November 16 – 22 is National Bullying Awareness Week in Canada.
The issue of bullying gets a lot of attention these days and rightly so, according to John Bailey, Foothills School Division’s Superintendent of Schools.
“Every child deserves to feel respected, cared for and included wherever they are, whether at school, on the playground, or at home hanging out with friends or family members. We believe in taking a proactive approach to the issue.”
Bailey said that strong character education is a fundamental piece in the overall development of students in Foothills School Division.
“All of our schools work hard to instill values such as respect, empathy and social responsibility in students through a variety of programs and activities that fit their individual school communities and educational goals.”
High River & area school initiatives
École Joe Clark School, a 7 Habits School, promotes a framework for students and staff to live according to principles such as responsibility, respect for others and teamwork.
Principal Shannon Culbert explained her staff is also well-equipped to help students who have difficulty managing their behaviour, leading to conflicts with other children.
“It is important to uncover the underlying reasons for behavioural issues. We ask ourselves questions such as, what skills are required for the student to be successful in this situation? What should we be doing differently to help this student in an effort to resolve the issue?”
At Spitzee Elementary School, one young student has inspired a movement through his simple act of showing up at school one day last year with a set of 3-D glasses with the lenses punched out. When asked why he said, “With these glasses I can see things differently, so I am going to do better in math, reading and writing.”
Vice Principal Mark Traber said the school ran with the concept and, as the Spitzee community strived to heal in the wake of the June 2013 flood, students were encouraged to look for a “positive reframe” in any situation – from dealing with personal challenges to resolving conflicts with other students.
“One parent was so impressed that they gifted a pair of ‘Reframe Glasses’ to every member of the school. To think that this incredible educational opportunity was inspired by a little boy who was determined to see things differently.”
Other High River area schools are finding countless teachable moments through programs they have adopted to encourage positive social environments.
For example, at Blackie School, staff and students focus on two to three virtues each month, such as respect, responsibility, caring, honesty and forgiveness, while Cayley School is introducing the “Classroom Champions” program, which will see a world class athlete adopt the school and illustrate how important developing strong character has been to their success.
École Senator Riley Middle School teacher Lorrie Morales said the school’s participation in the “ME to WE” program, which encourages students to make a difference in their world at a global level, has inspired students to make their local school community a better place as well.
“From holding a ‘Random Acts of Kindness Day’ to cleaning up the school yard, our students have demonstrated that respect for others, our community and our world makes sense and real change happens when young people care. There’s no need for bullies when we focus on being positive in our lives and interactions with others.”
Character education programs in Okotoks & area, and High Country schools
Dr. Morris Gibson School Vice Principal Loriann Salmon says their theme this year is “Shining Together”, building upon the work of parent expert Dr. Michelle Borba’s Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing.
“We opened our year with a presentation about ‘Filling Each Other’s Buckets’ and how affirming words and actions have the power to strengthen children, families and communities. Purposeful work in fostering compassion, inclusiveness, belonging and building community provides the foundation as we seek to truly bring ‘Shining Together’ alive in our school.”
Westmount School focuses on proactive character education, building its culture around The Leader in Me, a whole-school transformation model based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Vice Principal Sean Latta says the school believes that each student has the potential to grow and develop as both a learner and a person.
“The goal of these programs is ultimately to create responsible, independent, confident, respectful, flexible, open-minded, organized, synergistic and creative students, who can demonstrate these qualities in their school and community.”
A school-wide, collaborative approach is a hallmark of Foothills’ character education programs.
For example, at Big Rock School, Badger Pride Time brings students together to participate in multi-aged activities to build school spirit and pride. Principal Caroline Roberts says the school’s Behaviour Education Support Team also offers Character Education classes to all students through its health program, focusing on developing confidence, respect, independence, good work habits, citizenship and good technology etiquette.
“We believe that these characteristics are a very important piece in life-long learning, student engagement and future success.”
At Longview School, opportunities abound for students to work together with others from every grade level, including a morning breakfast program where students gather to share a meal and talk about strengths and areas of improvement needed to make the school a better place for all students.
Once a month, Longview students also assess themselves using the Characteristics of a Responsible Learner (citizenship, work habits, respect, confidence and responsibility), explains Principal Chet Musgrove.
“Through proactive instruction and using teachable moments to build character, our staff is committed to helping students develop the important characteristics needed to be successful people.”
École Percy Pegler School’s Prime Time, held every Friday afternoon, promotes school pride, community and culture building. Principal Dinah Shortt says the school’s new Outdoor Education Club is an extension of its work to develop children’s social emotional learning.
“Outdoor Club endeavours to build leadership skills, resilience and self-awareness in students through exposure to various outdoor activities. Students are involved in all aspects of planning and implementation through personal and group reflection and goal-setting.”
Red Deer Lake School Principal Craig Barabash says their students are challenged to be leaders and outstanding citizens, not only in their community but in the larger global community. Students are involved in a variety of leadership endeavours through student-led programs, from the “Lollipop Guild”, which raises money to support the school’s Building Hope campaign for schools in Kenya, to performing grounds maintenance at a local cemetery and a “Service Saturday” every December.
“We also have students supporting others through peer mediation groups and helping resolve ‘low level’ conflicts during recess times.”
Conflict is inevitable in any setting where different personalities are gathered together, and schools are no exception. Foothills School Division schools place a strong emphasis on equipping staff and students with the tools to manage disputes.
At C. Ian McLaren School in Black Diamond, Principal Sherry Agasoster-Jones says they have adopted Conscious Discipline, a comprehensive social and emotional program that empowers both teachers and students.
“Based on brain research, child development information and developmentally appropriate practice, the program helps equip teachers to be proactive instead of reactive in conflict moments.”
Turner Valley School has embraced Kelso’s Choice, a conflict management skills program for elementary students based on the premise that every child is capable of becoming a peacemaker, according to Principal James Holladay.
“The program offers nine options students can choose from to resolve minor conflicts on their own, helping them determine the difference between minor problems they can handle and more serious problems that require an adult’s help. The idea is to build confidence and character in each child, and help them interact with their peers in appropriate ways.”
At the heart of all Foothills school programs is the desire to develop the whole child, like Millarville Community School’s Primary Years Program (PYP), which is part of the International Baccalaureate program. Principal Glenn Gibson says it teaches students to live by and commit to attitudes such as cooperation, empathy, integrity, respect and tolerance.
“An integral part of this program includes an intentional focus on the development of globally minded, community oriented and caring individuals who respect the differences in others.”
For more information about character education programs, please contact your local school