School Climate & Safety Opinion

School Safety and Climate: Mirrors, Tubas, and Notebook Paper

By Learning First Alliance — January 22, 2013 3 min read
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Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education

As I read M.
Kristiina Montero’s article “Literary
Artistic Spaces Engage Middle Grades Teachers and Students in Critical-Multicultural
” (Middle School Journal,
November 2012, pp. 30-38), I thought about student voices and how critical they
are to school safety and climate. Our journey to better school safety involves
tentative steps and uncertain landscapes. We have safety plans, crisis teams,
and protocol notebooks--and thank goodness we do. Maybe our next steps to improve school safety and climate
should include other items on this new path; items that connect to the middle
grades student.

Step 3: Notebook paper can help us create safe

Before raiding our school’s supply closets, we should think about
notebook paper and how students use it. As a middle school student, I used
paper to take notes, write essays and stories, and doodle. Drawing cartoons and
writing silly captions in the margins of my papers gave me space to express
myself. But when Mrs. Meekins, my seventh grade teacher, drew back, I realized
I wasn’t alone in the margins. Her cartoons and comments on my papers made me
happy to be at school. She created a relationship by responding to the voice in
the margins. What does that mean about school safety? We care about what
students write on the lines of their papers--and we should. However, when it
comes to school safety, we also need to see what’s written outside the lines. When
students write in the margins, or post on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, even
scribble on the bathroom wall, they are trying to find a space to be heard. The
drawings, poems, and thoughts that end up in the margins can help us understand
our students, and create relationships that show students that we hear and care
about them. Therefore, school safety planning also means listening to all of
our students’ voices and creating safe opportunities for them to express those
voices in our middle grades schools.

While school
safety and climate planning is much more complicated than mirrors, tubas, and
notebook paper, those three student-centered steps can walk us in the right direction,
especially for our middle grades students.


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Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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