ARTICLE

School Administrators: Are You Ready?

Nearly a week after the election, school leaders around the country are confronting increasingly volatile school environments. Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello offers several suggestions for how to keep schools safe.

 

A week before the election, Teaching Tolerance posted advice to help teachers navigate the day after Election Day. We knew that, no matter the result, some kids would be crushed and others would be jubilant. We also knew that, after a campaign as ugly as this one, teachers would be like medics on the front lines. 

Now, nearly a week later, school leaders around the country are confronting increasingly volatile school environments. From managing anxiety and fear to responding to derogatory language and acts of bias, principals, superintendents and other district and building leaders have a tremendous challenge ahead.  

With this understanding in mind, we offer these suggestions to school administrators.   

Set the tone. We’re aware that many superintendents and principals around the country have sent letters to staff and families. If you haven’t, consider doing it now. This one, from Boston’s school superintendent Tommy Chang, is a great model. Your message should affirm your school’s values, set expectations about inclusion and respect, and explain your vision for the school community.

Take care of the wounded. Many students—especially immigrant, LGBT, Muslim and African-American students—are profoundly upset and worried by the election results. Their anxiety is warranted; many have been targeted in and out of school by individuals who think Trump’s election has licensed hatred and bigotry. Let your school community know that you have a plan—and the necessary resources—to provide for the needs of specific students. Some of them are experiencing trauma. Are your teachers ready?

Double down on anti-bullying strategies. Encourage everyone in the school community to be aware of bullying, harassment and bias in all their forms. Remind them of the school’s written policies, and set the expectation that your staff be ready to act. Not everyone has to be a superhero, but everyone can be an ally and an upstander.

Encourage courage. It’s especially important to let staff and students know that you expect them to speak up when they see or hear something that denigrates any member of the school community. When students interrupt biased language, calmly ask questions, correct misinformation and echo others who do the same, they send their peers a clear message: This kind of language doesn’t fly here.

Be ready for a crisis. The news and social media are awash in posts about ugly bias incidents—and even hate crimes—in our communities and our schools. When an incident happens, you will not have time to learn how to manage it: You need to be prepared. If something happens, we have guidance for managing the crisis and keeping students safe. Download it now and share it with other administrators. 

Please keep us informed via this survey about how the election is affecting your school. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter; we’ll continue to share data and resources to help you support your students and staff throughout the coming months.

Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance.