Do you like me? Yes or No…

Do you like me?  Yes or No…

School is not an easy place to be for some of our students.  In my role as principal I am fortunate to be part of the struggles that our most challenging students face day in and day out.  Yes, I said “fortunate.”  I feel honored and humbled to serve in, what I think, is the best job on the planet…being a school principal…and I feel honored to be able to help students fix and improve their world.  I also love that I get to connect with many students on a daily basis to celebrate their successes and to raise them up when they are feeling like they are lost, lonely or feeling like no one cares.

Students look to each other for validation, acceptance, affirmation, recognition and proof that they belong and have friends.  For many students, this is not a big deal, but for others, it is a painful experience; thinking that you have no friends can be a lonely and miserable feeling.

I had the experience recently of being in a classroom and assisting a student with a desk cleanout on a Friday afternoon.  You know the kind of cleanout; when papers are hanging out from every nook and cranny!  Well, this particular student was visibly frustrated with the process and was about to leave the classroom and I happened to be near the door and saw the frustration on her face very clearly.  I offered to help with the hope that she would be able to complete the task and leave school on a positive note.

As we sorted through papers, we talked about keeping, in folders, papers that are school work related, papers that are important and papers that are not important; in other words, papers that were destined for the recycling bin.  As we sorted, it was clear to see that artwork was important and we carefully put those pieces in her folder.  Work related items also had their place and as we sorted, chatted and organized, her frustration noticeably lessened.

There was, however, a growing paper pile that was an eye opener for me.  This stack was all handwritten notes.  Notes of many shapes and sizes.  Full sized notes, half sheet notes, torn notes and tattered remnants of crumpled notes.  Each of these notes contained the same scribbled question, “Do You Like Me?  Yes or No.”

Sadly there were:

Notes completed.

Notes left incomplete.

Notes addressed to classmates.

Notes that were anonymous.

 

We acknowledged each note with the question “Is this important to keep or do you wish to recycle?”

Changing School Culture

Reading the book “Culturize” by Jimmy Casas during the Winter Break brought me back to this moment and the notes the student and I uncovered together.  I have been wanting to write about this for a few weeks, but honestly, I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to admit that this situation felt like we failed this student.  In Jimmy’s book he speaks of ‘culturizing’ our schools and what that means.  He says:

We must take time to reflect on and be willing to be vigilant in examining our school cultures through the eyes of students and staff and ask,
“What role are we playing in culturizing our schools?” (Pg. 4)

This is an important question and we must look at what we are doing in our schools to support students whatever the situation may be and, if possible, see the situation through the eyes of that child.

Every Student.  Every Day.  Whatever It Takes. 

Period!

So what can we do to change the culture?  Laura Steinbrink @SteinbrinkLaura posted the following tweet which is an excellent example of how a student was able to change the culture in the classroom using humour!  Brilliant!

Just. Like. That.

Every Student. Every Day.  Whatever It Takes.

Period!

Changing the culture in a school can begin in our classrooms, hallways and on the playground.  It needs to begin with us, the adults, but it can also begin with students, too, as seen in the example above and in the example below.

To the girl that sits here at lunch…

Every Wednesday evening my husband and I travel to a high school for practice in a concert band in which we both play.  Walking the hallways and looking at the artwork, you get a sense of the culture of this particular high school.  It feels good walking through the hallways.

One evening as I was using the washroom before practice started, I visited my usual stall in the washroom.  I closed the door and read the following note written by a student.

Wow!  Powerful!  It broke my heart to see this, but at the same time it gave me hope in our children that they were making the world a place where others could feel like they belonged. Here was a note written to a girl from a group of, I presume, girls who were encouraging her to come and join them at lunch time instead of spending it in a washroom stall.  Just outside the bathroom was a large box, the earthquake box, where they obviously sat and made observations about their school culture each day.

Part of me wonders if she ever took them up on the offer…my heart hopes she did.  The note was scrubbed off the door a week or so later, but I have never forgotten how it made me feel.  I can only hope that it reached the person for whom it was intended!

We can all play a part in developing a positive culture in our schools by “being intentional about our mindsets and attitudes.” (Jimmy Casas, Culturize, 2017)  The student who wrote this note was doing just that.  They were being intentional about their mindset and attitude to include someone who was feeling excluded, for whatever reason.

Being a Culture Builder

I choose to be a culture builder and choose to be intentional about how I approach each day and the role I play in our school with our staff and students.  With this being said I want to be able to tell the rest of the story about the desk clean out, but I cannot.  I cannot because it is not finished.  There is work to do and to be done. As we head back to school on January 8th, it is my intention to help change the culture for our students in a positive way.  Creating a culture where everyone feels like they belong and where students need not have to ask: Do you like me? Yes or No…

Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.

Period.