Columbine High School – A Community Defined by Unity

I’m pretty lucky.

I get to spend a large amount of my time hanging out in schools where people care really deeply about building inclusive environments where everyone feels safe.  Just this week I got to spend a day learning from some committed educators at the high school I graduated from, educators who are going above and beyond to serve traditionally marginalized students.

Most of the time when I’m working with a school, though, there is a laundry list of problems laid out by students, staff, parents, and administrators: cyberbullying, teachers feeling bullied by administration, students feeling bullied by teachers, students treating other students like crap, students feeling like no one cares for them in the building, etc.

Even if it’s a minority of voices, I can always find people to talk about the trials, the challenges, and the difficult stuff that the community is facing.

Thus, when I was asked to work with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, I was pretty sure what I would encounter.  What I wasn’t sure about was how Columbine’s history would impact how inclusive it is today.  I had all sorts of preconceived notions about the community based in the media frenzy surrounding the community since the shootings there in 1999, but what would the community actually be like?

No matter what my expectations may have been, what I found was not at all what I expected…

Columbine is proof that when people dedicate themselves to inclusion and building safe educational environments, individuals can have a powerful impact.

In the case of Columbine, this spirit of inclusion grew out of tragedy, but it doesn’t have to be that way for your community.  Need tools for building an inclusive school culture and climate?  Look no further than CivilSchools.

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Educators: Investing in Student Achievement Means Investing in School Climate

While I was setting up for a recent bullying prevention presentation at a high school, a counselor expressed disappointment and frustration at some teachers’ reactions to having me come speak to their students.

“They don’t understand why we were spending time on an assembly and training like yours when we need to be focusing on achievement.”  It’s sadly a common refrain that I hear from teachers around the country.

And I get it!  Teachers are under tremendous pressure to improve test scores that measure very specific aspects of the student educational experience.  More and more, teachers livelihoods are one the line as districts tie teacher pay and teacher advancement to student achievement, a practice that is dubious in its research support to say the least.

But this is the environment in which teachers must practice their craft.  People are constantly looking over their shoulders, and teachers are under an incredible amount of pressure to ensure growth in their students’ “achievement,” as measured by districts, state tests, and federal measures.

Thus, I completely understand the laser-like focus on achievement data.

The good news is, though, that some of the lowest-hanging fruit in helping students learn and perform better in school is often the stuff that gets treated as “fluff” or “extraneous.”

Maslow’s On Our Side

In the most simple of psychology, we know that our basic needs must be met before we can care about more complex problems.  As it relates to education, how can a kid focus on the intricacies of balancing equations or diagraming sentences if they are worried for their safety or consumed by their feelings of loneliness within a community that’s supposed to accept and include them?

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before students can focus on self actualization and esteem, two of the needs of Maslow’s hierarchy that are met through a rigorous and rewarding education, students have to feel safe and like they belong.

Simply put, one of the best ways to improve student achievement is to start by making sure all students feel safe and fully supported in their school environment.

Now, when it comes to their classroom environment, most teachers do a pretty good job of meeting this basic need.  They make sure that no taunting or teasing takes place during class, and they work hard to support all of their students.  However, school culture and climate extends far beyond the reach of one single classroom.

The Costs of Feeling Unsafe

That’s precisely why we need school-wide efforts to prevent bullying and to build inclusive school culture.

Approximately 30% of students are targeted for bullying behaviors, leading to them feeling unsafe and marginalized within the very community where they ought to feel safest.  Further, research from Penn State indicates that those young people who witness bullying are also unlikely to feel safe in their school environment, and the impacts can even last throughout the rest of their lives.

Thus, at minimum, 30% of our students aren’t having their basic needs of safety met because they’re being targeted for bullying, and when we consider the students who are adversely impacted by simply witnessing bullying, we know that a strong majority of our young people are carrying the weight of fear into school.

Read the rest at CivilSchools.

From a Consultant: Why Your Business Doesn’t Need a Consultant

I originally wrote this essay as part of a GRE practice test, and as I completed it, I couldn’t help but think of the corporate clients I’ve worked with who could benefit from its sentiment.  In some ways, it departs from my usual content on here, as I rarely write about the business world, even while I am occasionally consulting within it.

In the end, though, the lessons here are ones for people in any industry or field: bring on board a tremendously diverse workforce, empower them, listen to them, and you will be the most successful entity in your field.

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From a Consultant: Why Your Business Doesn’t Need a Consultant

There’s an old business adage that says, “If you want someone to state the obvious, hire a consultant.”  Yet business consulting and organizational development is a billion-dollar industry in the United States.  Often, though, these consultants are hired before the organization even looks to the brilliance of its own team for solutions.  In the knowledge-based economy, businesses that rely on outdated, top-down structures of leadership are being left behind.

Businesses that maximize the power of the team through effective feedback mechanisms while encouraging and fostering creativity in their team are far less likely to need a consultant to help them grow and prosper.

Listen to Your Employees

Listen to Your EmployeesFor the vast majority of consultants, the consulting process begins with a period of data gathering.  This data can range from expenses and profit margins to personnel files, but more often than not, it draws upon the experiences and voices of every member of the organization to diagnose any problems that may exist and to help the business create a plan forward.  In short, consultants are hired to tell businesses what they should already know.

Through interviews with employees, surveys with clients, and an analysis of the leadership structure, effective consultants can determine with little effort whether a business is exploiting the collective brilliance of all of its team and easily offer plans for doing so more adeptly.

Notably, then, businesses that have a structure for listening to team members and for fostering creativity in employees are those least likely to benefit from the services of a consultant.

This is because those that need consultants to tell them how to proceed are far more likely to be operating from outdated business models based on top-down leadership structure where creativity is seen as primarily driven from those “appointed” as leaders within the organization.  The problem, though, is that this business model was designed in the time of a different economy.  The strictly labor-based economy dictated that “creative” employees designed products that the “labor” would simply execute and build.

To Succeed in the Knowledge-Based Economy, Empower the Creative Brilliance of Everyone

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Being an UPstander to Bullying: First Responders

Ending Bullying Requires Addressing the Root Causes of Bullying Behavior.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working hard with a fantastic team to prepare for our pilot launch of A Culture of Civility, a comprehensive bullying prevention program for 6-12 schools.  I’ve long been passionate about finding more innovative and high-impact ways to address bullying in schools for two main reasons.

First, I was bullied heavily in late elementary school and middle school, so I know first hand the short-term and long-term effects bullying can have on young people.  Second, as a diversity and inclusion consultant, I’ve seen too many times with the way that bullying prevention approaches (whether formal or informal) treat bullying as if it is some sort of general problem requiring general solutions.

Quite to the contrary, bullying is a specific problem of student diversity that varies drastically from school to school.  In some schools, students might be more likely to be targeted for their race or their sexual orientation.  In other schools, students might be more likely to be targeted for their ability or disability.  Still in other schools, students might be targeted for their weight or body image or family income.

The point here is that there cannot be a “one size fits all” approach to bullying.  It does not and cannot exist!  Schools need to design school-specific interventions to their school-specific manifestations of bullying that bring the entire community on board.

Interested in Full Access to the Culture of Civility Program?

A Culture of Civility LogoPilot the program in your school in the 2013-2014 school year!  We’re still looking for 3-4 middle schools or high schools to pilot the program in the coming year.

Interested in piloting the program, simply fill out this survey, and we’ll be in touch.

“But what can one person do?” The Story of Audrey

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Highlighting a Hero – Graeme Taylor

I’ve had an amazing week!  On Monday, I was in Othello, WA, speaking to the student body of Othello High School, and on Tuesday, I was able to speak to the students of Warden High School in Warden, WA.  I was facilitating my signature workshop, The Wall, and, as I always am when I get to work with incredible young people, I left Washington feeling inspired.  Thus, I plan to write a blog post in the next few days about the inspiration I draw from incredible young people like the ones I worked with in the last few days, but I have been swamped since getting home, so in the mean time, I am going to post a quick little something highlighting a mind-blowingly-awesome young person I’ve read about this week.

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Oft the Afterthought: Diversity and Inclusion in Schools

In the past week, I have been fortunate to be in touch with many different people in the world of education from a wide variety of schools.  I am excited to be a part of the conversations in the Colorado Independent Schools Inclusivity Network, a collection of educations from independent schools who are committed to making their schools more inclusive communities.  I spent a lot of time in Seattle, visiting folks at a number of public and private high schools and having conversations with those at the University of Washington about their diversity initiatives.  I have been discussing ways that I can be a part of making schools more inclusive in Washington State, Colorado, and Illinois.

All of these conversations have really got me thinking about the place that diversity has in schools today.  Having taught in and been involved with schools for a number of years, it is clear to me and I am sure anyone who is even peripherally related to schools that DATA is the central focus of most conversations.  How can we help students meet our Adequate Yearly Progress goals?  Now, I am one of those in the world of education that think a focus on data can actually be great because it forces schools to ensure that all students are learning.  Does it always turn out to be positive?  No.  Are many kids over-tested?  Yes (my students in Chicago took over 20 standardized tests per year)!  Does that mean we shouldn’t focus on data to ensure that our students are learning?  Not at all.

A serious concern I have, though, is that in the push for data, schools are often ignoring incredibly important conversations.  In their thirst for data, schools are adding extra reading classes or math classes and cutting the arts.  Further, in the intense focus on student achievement through data collection, many schools are losing focus of how they can serve their students holistically.  It is simple common sense that students who feel safe and welcome in their school environment are going to perform better and learn more!  Yet so often in my professional conversations, I feel like I am working to convince educators or acquaintances that schools should care as much about building inclusive and justice-seeking school environments as they do about data-driven instruction.

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