We have a great deal of talk about our environment in the news, especially when it involves a political race. Environmental talk is essential, but actions speak louder. However, the environmental discussion I think is vital for our future is our children’s daily exposure in homes and school settings.
“The environment has a significant impact on brain development because the prefrontal cortex takes an extended time to mature. The prefrontal cortex develops from birth through late adolescence. The extended period of development means that experience and environment shape the most vital part of our brains. For similar reasons, school and classroom environments can have immediate and long-term impact on the prefrontal cortex because students are exposed to educational settings for extended periods during their early development.”-The Poverty Problem, pg. 117, Horacio Sanchez
Students in poverty have homes full of stress as they react daily to change. Maybe they have no water, power, food, or clothing. Violence can be a stressor as well. Let’s consider the global pandemic and what this has done to the term “stable environment.” Do we have an environment we can say is “stable” for anyone? I am going to say no, but I am not an expert in the field. However, I have been a practicing educator at different levels for over 25 years, an avid reader and learner. My professional opinion is all of our children have experienced for more than a year now an unstable learning environment even with our best teachers doing all they can!
When our schools, businesses, and way of life are shut down, the reaction creates unstable conditions. We have a rise in depression, suicide, violence, and the list can continue. This makes it difficult to build back a “normal” “stable” environment.
Now is the time to begin to make sure every district, school, and classroom is ready to take on the challenge of establishing better environments to build strong relationships. As vaccines are being administered, guidelines for safety established, and protocols defined, we can provide new environments to support all children.
“The assumption that students from poverty won’t succeed at school because of their home lives is not supported by research. Teachers are in an opportune position to provide strong relationship support.” -Teaching with Poverty in Mind, pg 87, Eric Jensen. Relationship Building is our next step in SHARE for our school progress in addressing poverty.
Relationships in school are more than the teacher and student. To make a real impact in relationship building, we must look at all of the relationships that matter in your school. Our last step had us looking at “hard data.” Now is the time to look at your school climate and culture data.
What are the relationships between staff? An essential factor to a positive learning environment is to have a teaching environment reflective of the same. If you have not done so yet, now is a great time to survey staff to see how they feel about each other. I have activities to do to help when you have the results. (Having some difficulty with my website, but trying to resolve it. Could you message me?)
One of the other relationships meaningful to our schools is the parents or caregivers. How are these relationships with their children? Teachers? School? Some things you can control and some things you cannot, but you can control how you respond. One of the biggest mistakes you can ever make is to offend families by telling them how to parent. They are doing the best they can. That being said, there are ways to help provide, guide, improve and build strong family ties.
As a teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal, I have been blessed to build relationships with individuals and families who had no intention of getting to know me. It can be a challenge to break down the walls of fear, resistance, anger, and trust. I am here to tell you it can be done. Do not take things said or done personally. People will lash out when they have nothing else they can do, but in the end, when the wall comes down, you know it was worth it all.
I never thought I would be called on a winter day right before Christmas to our Public Housing complex. I had been there several different times and inside the homes to visit many of our families. Today was different. It was a final call.
I knocked on the door, and one of my girls answered. Her twin sister was just inside; there on the floor was a mattress with their mother laying a top. “Mrs. Yoho,” she grabbed my hand.
I sat on the floor next to her holding her hand: a minister, a lawyer, one of my teachers, and the girls. We had gathered so the mother could sign the paperwork to have the girls placed with my teacher. The mother was dying and was not expected to live much longer. She wanted to thank us for loving her girls and taking care of all of them. We prayed.
Review the environments in your building, classroom
Look at the hard data you have in regard to your climate and culture. Look at the relationships students have with peers.
Check out http://www.ascd.org/wholechildnetwork