Responding to Hate and Bias at School
Section One: Before a Crisis Occurs
Set High Expectations
Protect your school against hate, bias and bigotry by setting firm—and high—expectations early and often. And not just for students. Everyone on staff, from janitors and bus drivers to classroom teachers and support services, must know that hate, disrespect and intimidation have no place on campus. Then reinforce these expectations at every turn.
Messages should be consistent, from the administrator’s office to every classroom and school activity. Expectations should be set at registration, at orientation, on the first day of school, at the first schoolwide assembly—at every opportunity to remind students that yours is a school that does not allow hate or bias to flourish.
While it’s essential to speak up against bias and bigotry in a consistent manner, it’s equally important to reinforce good behavior, praising students for using respectful language, especially during tense or difficult moments. Discipline policies should be reasonable, with no zero-tolerance stances and a focus that is restorative rather than punitive. (See “Capacity Building” in Section 3 for more guidance on this subject.)
“Set up structures to promote respectful behavior,” said Amber Strong Makaiau, a high schoolteacher in Hawaii who authored a conflict-resolution curriculum that was adopted statewide. “Make it clear: This is how we want people to behave. This is the norm.”
Here are three other considerations:
Create a no-slur school.
Early in the term, state clear support for a safe, open learning environment free of slurs. Be specific: no insults related to ability, appearance, culture, gender, home language, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or social class will be tolerated. Make sure these expectations are clearly outlined in the school handbook—for students, staff and faculty—and ensure that they’re rooted in education, helping to raise both awareness and empathy about the harm done by slurs.
Curb taunting and teasing.
Set expectations of how students should speak to each other, whether they are in or out of earshot of a teacher or administrator. Listen for teasing or insults related to race, ethnicity, body size, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, clothing, appearance or socioeconomic status. As needed, lead and encourage discussions about respectful ways people should interact. Guide students in brainstorming ways to curb taunting and teasing. Having students develop their own rules, with adult guidance, often results in greater student buy in. Teaching Tolerance offers an excellent activity, “Building a Classroom Constitution,” to kick off the school year.
Administrators can put up signs in their offices and around the school (e.g., “Safe Space from Hate,” or “Hate Has No Home Here”). Classroom teachers can do the same. Teachers also should be encouraged to involve students in making ground rules for the classroom at the start of each year, focusing on respectful behavior and positive interactions. These rules should be posted prominently in each classroom so they can be referred to when rules are not followed. These same rules apply to all adults within the school community, who always should model respectful interaction.