards include:
- Take what you Need: A hallway bulletin board covered with envelopes containing affirmations that the students write. They can take one whenever they feel the need
- Give what You Can: another bulletin board covered with envelopes of suggestions for something every kid can do for someone else (i.e. write a poem for someone feeling bad, write an uplifting letter to a friend, etc.)
Over and over again, we heard testaments to this “culture of caring” approach and how it’s working in each of our schools. We also heard that RESPECT is paramount and consistency is key to success.
There was so much to share and we soon ran out of time. To continue this conversation, CFK plans to roll out a virtual CFK School Leadership Group in the coming weeks to facilitate these important conversations and establish a platform for ongoing dialog and collaboration. This platform will also serve as a repository for best practices, recommended resources, etc..
Our thanks to everyone involved in last week’s Roundtable. We’re looking forward to more inspiring Roundtables with this amazing group of dedicated School Leaders!.