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 ProblemJust 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.
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.