September 28, 2017

Why school climate and culture matters

Kelly Moran sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher

Corbin McGhee (CMc): Kelly, why does the topic of school climate and culture matter to you?

Kelly Moran (KM): School climate and culture matter because many of our students come to school having faced trauma or having dealt with struggles in their personal lives, impacting how they their learning  and how they present themselves in the classroom. Students are expected to continue to work on academics and follow through with the procedures of a classroom, despite dealing with challenges that many adults cannot fathom. Their emotional struggles frequently collide with the pressure to meet expectations and can result in conflicts and lack of productivity. Our students need to be nurtured and provided with tools to cope with their challenges. It is important students not only grow academically, but also feel supported and grow as people and members of the community. I believe that academics and social and emotional learning cannot happen separately from one another; these two concepts must coexist. Teachers need the resources to provide the best atmosphere for our students.

CMc: The recently released paper “Sounding the Alarm” discusses a lot of the things you’re bringing up. What led you to participate in this campaign?

KM: I had been teaching in a school that offered very little to students in terms of developing their social and emotional competencies. Many of my students experienced trauma in their lives--they lost loved ones to gun violence, lacked adequate food, moved from one living situation to another, and much more. While they faced these struggles at home, they were asked to come to school and work on rigorous math and reading assignments without having an outlet to express themselves. Teachers were expected to diligently monitor behavior and were not able to take time to build connections in the classroom. These personal struggles quickly began to manifest themselves as problems in the classroom. Students would have outbursts in class or get into fights with one another that started from small incidents. It became a challenge to be an effective teacher. When these students were suspended there was little effort to discover the root cause of their issues or to provide them with coping mechanisms to deal with their stress. I wanted to provide my students with tools to cope with their difficulties, but I didn’t know what tools to provide. I tried developing my own plans to cultivate a more peaceful space, but my endeavors often led nowhere. I asked my administration for help, and while the administration had the best intentions, academics came first and time was not to be “wasted” working on these struggles. I felt lost and overwhelmed, and most of all, I felt that I was not doing my best for my students.

During all of this, E4E made a visit to my school, and I had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with my outreach director. He shared that E4E-Chicago’s latest campaign was a policy paper focusing on school culture and climate, and I knew I wanted to be a part of this important work. I immediately signed up to join the planning committee for the paper launch party.

CMc: What were the advocacy team events like? What impact did they have?

KM: What I love about the advocacy team meetings is that they are purposeful, efficient, and productive. In two hours, we get so much done! We met at the E4E office and enjoyed a meal together, allowing us to form bonds and feel appreciated. Each meeting had a clear focus and agenda, so that we worked together with a goal in mind. At our first meeting, we defined our purpose and developed our understanding of our campaign. We then worked to narrow down the recommendations from the “Sound the Alarm” policy paper to focus our advocacy. We planned our summit to help educate teachers about the paper and our campaign. These meetings gave our advocacy a clear plan and helped us to fully understand our work.

CMc: What was the Leadership Summit and what was the overall impact?

KM: The Leadership Summit brought together educators from across the city. We worked on developing leadership skills so that teachers could better engage colleagues to become active in this work. We shared information about making a mobilizing ask to bring colleagues on board with our efforts. We discussed the qualities of an effective team, and we worked with our outreach directors to begin planning our next steps for advocacy. We planned to bring together teacher leaders from our neighborhoods to form School Community Teams to bring school culture and climate to the forefront and allow teachers to express their ideas in upcoming forums. The Summit propelled teachers to take action in their own schools. It is so wonderful to get together with educators from across Chicago who may have faced similar struggles, or who have had positive experiences that they can share. It’s invigorating to know that other teachers really care about school culture and climate and are willing to contribute their valuable time to this effort.

CMc: So, moving forward from here, how do you hope to participate as the campaign progresses?

KM: I would like to engage more teachers to take part in this work. I just started at a new school, so I have lots of new friends to make and engage. I want to take part in our upcoming forums and learn how to become a stronger teacher leader. I would love to hear from and share with stakeholders as well. I am excited to see where the campaign goes and I am so happy to be a part of this crucial work.

 

Kelly Moran

Kelly Moran is a sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher in Chicago’s Gresham neighborhood.