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    Building a Community of Support Around the Whole Child
    Posted on 11/28/2018
    David Lewis stand in front of a classroom of teachers during a training

    Seattle Public Schools Staff Build a Community of Support Around the Whole Child

    More than 30 staff from the district’s elementary, middle, and high schools gathered at Meany Middle School in November to further their learning of restorative and trauma-informed practices when connecting with students and families. The purpose is for the staff to go back to their schools and build school-wide positive support and intervention structures addressing the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of each individual student.

    David Lewis from the Seattle Public Schools Behavioral Team and Pat Sanders, executive director of coordinated school health have been leading a series of professional development training for all staff centered on improving school climate and culture. The training at Meany is one of many gatherings that are scheduled to continue throughout the 2018-19 school year.

    By emphasizing restorative practices, all 103 schools across the district aim to build healthy communities by deepening their understanding of students, and as a result, build positive relationships with students and families.

    Starting with Students’ Strengths

    “It starts by focusing on a student’s strengths,” said Lewis. He mentioned that sometimes adults are quick to ask punitive questions of a child, before trying to get a better understanding of their story.

    For example, a student shows up late to class and the implicit bias one may hold could impair the adult from understanding an open-ended question or welcoming them into school spaces.

    “Ask open-ended questions,” said Lewis to the gathering of educators. “We jump to conclusions, but once we begin asking, we find out that the kid is locked in a situation that can’t be helped, they’re homeless, or something may have happened to their parents. We don’t know unless we ask.”

    In providing all students with a high-quality education, the district implements the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), a key part of the district's Formula for Success that integrates both the academic and social-emotional-behavioral expectations of learning. The emphasis is on support, rather than interventions – with restorative practices being one of the strategies. By building healthy relationships with students in the classroom daily, a positive school community is established.

    In a closing activity, the staff were grouped into teams to discuss realistic scenarios that one could come across when working in schools. The exercise prompted the team to practice a strength-based approach with students. This approach asks adults to attend to the student’s and family’s strengths.

    One of the scenarios was a middle-school boy acting out in math class. He shows up to school daily and has a supportive mother, but there are recorded instances of him going to the nurse’s office for frequent headaches. Lewis asked the groups, “First, focus on the strengths. What can we recognize are his strengths?”

    Vallerie Fisher, family support worker at Martin Luther King Elementary School pointed out that the student’s mom was supportive, and he was showing up to school daily. She added that she wanted to know more about his health, his family life, and his housing situation.

    The questions Fisher is asking are meant to understand a child comprehensively and as an individual – their story, strength, and needs are prioritized. Fisher is one of many Seattle Public Schools staff engaging in transformative work to building bridges of connection with students and their families.

    Seattle Public Schools is committed to recognizing and cultivating the diversity of every student, and professional development will continue throughout the year to support educators in this endeavor.