Building Connectedness and Giving Kids a Voice
Greater connectedness in a school prevents bullying and other mental health issues, and Sara Train (bio) offers some examples of how her school has built connectedness, including between different cultures.
There have been some really successful programs that schools have implemented. And a key part of that success is making sure that the young people have a voice, right?
So, for example, I can think of several schools who, without spending money on buying a program or buying a whole system for their school, created a list of activities every day for a week. And every day they had an activity that was a team builder that both helped teachers and young people, in an activity, feel more connected.
And the interesting thing about that is that bullying prevention is similar to prevention of negative mental health outcomes, including suicide, in that connectedness piece, when we help young people feel more connected to each other. And that is the strongest when it comes from them, from the youth, when their ideas are shared, when they feel that they are a part of that discussion.
So, for example, they had shaving cream in a pie tin and they had to figure out how many — I think it was coins — that were hidden at the bottom. And between teacher and student they had to work together. And even though we're not addressing particular identities in that experience, what you're building is a connectedness. And that allows for building a safer and more respectful community.
So a lot of those things can come from the school itself. We look at what are the strengths of a school? One school had a lot of diverse communities, so we planned an event where the students all came together and they all brought different foods from their cultural backgrounds and we shared food.
And then we discussed some differences in gender roles, between all of our different cultures. It was so fascinating because we had the Russian families, we had Armenian families, we had our Chinese families, we had the Latino families, we had our African American families, all sitting around in the same room talking about different gender roles and the history of that and where they came from. And there were differences there even between the groups.
And then we started talking about what it means to be transgender and how does that interact in this discussion? And without singling anybody out, without making this about an incident, we used a strength-based activity that brought people together. They could really appreciate each other, to have a conversation that for some of them might have been more threatening.
It was just fascinating that they felt that they were part of that discussion, and it was actually the young people from that group, from that school, that were there to host that event. And that's just one example of how you can use, really, the strengths of that community to build from, to make more respectful schools.
Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.