Inclusivity: Belonging matters, and is a critical element of Kindness.
In my career, I have yet to meet a child (or an adult for that matter) who did not want to feel they belong or are included. Children, in particular, want others to care about them as an individual, and dread feeling excluded from their peers.
When I went to high school, a long, long time ago, I was the only kid from my middle school who attended my high school. I knew no one in the freshmen class. On the first day of school, I have vivid memories of walking into the cafeteria of 1,600 students and not knowing a single person. Most of the freshmen students had gone to middle school with each other so they had friends, and a group to gather with for lunch. I was truly the “odd man out.”
Two things saved me that first semester. First, I was a pretty good saxophone player and that gained me “membership” with the band kids. Second, was an elderly Algebra teacher, who at parent night told my mom he would watch over “Tommy.” A group to eat lunch with, one where I felt accepted, was critical for a scared young man in a world of strangers.
Being included is extremely important for all of us. Too often it seems we look for our differences, so we can separate from those who are “not like us.” Whether one is excluded from a group because he or she looks different, has a special need, because of his or her ethnicity or social status … is not only painful to the person who is left on the outside, it also lessens the vitality of the group doing the excluding. Maya Angelou said it well: “In diversity there is strength and beauty.”
Eanes ISD has had a long tradition of working to make sure all children feel accepted. On this, the 50th anniversary of Westlake High School, I revived a video from the 40th anniversary where one of the legends of Eanes ISD, Toody Bird, shared stories of the early days at a brand-new Westlake campus. This particular clip we showed to our entire staff during Convocation in August, stressing the importance of Inclusivity.
We teach our students to appreciate diversity by encouraging them to include and accept others. During February, the elementary school counselors have presented each grade level with a schoolwide Kindness Challenge. I was able to take part in the call to action, as you can see below.
As part of the Kindness Challenge, our elementary students are learning about Kindness and working towards their own reward of a day in Green Glasses. Teaching kindness, diversity and the power of inclusivity helps our students become resilient.
We have several programs and initiatives that reinforce our commitment to Kindness, and in particular, Inclusivity. Several of our schools are designated as No Place for Hate schools. Last year, the Best Buddies program launched at Westlake HS, and will expand to the middle schools. For those of you who do not know of the Best Buddies program, it is a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
And we are excited about a new partnership with Special Olympics for Westlake HS to become a Unified Champion School. The program promotes social inclusion through activities affecting school-wide change. The activities equip staff and students with tools and training to create opportunities, classrooms and school climates of acceptance.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the role technology and social media can play in this domain. Danah Boyd, principal researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society research institute, said it perfectly: “the internet mirrors, magnifies, and makes more visible the good, bad, and the ugly of everyday life.” My belief has always been that most things in life have both good and bad elements. Too much chocolate can be bad; too little chocolate can be bad. Social media can bring communities together to raise funds for a child recovering from cancer treatments, to celebrate or raise up our community, or can be used to cyberbully a peer.
So please consider these questions when using social media: Are we spreading positivity or negativity? Are we helping to bring people together or are we working to create division? When we use technology, in particular social media, let’s follow the words of Toody Bird and “wrap ourselves around” those who need us.
This Friday is Valentine’s Day. What better day for our staff to show that we who work in Eanes ISD care about each other as well as those that come to our schools and all who live in our community. We will wear our Green Glasses and we will contemplate the value of Inclusivity.
This Friday, join us and have a wonderful "Green Glasses" Happy Valentine’s Day.