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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

10 Years of No Name-Calling, One Week at a Time...

By Peter DeWitt — January 08, 2014 3 min read
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School climate is suffering under the weight of some pretty heavy burdens these days. If you’re an educator you understand that, depending on the state where you reside, there are countless unfunded mandates, increased accountability, Student-Learning Objectives (SLOs), teacher and administrator evaluation, budget cuts, the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and a strong possibility that you are being asked to teach some scripted lessons. If the latter doesn’t describe your situation, you’re fortunate.

At a state-required training for the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) last summer, a teacher raised her hand and asked the trainer, “How many lessons do I have to teach to meet the DASA mandate?” DASA requires schools to teach,

An awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people, including but not limited to, different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, gender identity, and sexes. The Dignity Act further amended Section 2801 of the Education Law by requiring Boards of Education to include language addressing The Dignity Act in their codes of conduct."

Sitting next to my assistant superintendent, we both shook our heads feeling a little bit sad that the question was asked.

DASA is one of the most important mandates to come from the New York State Education Department (not all mandates are bad). Unfortunately, DASA came at a time when schools were dealing with budgets cuts, which meant less school social workers and teachers, and working hard to meet the other mandates and increased accountability. As important as DASA was to some of us, it was lost in the shuffle to others.

All of those changes...all of the accountability and implementation of the CCSS provoked people to begin asking what would happen to social-emotional learning. Would teachers, school leaders and staff be able to do it all? While some schools rallied, other schools suffered when it came to social-emotional learning.

And then, like the reminder that we need to make a New Year’s Resolution to do a better job personally and professionally, GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week appears on our school calendars.

No Name Calling Week

January 20th - 24th of this year has been designated as No Name Calling Week (NNCW) by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). It’s the tenth anniversary of No Name Calling Week, and we have all seen many changes in the past ten years. NNCW is designed to work within schools to address issues of name-calling and bullying of all kinds.

(Banner used with permission from GLSEN)

Schools are working with a greater population of out LGBT students. Depending on whether a school climate is hostile, resistant, passive or inclusive, those numbers will increase because students feel more secure or less secure coming out in those climates.

No Name Calling Week is a way to reflect on the amount of bias and discrimination that happens inside and outside of schools. And this isn’t just an LGBT issue. Although GLSEN is the creator and sponsor of No Name Calling Week, we understand that name calling knows no bounds and can be based on race, gender, size, religion as well as sexual orientation or gender expression. Participating in No Name Calling Week provides students, teachers, staff and parents with the opportunity to delve into how they can make a respectful and inclusive school climate a priority, and not relegate it to a number of lessons to meet a mandate.

Teaching Kindness Isn’t Hard

What is often most difficult about initiatives like No Name Calling Week is finding resources, which means finding the personnel to do the work. This is the beauty of what GLSEN has done over the 10 years since establishing No Name-Calling Week. By clicking here, you will find resources that are both developmentally appropriate and geared toward the elementary, middle and high school level.

Robert McGarry, Senior Director of Education and Youth Programs at GLSEN suggests that the schools that are most effective in implementing No Name-Calling Week are those that begin their planning by taking a close look at the climate of their building.

As educators, the perception we have of our school is influenced by our role within the school. Educators need to challenge themselves to understand the way that their classrooms and schools are experienced by students. Quite often there is a gap between the way we think students experience the climate and their actual day to day, lived experience. No Name-Calling Week comes at a perfect time in the school year to examine a school's climate, identify any challenges students face and implement a plan to make changes."

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.