A Middle School
Based on Love
by Jane Califf
It is 2011 and Joe Glick is the principal of Skyline Middle School (SMS) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is a lucky administrator. After teaching high school biology for many years and serving as an assistant principal for six years, his school district gave him the opportunity to create a new middle school from scratch: choosing his staff and involving them in the creation of the school’s mission statement and core values. He did not want the administrators to create these. The critical point, he says, is to have teachers feel validated and empowered because out of this, effective teaching can grow.
The people he picked to work in his school had to agree to the following:
“Our fundamental premise is that in order to unlock children’s cognitive domain, you must address and unlock the affective domain. In other words, how do we love each child and meet the emotional needs of each child so he or she can be academically successful?”
To create his school’s mission statement and core values, which would guide their decision-making and actions, he asked his staff, “How do you want people to perceive you? What do you want the community to say about our school? Imagine you are in a supermarket, a park or at a soccer game, what would you like to hear people say about Skyline Middle School?”
Here is what they decided upon:
Skyline Middle School is a community that exists to serve the individual academic, emotional, social, artistic and physical needs of our students. We commit to creating and maintaining a safe, respectful, and caring environment where students are supported as they develop responsibility and character. We strive to attain high academic achievement and improve the skills of our students in an environment where teaching and learning are engaging and dynamic. [From school website]
The school’s core values are summed up with these words: student-focused, professional, accountable, supportive, community-building, compassionate, integrity-centered and respectful. [Listed in the teachers’ handbook]
In 2011, three years after creating this statement, Joe Glick said, “We have constantly reevaluated it, asking ourselves as we change, grow and mature, are these still the things that are most important? We have tweaked them somewhat, but they basically have remained the same.”
He adds, “I often tell my staff about the ‘power of five.’ Whenever we do something that is recognizable, good or bad, the one person who notices it tells 5 people. Then if it is important, those 5 people tell 5 others. Then those 25 people are going to tell 5 more, and with those 125 people our reputation changes or is solidified. The idea of the power of 5 is to remind people of the importance of being genuinely consistent in carrying out our mission statement and core values.”
Achieving all these goals would not ordinarily seem possible given SMS’s demographics:
72% poverty level: children receiving free and reduced breakfast and lunch
10 – 12% special education
42% English Language Learners (ELL) with children from over 50 countries speaking over 30 different languages. This is the highest percentage of ELL students in any middle school in Virginia.
A “Newcomer Program” serving all of Harrisonburg. All middle school children ( 6th to 8th grades) who are brand new to the U.S. and don’t speak English come to his school. There have been as many as 34 children at one time divided between two teachers where they receive their language instruction through self-contained content classes, and when advanced enough, attend elective classes with their English-speaking peers. These students transition to the general education population within 6 months to 2 years. 1/
Despite all of these challenges, his students do exceptionally well on standardized tests, even when compared to schools with middle and upper class students. Mr. Glick claims that his students’ academic success is due to “the deliberate love and concern we have for our kids, which they respond to.”
Creating the Learning Environment
So how do the administration and staff of SMS create “a learning environment that is positive, challenging, enthusiastic and caring?” [From Joe Glick’s message to parents, students and staff on the school’s website, Jan. 2011]
It starts at the beginning of the school day. Mr. Glick stands outside the main entrance and greets all 500 students as they pass single file in front of him. He knows every child by name and shows that he is genuinely glad to see them. “Caroline, Juan, what’s up?” He shakes their hands, smiles, laughs, knows students’ nicknames, gives them high 5s, puts a hand on their shoulder or gives them side hugs. He says hello and waves at parents who drop off their kids.
He also greets the teachers as they come in the same door. All of this takes about 25 minutes starting at 7:20 a.m. when the first bus arrives. The teachers greet students, too, as they appear at their classroom door with “Good Morning” and “How are you?”
Mr. Glick says, “Kids coming into Skyline Middle School do not enter through a cold door and by themselves. There is zero anonymity in being a student at our school.
“Many wake up in the morning and get themselves ready for school because their parents go to work early or work a night shift - a high percentage in the local chicken processing plants. A huge number don’t eat breakfast: they leave their home to catch the school bus and arrive at school having had no contact since waking up with an adult who cares about them.
“So they need to know that this school is safe, caring and real, not phony. We are not pretending to welcome them. This is a basic feeling coming from our hearts. We have to love our kids unconditionally as we would our own children; that’s what I expect from my staff.”
This positive start to the school day has resulted in some students asking to stand next to Mr. Glick and to hold the door open for children and teachers as they enter. “I model the behaviors we want our staff and students to have. They see us being consistently positive, and it’s catching.
“We teach them to say, ‘Good morning’ and the name of the person. It is wonderful to hear students say, ‘Good morning, Ms. Ramsey. How are you today?’ and as a result, teachers are entering the school smiling, and they’re laughing because what a cool place where you have the kids greeting the teachers!”
However, what about the advice new and veteran teachers have gotten in teacher training courses and the media that they should not touch students for fear of being charged with child molestation? To this, Mr. Glick responds, “I believe it’s not right to touch people you don’t have a relationship with, just like you wouldn’t touch someone on a bus that you didn’t know.
“You must create a trusting relationship before you can touch anyone. I am not talking of intimacy here. I tell my staff it’s not professional to give a full frontal hug to a 10 or 14 year old child, but an arm on the shoulder or a side hug is appropriate touching, and teachers should not be afraid of it. This is one way to help show children they are cared for.”
Discipline at Skyline Middle School
“Heifetz and Linsky, authorities in leadership, say that conflict can be an engine of creativity and innovation, so let’s overcome our fear of conflict in the classroom. Instead of looking at classroom non-compliance as synonymous with conflict, we can try to look at the source. Before we stress to the child ‘You have to understand where I’m coming from,’ I want teachers to take a step back and find an opportunity to understand the student: ‘Why did you do that? What were you thinking? Help me understand where you’re coming from. Why are you angry and refuse to work?’ instead of my saying ‘You need to work. I’ve told you four times.’
“In Skyline Middle School, we aim to hold ourselves to high standards of behavior 100% of the time for whatever we expect our kids to do. Consequently, you don’t yell at the kids; it’s not professional. That tears away at the individual; it pushes them away from you when you need to be bringing them closer to you. When you yell at them, you are modeling that it is O.K. to yell. Is that the behavior we want students to have in the classroom and in school?” If a staff member slips up, there is no excuse such as ‘I was frustrated’ because this does not make it right.
“When this happens, and it will because teaching (and parenting) can be difficult and frustrating, the challenge then becomes what to do now that we yelled? How do I go about building the relationship so this doesn’t happen again? At our school we are constantly looking to see what we can do better.
“The school atmosphere that we strive for is not warm, fuzzy ‘cum-by yah’ all the time. We discipline, we are stern, and we have high expectations, but we talk to our students in very real ways. We don’t hold any grudges. When we suspend a kid, we spend time with him discussing what happened; we tell him that we look forward to his return. Then when he comes back, we are excited to see him and say, ‘What’s done is done; let’s be positive; let’s do the right thing now.’
“The modeling I set up for disciplining children in our school I found out later is called ‘restorative justice’ or ‘restorative discipline.’ In working with children who are getting in trouble, what you want to do is first to give the child a sense that ‘It’s not about you and what you did and what your consequences are. This is about how you impacted the teacher and the learning environment, so before I deal with you because you called someone a faggot and pushed him down, I want you to wait; I’m going to check on Bobby and make sure he is O.K. because no one should be told he is a faggot and pushed down.’
“’But you know what? We’re going to deal with you, and we’re going to work this out, but now is not the time.’
“Or in another scenario where a child blurts out to the teacher that he doesn’t have to do something or listen to her, I say to him: “I’m going to check and see that the teacher is O.K., because what you did impacts her ability to do her job, and that’s what I am concerned about right now. You’re going to be O.K. You’re safe. If you want a drink of water, I’ll give you one, but now I’ve got to make sure the teacher is alright and the class is focused and doing the things that need to be done.’
“So restorative justice and restorative discipline is going beyond the incident, the infraction and looking at this from the standpoint of what impact it had on the overall system and the victim, and it’s putting our heart and our mind where it really needs to be first. After, we are going to ask the child, ‘Why did you do this? What could you have done differently?’
“When disciplining a child, I have to look at diagnostics and attendance to see what I can get from his or her academic history and behavior to find out what could have been the antecedent that brought about this sort of behavior. Then it becomes a learning opportunity for me and the family to sit and figure out what we are going to do so this child will not to do it again.
“There is an expression I use for students who are really pushing back hard, when they are really anti-school: ‘There is nothing you can do or say that’s going to make me stop loving you. I just want you to know that. You can push back all you want, but it’s not going to change the way I feel about you.’
“When you have an administration that is modeling this, and the parents see this, they say, ‘Thank you for your time; we’re so sorry; thank you for everything that you doing.’ It’s truly an amazing thing.
“We need to use the schools to model how to treat each other and how to laugh respectfully, not laugh at other people but at ourselves.
“This philosophy and our actions have reduced our discipline rates and bullying. If you want to implement an anti-bullying policy in your school, you start with your administrators and your teachers. We don’t have a canned, pre-packaged curriculum we’re going to talk about – and I don’t have anything against schools that have such programs – but they are only going to be effective if they are first embraced and modeled by teachers, administrators and staff. I model the behavior I expect from the adults in my school, and we have sit-down meetings as necessary.”
Building Relationships with Parents
“I’ve had to teach teachers how to create relationships with parents and their families. It’s a fear that many teachers have; they don’t feel comfortable talking with a parent about an issue in the classroom and will do everything to avoid this. Some teachers would prefer to do it by email; others will go as far as to tell a student, ‘Have your parent call me,’ knowing that for a kid who is in trouble, there’s no way he will pass this message onto his parents.
“What I do is work with teachers and say, ‘We have to contact parents early in the year to begin to build a relationship starting with something positive such as, ‘I just wanted to call and tell you how proud I was of your son today; he finished all of his work’ or ‘he got all of his homework in, and I want to thank you for your support.’
“When my teachers have any concerns about a student, such as early signs of misbehavior, they need to contact the parent. The rationale that I use is: ‘If you knew that there was a group of teachers talking about your child’s behavior, would you want to know, or would you rather all of these teachers continue to talk about your child and no one contacts you?’ And every single teacher will always say, ‘If my child does something, I want to know about it.’
“I explain to my staff, ‘If we are treating these kids as our own, we have an obligation to contact parents, and this is how you do it: You call them up (hopefully, you have already talked with them about something positive) and say, “Mrs. Frank, this is Mr. Glick. I am Brian’s biology teacher. I need your help,” and what you find when you ask for their help, you are creating a bridge; you are opening up for any suggestions because the answer you will get almost 100% of the time is, ‘What can I do?’ or ‘What happened?’ You describe the problem, listen to their comments and then offer yours. This helps create a sense of community, a sense of family, an impression that this teacher really does care.
“When we have a child whom we believe is being abused and who won’t admit to it,
by law we must report this to the authorities. Three or four times a year, parents complain that social workers came to their home, and I tell them, “We must report, but we don’t judge.” To help heal the relationship, I might say, “I know you want what is best for your child; that’s why you are here.”
“I have two elementary schools that feed into mine. I have many poor families; so many of my kids have single parents, are in foster care or homeless or one or both parents are in jail or have experienced multiple moves. So this year when I had an orientation for the rising 5th graders, I began by saying, ‘Hi, I’m Mr. Glick, the principal of Skyline Middle School. If you have a cell phone, please take it out.’ I know they are expecting me to say “Please turn your cell phone off,” or something arrogant or pompous, but I say, ‘This is my personal cell phone number; please put this into your own phone.’ The response I get is amazing. Parents say, ‘Thank you so much! I never heard of a principal giving out his phone number’ and I tell them, ‘I don’t only want you to have this; I want you to use it if there is something that’s happening on the weekend, or the night before, or if you are having a crisis that you are afraid will affect your child in class, give me a heads up and call me so that I can check on your child to make sure his or her needs are being met.’ [Surprisingly, he has gotten few calls.]
“I would love it if my teachers would do the same, and I have some who do, but I don’t require it.” 2/
Mr. Glick describes how he and his staff conduct parent conferences: “It’s amazing how many times we sit down with parents. (We even do home visits with parents who do not come to school.) We have long meetings with them because we want to give them the opportunity to help us problem-solve and to learn from their perspective.
“When parents come in because of a discipline issue with their child, I never begin by talking about the behavior. I talk about grades, diagnostic tests and attendance because all of these things thread together, and what I am there to do is to teach and to learn what I can from the parents.
“The conferences are usually wonderful. After we discuss the child’s behavior, I say something like this: ‘I think it is terrible that John is on a three-day suspension, but we will welcome him when he returns; we’ve got to get beyond this and not let this thing become something he identifies as being who he is; that it is a mistake he made, he’ll do the consequences, and let’s not make this mistake again.’
“Teachers and guidance counselors are expected to take the same approach because it gets back to the idea that we treat people as if they are family.
“What blows me away is that at the end of the meeting, parents thank us 99.9% of the time and say, ‘We’re sorry this happened,’ and they are 100% on board. All of this is how we build relationships with parents and their kids.”
Dealing with a Community Crisis: a Model for Other Administrators
Harrisonburg has a population of 50,000 and every high density, low income housing project feeds into Mr. Glick’s school. These areas have gangs, drugs and crime. Children who live in these projects grow up seeing violence, and often their parents do not want them going outside to play. Mr. Glick believes that it is the school’s responsibility to be aware of what is happening and responding appropriately.
He describes how he and his vice principal responded to a murder in the poorest housing development in the fall of 2010:
“The shooting happened at 9:30 p.m. on a school night when a 24 year old pregnant woman was shot multiple times in the parking lot of a 30 unit complex. The next morning I heard about it on the radio as I was going to work. When I got to school, I called my resource officer to find out if it was the parent of one of my kids. It was actually the sister of a former student of mine, but knowing it was a warm Sept. evening, more than likely some of my kids might have been outside and witnessed it. I came to find out it was true – two of my former 8th grade students who had recently graduated had been standing in the parking lot; they were even detained and questioned by the police.
“That morning my assistant principal, Luke Hartman, and I ran a list of all of our students who live in the development. We went to each kid’s class to make sure they were O.K. – not to question them because I figured they would be questioned by the police. We asked, ‘Did you get any sleep last night? Is there anything we can do?’ because that would help us talk to teachers and say, ‘I just want you to know that Jasmine couldn’t sleep last night because of a shooting that happened.’
“After checking on all the kids, we went to each of their apartments in that community to check on the parents to make sure that they were O.K. We spent half a day just sitting in the living rooms listening and talking about the story and seeing what we could do about it. Just talking with them gave them a sense that their children were being genuinely taken care of at our school.
“I don’t think there’s a script that says you need to do this in certain situations, but you have to do the right thing that’s compassionate and understanding and treat these people like they’re your family. You do what you would do if they were your brother, sister, son or daughter. Here we had two administrators in suits – a white guy (me) and a biracial guy, Luke Hartman, who looked like detectives, but we were going in as an expression of love and concern.”
Mr. Glick’s Philosophy of Instruction
“I expect my teachers’ roles to change: less talk, more facilitating the learning process. I go into a classroom and what do I often see – the teacher talking and students listening. Listening is the least effective way of learning. I talk to my staff about brain science and how 20 minutes is pretty much tops when it comes to concentration level and for many students it is even less.
“Instead of telling the students what they have to know, listen to them and find out how they came up with the answer. Teachers need to be active in having the kids in motion – discussing, using their language, teaching one another. That’s where true learning is going to be taking place.
“We have about 130 kids per grade, and teachers at each level have a common planning time where, for example, English teachers or social studies teachers can meet together.
“One day a week, the guidance counselor and I meet with each grade level for an hour discussing student issues, helping to resolve problems, looking at data on how students are doing and discussing best instructional practices.
“Every Monday morning, I put in my teachers’ mailboxes something I call a “Monday Morning Musing.” It is a paragraph or two that is a reflection of thoughts I’ve had that may be instructional: it might be based on something I’ve read; it might be a way I can encourage teachers to change or think about something differently or lay the foundation for something I want to do in the future.
“I write ideas down when they hit me so that when I do write a Musing, I can refer to my notes.”
Mr. Glick then listed some topics he will be writing about in the future:
“Where a student is at any given moment is the product of his most recent or most positive experience. I am thinking about taking this idea and expanding it to the importance of using these experiences as the foundation of instruction.
Much of what teachers do is talk in class, and I want them to think about how much of this is a control issue. It’s not good instructional practice to be telling students what they need to learn, but it does teach compliance - sitting there and shutting up and not being distracting.
We don’t pay attention to things that are boring; the mind doesn’t work in such a way, so let’s make instruction exciting.
The book by Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, has made me think about the invisible student who says to him or herself, ‘It’s not that I cannot be seen, it’s because teachers refuse to see me because of the way I act, the way I look, what I believe or how I behave or have behaved.’ What does it mean to a student who has learned to cope with not being seen?
What kind of school would we have if everyone taught just like you? Would we be welcoming? Would we be yelling at students? Would we be well-planned? Would we be negative or positive?
Mr. Glick says he is thinking about occasionally writing a Monday Morning Musing for students or even parents – something thoughtful, reflective and inspiring that he would give to everyone.
“I expect my classroom teachers to be leaders, so we do a lot of reading and discussion on instructional and school-wide leadership. For example, we discuss pedagogical practices that would benefit our specific student population; teachers are involved in the decision-making process relative to scheduling and our communication structure.”
Interactive supervision is the term Mr. Glick uses to explain how his teachers supervise students. It is another method of strengthening teacher/student relationships and a supportive school community. Here is how he explains it:
“Whenever we are in our building and around students, we are teaching. We teach by our words and actions. I told my staff that supervising should be similar to hosting a party in your home. You don’t stand by passively, you work the crowd. You say things like, ‘Can I get you something?’ ‘Are you doing O.K.?’ You make your expectations clear, such as no smoking in your home.
“So when you are on lunch duty (2 teachers to about 150 kids), you cannot stand by with your arms folded across your chest, scanning the room to see if you have to put out a fire. You must walk up and down the rows, sit in empty seats and talk with children.
“The administration models this by being in the lunchroom most days. As we walk around the lunchroom, we notice children that need extra attention like the lonely kid who’s ostracized; we sit down, spend some time with him to find out what’s going on. With such children and others, we talk about what their interests are, including school, boys, girls, music and video games.
“Another thing my assistant principal, some teachers and I do as we walk around is to notice who is finished eating. We may stop by a student and say, ‘May I take your tray and throw away your trash for you?’ The kid says ‘Sure’ and I say, ‘What do you say?’ ‘Thank you, Mr. Glick.’
“What’s interesting is when kids call ‘Mr. Glick!’ and hand me their tray, I tell them ‘It’s not my job; I’m here to help. I’ll help you this time’ or something like that. I can find a really nice way to say ‘No, I can’t do it;’ but when kids don’t ask or don’t want us to ask, we are throwing their trash away for them. We encourage, not demand, that teachers do the same.
“This interactive supervision is not rocket science,” explains Mr. Glick, “but it is critically important because it is relationship-building; we are getting closer to knowing who our kids are. What we have found is our kids now know all of our staff, and they learn how to interact with adults because we are teaching them how by the way we are interacting with them.
‘Now we are seeing kids mimicking our behavior, saying ‘Good morning’ and ‘Thank you,’ and helping other kids with their trays. It’s all about learning to serve, to be kind and responsible, to show you care about or love somebody. The administration and teachers are modeling all these things in any areas of the school where we are supervising.
Standardized Testing at SMS
Mr. Glick is critical of the testing craze that has overtaken teaching and learning: “I think it is a destructive thing that is going on in public education now. I saw the No Child Left Behind Act for what it was when it first came out – a policy to push vouchers and to show that public education is a failing entity, which it is not. Here it is 2011, and in a year or two, we are going to end up having many schools and school districts failing.
“I believe in growth models and that there need to be assessment tools to measure how you are doing, but I don’t believe that a passing score on the Standards of Learning end-of-year test necessarily reflects the success of the child. I measure their success not only in reading and math but the way they care about their education and the effort they are willing to put in. Our students see their teachers working hard for them, and they want to satisfy the teachers.
“At Skyline Middle School we do look at diagnostic and longitudinal data to find out the growth of these kids over time. We do individualized reading assessments to find out their reading levels; we’re meeting and talking about individual kids constantly; we’re bringing the parents into these conversations - speaking very openly about successes and concerns of the child. We work really, really hard, but when you have an 8th grade student reading on a third grade level, that is a problem.
“For example, I had two eighth graders, Oscar and George, one who had tested 3.5 and the other 3.6, mostly due to needing to learn more Englich. They were taking the eighth grade reading assessment at the end of the year. Both boys believed they could pass this test. They were not told by the teacher that they were not likely to pass. Instead they were told, ‘I believe in you; do your best.’
They were taught test-taking strategies…
“George and Oscar both took 3 ½ hours to finish this test; [In Virginia students are given unlimited time to take tests.] they went over it 3 times: they went back to the beginning, closed their book, took a 5 minute break, opened it up and did it again going over the same answers. They both missed passing by 3 questions. My responsibility and my job is to find a way that these children and this teacher don’t judge success by the questions that were missed. This is a sad story, but it is not a failure. Here are two students who had been anti-school, who had not had the support at home or within their community but did have the support of the school, teachers who believed in them and who had high expectations that they were going to do well. To keep these boys from feeling like failures, we continued to celebrate their progress, just stressing to them our excitement on the improvement that they had made.
“They did not have to repeat eighth grade; we don’t base retention solely on this end of year test. Due to this experience and similar ones, I changed the scheduling so that students who do not pass the math and language arts tests get 47 minutes a day of additional instruction. To make this possible, I re-did the master schedule; students who did not need remediation received additional elective opportunities.”
Mr. Glick explains his school’s approach to preparing students for testing: “We teach hard. We ask ourselves if everyone is using best practices for assessment and for planning. We are critical of what we do instructionally with our very diverse population; we have very high expectations – our students are going to be the best, and we are going to give them the best possible instruction.
“Because of our students’ situations, we need more time to teach them test-taking skills because they need more support for them to pass. However, this instruction needs to be very purposeful and structured to learn as much as possible. I have high expectations for my teachers making very logical and well thought-out decisions. I give them the autonomy to supplement their curriculum with what they feel is in the best interest of the child.”
Outreach to Local University
Mr. Glick noticed that there were few students of color graduating from the one local college and the two universities. He also noticed that these institutions were only reaching out to high school students. Although reaching out at this level is critical, he believes it is imperative to begin encouraging students in middle school to think about higher education. To this end, he pursued a relationship with James Madison University (JMU), located in Harrisonburg, asking for some of its Black and Latino students to come to SMS to interact with his middle school students and to serve as role models. He stressed that JMU has a moral responsibility to reach out to his students and to get connected into the middle school community. “I want my students to say, ‘Here is a college student who looks like me, who came from the same background, and he is studying engineering? How did he do that?’”
As a result of Mr. Glick’s efforts, a Professor in Residence now comes regularly to his school who helps with grant-writing, and who brings three pre-service education students with him once a week who observe in classrooms and interact with the students. They voluntarily get to the school at 7:30 a.m., dressed professionally, and stand outside the building with Mr. Glick greeting children as they enter the building. He says, “These university students are so amazed to be at a school where each child is greeted personally each morning.”
Skyline Middle School Nonviolence through Literacy Collection
Created in partnership with
The Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence at James Madison University
In partnership with The Mahatma Ghandi Center for Global Nonviolence, then led by Dr. Sushil Mittal, Joe Glick had the idea of purchasing books that both promote nonviolence and encourage literacy. Students from the Gandhi Center could then partner with Skyline students to read the books and discuss them. Students are interested in real world issues, and many Skyline students have a global perspective but lack background knowledge.
The Ghandi Center offered startup funds; Joe Glick mobilized his network of family and friends to add to this amount. He hoped that setting aside a section of the SMS library for materials related to non-violence and peace would reinforce his school’s efforts to create a safe and supportive school environment as well as to teach alternatives to violence when out in the community. It is believed to be the only middle school collection of its kind in the country.
The librarian, Sandy Parks, identified materials to purchase and organized the collection. Mrs. Parks and Diane Secord, the literacy coordinator, volunteered to be sponsors of the new Be the Change Club for the school year 2010 – 2011. JMU students from Gandhi Center volunteered to be mentors and to participate in running reading and discussion groups.
Forty – fifty SMS students from varied socio-economic, racial and ethnic groups come biweekly to the club. Picture books are often used because they can both introduce a situation and be read in a short period of time. The Peace Collection has a large number of exemplary picture books for this purpose. Ms. Parks reports that reading stories aloud to students has led to “many powerful experiences.” The book discussions have enabled students to learn about other cultures, and to connect a book’s narrative not only to their own lives but also to news of the day. An example she provides is reading “Nazreen’s Secret School” by Jeannette Winter:
“This book is about a girl whose parents were lost to the Taliban; she stopped speaking; her grandmother smuggled her into a secret school since Taliban did not permit education for girls. I first shared this on a Friday with a group, but over the weekend Osama bin Laden was killed and because of the Afghanistan connection and the interest of the kids as we discussed this book, I continued to share it until I had shared it with most of the school. It was a good vehicle for discussing what the kids heard in the news and exposing them to some of the issues, and we had great discussions.
“In one 5th grade class, a boy came up to me and began describing his school in Iraq. I remember this child struggling for a word and then made a motion of a knife across his chest. I said “slashed?” and he showed me where he had indeed been slashed. Schools in his area were very unsafe. He then went on to tell me of a time coming home into his courtyard when there were dead bodies. He made a face and said, ‘You know, dead bodies smell bad.’ The only thing I could say was ‘I am so glad you are here and safe.’ Something about that story empowered him to share his experiences.”
Book discussions have included questions such as “What would you have done in such a situation?” The first year they met after school with both small group and large group discussions, but too many conflicting afternoon events interfered with all interested students being able to attend regularly. They then tried meeting during lunch the next year, but there still was not enough time. As of fall 2012, efforts were still being made to resolve this problem.
As a result of the Be the Change Club, the principal has seen children preventing fights and bullying: “They are modeling the collective behaviors that they see in our school including the idea of non-violence. For example, a student named Harley has stopped fights at the bus stop. One day I heard him say to a bully, ‘In our school we build people up; we don’t tear people down.’ This is a theme students have heard me say and which is stressed in the Be the Change Club and throughout the school.”
The Guidance Counselor’s Positive Outreach
To encourage students to show gratitude and appreciation for one another, teachers and staff, the guidance counselor put a box in his office for positive comments from students, and Mr. Glick chooses a few statements, signed or unsigned, to read over the loud speaker in the morning, i.e., “___________ is the best math teacher in the whole world” or “Thank you, Mr. Glick, for welcoming us in the morning.” Mr. Glick always ends his morning announcements with “Work your hardest and be kind to everyone,” which he describes as “a mantra – a way of life that we have.”
General Outreach to the Community
At Skyline Middle School, great effort is put into bringing community members into the school to build relationships and to assist in the education of the children. Mr. Glick states that “we have a moral responsibility to make our community better. It’s to our advantage to have a more educated and more compassionate generation of children coming from schools. I see former students of mine, business people, politicians, lawyers, friends, college students and I say ‘You need to come to SMS,’ and they ask, ‘Why?’ and I say, ‘It’s your community. You can inspire a child; you never know when a child is ready to be inspired. Be that person who reaches out and says, ‘I can tell just by talking to you that you would make a great nurse,’ and it’s those thoughts that are planted that come from someone outside the school that oftentimes have the greatest impact on our kids. If you are a person of color, you need to be coming into our school; if you’re not a person of color, you need to be coming into our school.
“Anyone in the presence of a child is a teacher: we are teaching them how to talk to one another, how to make eye contact, how to have a sense of pride, but we have to be authentic and genuine because kids can sniff out in a heartbeat if someone does not truly care about them.
“Quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing people complain about the next generation of kids. Tell me what you’ve been doing to be a part of their development.”
1/ Teachers of ELL students at Skyline M.S. use the SIOP Model (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol). The English language is taught through science, social studies, math, and language arts, i.e., the curriculum in each subject is modified to emphasize language acquisition. The two classes have students of mixed ages and abilities who are divided according to language skills:
Newcomer Class A has students who are brand new to the U.S.
Newcomer Class B has more advanced students, and as their skills improve, the goal is to help them transition out for one or two classes at a time. For example, a student who is good in science would go to the regular science class each day.
Teachers in this program need to be especially compassionate in order to be advocates for students and their families, many of whom have fled wars and economic deprivation and need assistance in learning to survive in our society and in understanding the culture.
All teachers, administrators and guidance counselors must take a SIOP college class during their first 3 years of instruction in the Harrisonburg Public Schools. A detailed description of this instructional system can be found by an Internet search for “SIOP Model.”
2/ Mr. Glick describes his phone number policy when he was a classroom teacher: “When I was teaching biology, I not only gave out my phone number to parents but to my students, too. I required each student to contact me once in the year on something that they didn’t understand. (The curriculum was challenging, and there were things that confused them.) They either had to call me, come into my office during my planning time - before or after school - and ask for help. This was a life skill I was teaching them – the importance of asking for help when you need it. It could not be a fake or phony question such as ‘I am asking because you said I had to.’ It had to be something they did not understand. Then I gave them a quiz grade, 20 points out of 20.”
Note: Information in this essay about Skyline Middle School came from 3 face-to-face interviews with Joe Glick and email correspondence with Sandy Parks, the librarian.