A welcoming and inclusive environment can reduce stress and hostility in our schools.
Two recent articles in the Boston Globe, “An About-Face, Brigham and Women’s to Dismantle Gallery of Past White Male Leaders” in the hospital’s amphitheater, and a column entitled “Fixing the Name Game” referring to the fact that of 125 Boston Public Schools, only 10 are named for women and efforts to change that, highlight how important it is for people to be able to recognize themselves regardless of gender, race, ethnicity in our public institutions. In an era where we see increasing violence toward people of color, increases in hate incidents in our schools, and immigrant students living in fear of family separation and deportation, it is more important than ever that we, as educators, create safe and welcoming spaces where students are engaged, included, and able to learn. In my post, Hatred Not Tolerated, We Accept all, I echo the sentiments expressed in the two Boston Globe articles of having students see themselves in the visuals of an institution and hope it will provide some ideas for you to incorporate in your schools as you plan for the upcoming school year.
I’d been planning to write an article on “Creating Welcoming and Inclusive Schools”, in light of the marked increase in hate incidents in schools and increased stress, particularly among schools with majority students of color (UCLA study May 2017 Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools) I then found myself unexpectedly at Natick High School, as a last-minute judge for a Massachusetts speech competition and from the moment I entered, I could feel this was a comfortable and accepting place.
You may wonder how I could pick up on this on a day when school was not in session with no principal or other staff to greet me. Visuals can create a strong impact, and directly above the main entrance hangs a large rainbow flag with word “PEACE” on it.
That was my first clue. As I made my way through the school, I noticed the hallways were all named after famous figures. Head down Mahatma Gandhi Way and take a left on Maya Angelou Terrace. In addition to giving clues as to what subjects were taught in that area – John Philip Sousa Avenue was naturally the music section – the variety of ethnicities, races and genders of the names let students know that all are acknowledged and worthy.
When I looked at what was hanging on the walls, I heard the voices of students. Lots of handmade signs and artwork, post-its with students’ ideas and gratitudes, not just computer-generated posters by school staff. A great deal of the artwork was racially diverse in a school that falls below the state average for minority enrollment.
Teachers made their own efforts to ensure all students felt safe and comfortable. Just about every door had an LGBTQ safe space” sticker, along with other visuals such as the “Hatred Not Tolerated, We Accept All Poster” pictured here.
Bulletin boards also told a story of diversity, with posters for Chinese Club, Gay Straight Alliance, and an International Women’s Day Poster urging females to “Be Bold”. Upcoming events included benefit concerts for girls’ education and international causes; clearly showing the school puts its money where its mouth is.
I was also struck by the sparkling cleanliness of the building. Having spent many hours in grimy, litter-strewn urban schools, a clean building makes me feel that they care about those who enter. The architectural design, particularly with the full view of the library from all levels, gives the impression of openness to ideas.
Inside the classrooms, students’ voices continued to speak, with many “off-beat” and humorous drawings and posters, which also communicated that all ideas were worthy and not just ones that conformed to society’s norms. And believe me, after spending almost ten hours there judging, the humorous artwork definitely helped my mood.
So, what are some ways you think schools can create a welcoming and inclusive environment? Have you noticed increases in stress or hostile environment in your school?