Monday, February 27, 2017

Soul Force Research

Why My Problem Is Relevant

February 2017 Vandalism at Shawnee Mission East

If a picture speaks a thousand words, I think this picture totally nails why the problem of school climate after the election is important. While team rivalry and vandalism existed way before the election, graffiti such "Hilary Won LOL" and the swastikas refer to the backlash that's occurred since the election. There's no doubt that this election has fueled contempt.

What Questions Lingered

The questions that lingered after my pre-search were "How does school climate affect learning?" and "How can school climate be improved?". I felt my pre-search process revealed a clear picture of the rise in bullying, harassment, and assault in schools before, during, and after the election. I don't think just these problems are just going away on their own, so my research focused mostly on why school climate is important and how to improve it.

What Source Addressed My Lingering Questions

I found one source in particular helpful in addressing both of my lingering questions. "Seven Ways to Create a More Positive School Climate" by Peter DeWitt began by emphasizing how key school climate is by citing a study based on 15 years of research based in schools around the world linking positive school climate and academics. 

The article continues to provide suggestions on improving school climate, such as "focus[ing] on creativity more than compliance," be[ing] happy for others," "focus[ing] on accomplishments of students," and "listen[ing] to what others say, even the people you disagree with." I found all of these helpful--but vague. The most significant suggestion was to give a school climate survey and review results with teachers before taking actions based on what the data reveals. This is ultimately my goal for this project!

Why I Trust My Source

The author of my source, Peter DeWitt, is an Ed.D. and former K-5 teacher and principal who regularly contributes to Education Week, an online publication published by a non-profit organization. The particular article was published November 28, 2016, which was right after the election as teacher across the country were dealing with the fall out from the election. The article proved its reliability because it didn't show a bias towards or against Trump, but rather focused on the impact of the election on students. It also had several links to resources ranging from a National Public Radio article, to a study published by the Review of Educational Research, to the Department of Education. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Soul Force Launch!

This summer, I watched We Are Superman for the first time with a dozen other educators across the metro area who all shared my passion for teaching and writing. As we learned about the history of Kansas City together, my mind kept wandering: how could I use this documentary in my classroom to launch students into the kind of literacy-based problem solving shown in the film? Just a few months later, here I am in a cape--ready to introduce my students to the documentary and their new roles as superheroes. But wait . . . as inspiring as the activists in the documentary are, I knew that my students needed me to guide them along the way. And this isn't the time for me to pretend I know all of the answers.

Pick a Problem

Just like my students, I began my Soul Force project by picking a problem that bugs me: school climate. No, I don't mean how hot or cold the school is; I mean how "safe" the school is for students physically and emotionally. One of the reasons I picked this problem is that I have a very close connection with a student who didn't feel safe in school. The problem became so serious that this student ended up transferring schools. I also selected this as my problem because of the recent election, which sparked conflict across the nation.


In my pre-search, I focused on three questions--but the question that I found the most information on was "How has school climate changed since the election?". In order to find information about this question, I searched "school climate" or "school safety" and 2016 election. I found quite a few articles and blogs that seemed relevant, but the most valuable one was published by the Human Rights Campaign. This organization conducted online survey of 50,000 students aged 13-18 that focused specifically on how safe schools felt during and after the election. The most striking statistic was that 70% of respondents saw bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the 2016 election in school. I was equally shocked and saddened at this statistic.

Problem-Solving Predictions

My next step is additional research. Since I decided to focus on school climate here at ONW, I need to gather data about this school in particular. I can't think of any better way to do that than survey the student body. My hope is to survey at least two grade levels so that I will have enough responses to draw conclusions from the data.

After I manage to give the survey, I anticipate the most difficult thing will be coming up with realistic solutions to help improve school climate. In order to implement whatever "solutions" I come up with, I am going to need to rely on my collaboration skills. I know that nothing worthwhile is accomplished in isolation, so my ability to bring other teachers, administrators, and student groups into my solution will be helpful.