One of the most recurrent phrases in school library Visions (and sometimes in Mission Statements) is the library is a “safe, welcoming environment.” By implication we mean “for all.” We have read many testimonies to that truth from authors (especially, it seems) and others who found the library to be a refuge where they could escape harassment or the pressures of their lives in general whether a school or a public library.
While bullying has a long history, recent events have increased both bullying and fears in schools. In addition, the anonymity and overwhelming presence of cyberspace exacerbates the challenge. As librarians we have an obligation to ensure all our students feel safe—at least in our space, and as teachers to remind students the value in being their “better selves.”
A tall order at any time, but it’s one we can handle. At the elementary level, where you have more control over your lessons begin by using the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons to present a unit on thankfulness and giving. By reading appropriate stories and engaging students in discussions of what they are thankful for and how they would like to give to others, they begin to realize how kindness and generosity become gifts to themselves.
A member of the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group had a great idea. Here’s what she posted:
After discussing, watching short videos, and reading books about kindness this week, my kiddos are writing and drawing one kind thing they promise to do to make the world a better place (kindergarteners drew themselves doing their kind act and told us what to write). I am covering our library windows with them to inspire kindness in our school. So far it’s looking pretty cool!
Besides books from your collection, look for stories of how kids have made a difference in the lives of others. What do they think of the possibility of doing the same? What could they do? It might become a class project done in cooperation with the teacher. If so – inform the principal.
Most elementary schools incorporate Character Education into the curriculum and you can easily work from that. Take whatever theme of the month is being featured, then read and display books on the topic. Challenge your students to share how they are incorporating that value into their daily life.
If your school doesn’t do that, you can work with the 6 Pillars of Character from the Character Counts website. The six are:
- Trustworthiness – Be honest • Don’t deceive, cheat, or steal • Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do • Have the courage to do the right thing • Build a good reputation • Be loyal
- Fairness – Play by the rules • Take turns and share • Be open-minded; listen to others • Don’t take advantage of others • Don’t blame others carelessly • Treat all people fairly
- Respect – Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule • Be tolerant and accepting of differences • Use good manners, not bad language • Be considerate of the feelings of others • Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone • Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements
- Caring – Be kind • Be compassionate and show you care • Express gratitude • Forgive others • Help people in need • Be charitable and unselfish
- Responsibility – Do what you are supposed to do • Plan ahead • Be diligent • Persevere • Do your best • Use self-control • Be self-disciplined • Think before you act • Be accountable for your words, actions, and attitudes • Set a good example for others
- Citizenship – Do your share to make your school and community better • Cooperate • Get involved in community affairs • Stay informed; vote • Be a good neighbor • Obey laws and rules • Respect authority • Protect the environment • Volunteer
With a few minor changes the examples of how to practice the six pillars come from the website. You don’t have to do them all, and certainly not in that sequence. Obviously a few of the examples are beyond what elementary students can do. Choose what works in your situation or highlight one a month for the next six months.
It may be more difficult to introduce these themes at the middle and high school level where you need to connect with a teacher to be able to create an appropriate unit. Social Studies is your primary target but you might be able to work with an English teacher having kids research and create a project. If you focus on harassment and bullying, Health teachers are another possibility.
You can find many helpful resources on Teaching Tolerance a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Click on Classroom Resources for lesson plans that give the topic and grade level. Southern Poverty Law Center also provides a free magazine to teachers and librarians that’s worth getting.
Much of this also comes under the heading of Social Justice, although I didn’t use the term because it has so many meanings and I wanted to focus on the importance of guiding students to becoming more caring people. Even without a unit on the subject, students should recognize through your modeling and behavior that the library is always a safe, welcoming environment for all.
What have you been doing to create that feeling in your library and your school?