5:32 p.m. PST November 22, 2016
At least two local school districts have encouraged their staff to facilitate open and supportive conversations with students while reacting to the new President-elect.
These messages came after a handful of protests and rallies occurred across the country — including in Portland, Woodburn and Silverton — many of which have been led by, or have included, students.
Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry and North Santiam Superintendent Andy Gardner sent emails to all district staff recently.
Perry’s email came after a monthly Professional Action Council for Education (PACE) meeting.
Those in attendance came to the conclusion that students may need “a safe space to process their thoughts and feelings” regarding the presidential election results.
Jay Remy, a spokesman for the district, said district officials are unaware of any similar email concerning any past presidents.
Remy said he didn’t believe the PACE meeting reaction was in response to any one incident, “so much as the feeling that some of our students are fearful or worried based on things they have heard about the election.”
So far, the response to the email within the district has been positive and appreciative, he said.
“We are all about teaching and learning,” Remy said. “In order to learn, all of our students need to feel safe, welcome and included … We hope this information will help staff and reinforce what they are already doing to help every student succeed.”
The recommendations are intended for staff at all levels K-12, but he said each recommendation might take a different significance depending on the age of the students in the classroom.
The letter encourages staff to have classroom discussions regarding the election and to assess the classroom culture and climate, among other things.
The Salem-Keizer letter reads:
Dear Staff –
It has been a week of reflection and thought as I watched the discourse across the nation, fielded the diverse viewpoints in our community, and watched as each and every educator in Salem Keizer School District stepped up each day to meet our students at the door just as they came to us. Our students entered our schools also with diverse views and fears of their own. Their fears included worries about what this election outcome would mean for them and their families.
Tuesday we had our monthly PACE meeting which is a joint labor management group made of up members and leaders from Salem Keizer Education Association (SKEA), Association of Salem Keizer Education Support Professional (ASK ESP) Salem Association of School Administrators (SASA) and Executive Administration. We started our day with a frank and honest conversation about the challenges educators and students face as our nation elected a new president. As a group we put ourselves out there to discuss and process our raw feelings about the potential change for our students and our responsibility to be prepared to respond.
What we concluded as a group was that our students may need a safe space to process their thoughts and feelings. For some this will simply come in a classroom discussion while others may seek individual conversation and support from any one of our talented educators across our district. What we also determined is that some staff members may need guidance and permission for facilitating these courageous conversations in their classrooms.
Some thoughts and resources:
- Having thoughtful classroom discussions regarding the election is absolutely permissible. In fact, we encourage taking the time for the discussion in your classrooms.
- Teachers need to assess your classroom culture and climate. If you haven’t set and established ground rules for these type of discussion this needs to come first.
- Statements from students that would not normally be offensive and hostile towards other students may now be offensive in light of the election.
- Educators must remain neutral as they lead discussions. It’s hard, but you can do it. You are the best support to your students when you are encouraging them to have their own opinions.
- If you haven’t started this discussion and you don’t feel like your students need it right now, don’t force the conversation. You’ll know when and if they need it. As we transition to a new president I believe there will be many teachable moments.
- Respect the diverse viewpoints of your students. Allow a safe place for them to share their fears. We have many students fearful of deportation or the deportation of their parents. This is a real fear. Parents will also share this same fear as they come to conferences.
- Be vigilant about bullying and harassment of our students. Sometimes students may unintentionally harm other students. Slow down and pay attention to the impact and provide a teachable moment as you continue to build community and trust.
- Ask for help if you aren’t sure how to respond. If you aren’t sure where to go, check in with your principal and they will seek resources on your behalf.
I’ve attached a resource from Teaching Tolerance. This website has many great resources. While this resource provides guidance on discussions of race and racism, it provides sentence frames and classroom norms that can be used in any classroom discussions. I’ve asked Linda Myers our Equity Coordinator to provide additional resources in a post on SharePoint.
Thanks for all you do in creating an inclusive culture for our students in our schools. I have been incredibly proud of our school district this week. Take time to listen to parents next week as you have a few minutes with them in your parent teacher conferences. Your ability to listen and hear their struggles may be the most important thing you do.
On behalf of PACE,
This is an excerpt of the North Santiam write-up:
The results of the recent election have created new realities for public schools, both at the Federal level and here in the State of Oregon. My intention in writing this is to make all employees aware of the potential impacts and challenges that we currently face, but perhaps even more importantly to give all district employees a general overview of how we will begin to approach these challenges as we move forward…
… It is critically important that we continue to do this in the wake of the recent election … There are many children in our schools whose families may feel significant vulnerability at this time. These realities underscore the important role of public schools. Democracy functions on tolerance and civil liberties, and students learn these inside our walls. I trust that each of you will continue to work diligently, as you have done in the past, to provide a safe learning environment that is accepting and free from intolerance.