Friday, July 5, 2013

Safe Haven

Safe havens - this is what every school needs to be for children! When children feel safe, they feel confident; and when children feel confident, they feel good; and when children feel good, their brains release endorphins; and when the brain releases endorphins our children are primed for learning! 

Regardless of what curriculum, standards, resources or materials we use in our schools if our children don't feel safe, valued, respected and appreciated, they will have a very difficult time availing themselves to learning. Our children need to know that the educators in school will support them; push them to learn and grow; be fair; advocate for their needs; motivate them when they cannot motivate themselves; be just; help them develop all aspects of themselves; be consistent; and, in the end, love (or at least like) and respect them. This is what our children need; this is what our children want; this is what our children deserve!

While doing reading for my graduate courses (a LOT of reading) the same issues impacting public education keep presenting themselves - inequities due to class, the long lasting and cyclical negative impacts of poverty on the education of our children, the fact that our neediest students generally have some of our least effective educators "teaching" them, etc. - and although it seems we have been struggling with these issues for decades (look at the many failed attempts our federal government has made to "fix" the education problem) there is no silver bullet to correct the many problems. There is no curriculum that can be implemented in every school that will definitely make things better. There is no teacher education program that all aspiring educators could attend to mitigate these issues. There is no book we can all read to suddenly rectify all the problems plaguing some of our schools in this country. 

So, what can we do? Where should we focus our energy? What resources can we rely on to start addressing these problems? Are the Common Core State Standards the silver bullet (I don't think so but it seems that there are people out there who believe the standards will close the achievement gap and make things better in our schools)? Will Race To The Top foster a healthy competition and help make things better in our schools? 

I am not sure about any of these "things" but based on my experiences as an educator, the one thing I am sure about is that when our schools become Safe Havens for our children, there is progress, learning, growth and positive results. My goal, each and every day, while at school, is to make sure that my students know that I value them, respect them, appreciate them and will do whatever necessary to facilitate their learning. I love my students and they know it. 

How do they know? I am able to identify each child by name. I greet each student on most mornings and if I miss them, I try and see them at some point during the day. I visit their classrooms each day. I hang out with them at lunch. I play handball, basketball, tag and soccer at recess with them (even though I am not really athletic, they think I am pretty good - sometimes it pays off to be the big guy in an elementary school). I have lunch with them in small groups. I facilitate book clubs. I teach lessons - especially ones featuring some sort of cool tech resource. I support our teachers so they can accomplish their goals for each child. I am present. I am invested. I am visible and my kids know it and feel it. Fortunately, it doesn't end with me - that is only the beginning. Each adult in our building makes the same efforts I do because each of us is invested in the education of every child - we believe it takes a village! The best part about this approach to creating a Safe Haven is that it doesn't cost a thing; it doesn't rely on any one resource or curriculum; and it doesn't take extensive training. It takes investment, passion, compassion and devotion to a singular and shared goal - doing what is in the best interest of children.

In the end, I am not sure if turning each school into a Safe Haven is that elusive silver bullet but I do believe that it could address some of the issues plaguing our schools - especially those labeled as "failing schools" by whatever standards. I believe that schools, when functioning as Safe Havens, regardless of where they are located and how much they are affected by obstacles such as poverty, are inherently successful on some levels and there will be growth, even if it is minimal. I do believe that when we invest the time (in my opinion, that is all it takes) into transforming our schools so they become Safe Havens, we have set the stage for our children to learn and to feel good about themselves while learning. 

I have no scientific evidence or research to back up my theory at this point (aside from personal experiences) but I do believe transforming our classrooms and schools into Safe Havens should be a priority because our children need it and deserve it!      


  1. Tony, as I was reading your post, all I could think was , "YES!" Over and over! So many of our students don't feel safe- in so many different ways. Seeing our schools as their Safe Haven is critical, I believe. This was a constant message that I shared with staff tho year. Thank you for do eloquently putting it into words. I look forward to sharing your post with my staff! Yet another example of what makes you such an incredible leader!

    1. Thank you Leah! I am so glad to hear that another building administrator feels the same way. I have been reading so much about all of the inequities affecting our schools, namely things related to class and poverty, and after decades of trying, things dont seem to be getting better. So, I know standards and resources and curriculum are all important but at the basis of that all, and what will dictate how successful any of those things are, is how we treat kids and how they feel about themselves in our learning spaces. It is so important! Glad it resonated with you!

  2. This blog is well written and so true. You have been able to do this at Cantiague. The children look up to you not just because if your job "title" but because of your actions. The children know that you know each and everyone of them and how much you care. I think when a child feels safe, comfortable and confident it provides the best setting for a child to learn and enjoy learning.

    1. Debbie,
      WOW!! That you so much for commenting on this post - it means so much to me to have a parent from Cantiague share their perspectives. I am so glad that my daily efforts are being felt outside of the school building too - that is awesome! Your comment totally made my day - thank you!

  3. Thank you for walking the walking besides talking the talk. We've been working so hard the past few years in our building and district to put our students first with respect and time. They're staying later and coming earlier because they know they can find us there, and we're doing our best to be there for them.

    There's a lot to still do but if our hearts are in the right place, it can only get better.

  4. I really enjoyed this entry. As a high school special education teacher I truly see the value of making connections with students and ensuring that they know you care. This is key to helping students stay on track and helping students tools good choices. There is nothing better than when a student returns after they graduate or after you have taught them to tell you how much they appreciate you and all you have done. You are truly an amazing principal for doing what do you everyday.