Teach Care in Schools and Heal from the Inside Out

NOTE: The following is a letter submitted to the Toledo Blade editor - hoping to get published:

Javonte Anderson and Jay Skebba’s March 14 article, “Area Students Participate in National School Walkout,” moved me to tears. I was inspired and encouraged by the story of student advocates, right here in Toledo and across the county, who stood up against gun violence on National Walkout Day.

While we can argue about whether the protests were necessary, appropriate, or worthy of everyone’s attention, it’s clear that a common question lingers on the minds of American students, their families, and their educators: How do we prevent school shooting tragedies from continuing to happen?

As an author, attorney, speaker, and integrative health advocate working with school systems, I can say that creating caring school environments is a step in the right direction.

A growing number of students feel as if their lives don’t matter. For a variety of reasons, they feel uncared for or unloved, and they begin to believe that their lives lack meaning. As a result, those students lose hope, become distraught, and—far too often—grow angry.

A few years ago, I began studying academic research to learn what happens when educators and students take the time to deeply care for others. What if, I wondered, educators were encouraged and incentivized to exhibit empathy, listen to one another, and learn to spot the behavior of struggling students? And, at the same time, what if students were taught to be their classmates’ keepers—and were graded on those efforts?

While research shows that most educators truly care about their students, many feel overworked and overwhelmed—and those feelings can lead to compassion fatigue. That’s why I developed RISE, a program that teaches educators at all levels how to create caring school environments. RISE is based on the premise that, in order for educators to successfully promote caring among others, they must first learn to properly care for themselves.

The results are highly encouraging. Case in point: through my recent and ongoing work with Lima Central Catholic High School, I’ve witnessed how students’ lives improve when they experience a caring school environment—and when they engage with educators who regularly practice self-care. Through RISE, Lima Central Catholic students are reporting better relationships with family and friends, greater success in overcoming adversities, and increased ability to handle personal hardships. School leaders report that students are realizing how to move beyond mistakes and other setbacks. Watch this video.

School violence is a problem for which there are no easy solutions. But when schools put an educational focus on caring, students are more likely to believe that their lives—and those of the people around them—truly matter.

And that’s a good place to start.

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