Home Education Without performances and grades, school communities began to fall apart

Without performances and grades, school communities began to fall apart

Without performances and grades, school communities began to fall apart

The first person where Chalkbeat shows the personal essays of educators, students, parents and other people who think and write about public education.

Listening to parents with complaints has long been part of my school administrator job, but the first half of this school year was something else. Everyone seemed insane.

My child’s teacher is nagging at her.

My daughter is being bullied on social networks, and the school needs to stop it.

The dismissal plan violates my son’s rights.

Shot on the head of a woman with gray hair, glasses, a blue top and a colorful scarf.

Over the years of working as a teacher, I expected such complaints. Children have always had great feelings about being teased or in trouble, and many parents turn to the school for help. In a typical school year, we have one or two parents of our more than 1,000 students who are so annoyed that they talk to me, the principal, or complain directly to the school district.

But during the first half of this school year, I found that I handled complaints almost weekly, and more often than not parents had not yet spoken to a teacher or principal before escalating concerns. It was still a tiny percentage of our parents, but for me the shift was significant.

The changes, I think, are related to how families have experienced school over the past few years. This is because schools are built on relationships. When we are disconnected, it is harder for us to trust and deal with problems. Due to COVID restrictions we were in small Zoom boxes or waving to parents through car windows when fired for more than two years. Until recently, we canceled all our personal activities. Some parents were not even in the school building, where they left their young 5-year-olds every day.

When we lost touch, our school became every school – the faceless bureaucracy is complained about on social media and news. We were no longer the people who took care of your child. We were no longer the people you talk to about sports, weather, and traffic when you’re standing at school preparing or waiting for a musical performance to begin.

Some parents were not even in the school building, where they left their young 5-year-olds every day.

In the first year, when many of us found ourselves at home, we were able to maintain some similarity of ties, but since then, and especially this year, ties have broken down.

All of us adults are struggling now. For two years we worried about getting infected with a new and potentially deadly virus. Schools were closed and we were all sent home, something that has never happened in our lives. If you are stressed and live in a state of fear, your brain fills your body with hormones designed to prepare for combat or escape. It raises your blood pressure and sends energy to the muscles. It prepares you for action. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to respond with appropriate levels of emotion. Everything still feels like an emergency. Perhaps this is also why we are seeing more fury across the country – on the road, in the workplace, on planes, in restaurantsand in schools among children and parents.

We are a school that informs about injuries, which means that our staff have been trained on how to support children who have suffered injuries. We know that calmness, consistency and clarity help children when they have a violation of regulation. Now we know from brain science what if children experience trauma, they find it harder to respond properly to stress. A slight disagreement with a friend or not getting the marker color they want causes their “hit or run” reaction. They can’t help it. But we can help them learn to calm their bodies with deep breaths. We can help them use their words to express what they feel. We can reinforce expectations of behavior and teach them what they should do instead. We know that building caring relationships with our students also helps.

From the end of March we were able to start bringing our parents back to our building. We started small with a few excursions for enrolled families who had never been inside, and our multilingual students who performed “Stone Soup” and other fables for members of their families. This month we are bringing back meetings, personal parent conferences and the Spring Festival.

Communities are created through such small rituals, and our community begins to recover. Since the spring break I have had no complaints from parents in the area. The following year, one of our schools had a new principal who was passionate about community activities. She is happy to invite families to performances, refreshments, breakfasts in kindergarten and PTA meetings. School activities help connect us, parents with teachers, and parents with each other. When we come out of a period of prolonged trauma, we all need a village.

Who knew so much depended on school tea?

Christine Ferris is the executive director of the Highline Academy charter schools in Denver. She founded and ran Our Community School, a K-8 charter school in Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013. Ferris has been a consultant at several charter schools in Denver, Los Angeles and across the country.

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