Teachers' Lounge: Essays on Anti-Bias Education in Practice, January 2017For Educators
By Rachel Lefton Pierce
If you ask any student in our building what kind of school we are, you will get the same answer. "We are a No Place for Hate® School." This one simple statement speaks to our expectations for our students. From the moment a student walks through our doors, we help lay the foundation for how we will treat each other: with respect and the understanding that we are all members of this extraordinary family. As a school counselor, No Place for Hate® has given me an umbrella for the many roles that I play, from individual counseling to whole classroom lessons.
One hat I wear includes seeing students individually work through problems they have in class or with a peer. For example, one day I received a call from a heartbroken teacher asking me to meet with one of her second grade students; this student told a classmate they couldn't be friends because he is Black. I spent time listening to the student explain what he meant by this and how he felt about this comment. As he was talking, I understood that there was more to his comment than his own opinion; some of this came from his family’s perspective.
Although my immediate goal was to teach him the importance of respecting differences and that it is okay to build relationships with others from diverse backgrounds, he also taught me, reinforcing the value of building rapport, developing trust, and giving time, and therefore we were able to grow and better understand each other.
An Approach to Communicating Cultural Differences and Respect
Throughout the year, I continued to meet with this student to help educate him on diversity, different cultures, and appropriate ways to show respect while disagreeing, and I spent time with him teaching me about his own culture. We read books, drew pictures, role played and most importantly, spent time together. Although my immediate goal was to teach him the importance of respecting differences and that it is okay to build relationships with others from diverse backgrounds, he also taught me, reinforcing the value of building rapport, developing trust, and giving time, and therefore we were able to grow and better understand each other.
An Activity on Identifying and Building Respect
Being a PreK-8 school, the support role I play naturally varies from grade to grade. With a group of seventh graders, I helped guide them through a self-discovery activity to identify what respect means and looks like to them. I first instructed the students to brainstorm independently and list as many characteristics of respect as they could think of. By having private reflection time, students felt more comfortable to participate and list their own thoughts. Understanding that this activity was about respect, students showed their bravery in participating fully, knowing that there were no wrong answers. Within moments of opening up the class discussion, the board was filled with traits of respect.
Impact of the Activity
After this class discussion, I divided the students into small groups, and asked them to pick the top six characteristics that they felt demonstrated respect at school and order them from least to greatest importance. Students immediately started discussing and advocating for the traits that they thought were most important. They discovered that some of the characteristics were interconnected and helped to build the foundation for other traits. Once the six traits were debated and chosen, small groups were given six cups and asked to write one trait on each of the cups. From there, the groups were instructed to build a pyramid, showing the inter-relationship of their traits of respect. To do this, students were given a rubber band with five strings of yarn tied around it and told to build the pyramid using only the tools provided and without communicating verbally. This activity required that the students used patience, non-verbal communication, cooperation and teamwork. Once successful, each group presented their results, the characteristics they chose, the order of importance for them, and the overall importance of the respect traits to them as students as well as to our collective school community. From one common experience and a safe place for discussion, middle school students were able to define respect and reflect on how to create a respectful learning environment.
From individual counseling to classroom lessons, No Place for Hate impacts every student at my school. I have seen the power of how these words and the focus on respect helps to teach students how to show more respect to all members of the school community by changing their words and actions. But most importantly, I get to see students from all backgrounds be 100% themselves, knowing that they will be respected by all.
Rachel Lefton Pierce is a School Counselor at Murphy Creek P-8 in Aurora, Colorado.