Creating a Culture of Care in Our Schools

Academics matters, but kindness counts, too.

In fact, it can go a long way toward creating the safe, welcoming and happy school communities our students need to learn well.

Kindness and respect for all is at the heart of what’s known as a “culture of care.” Schools that work to create this sort of culture offer students a sense of belonging that has been shown to foster more inclusive and meaningful learning, social-emotional growth, positive behaviors and better outcomes for students—personally and academically.

Simple, but intentional and consistent acts of kindness and positivity all add up to a culture that lets students know they matter, just as they are, and are capable of goodness and greatness. In our schools, this can look like hearty “hellos” as students come off the bus, morning meetings to start each day, displays of colorful student art that showcase their unique creativity, as well as student-centered and student-led approaches to resolving conflicts.

It Takes A Team

In preparing for the opening of our newest school, Airline Drive Academy, staff saw the opportunity to combine what was already working well for students in their former schools with new approaches to expand our commitment to a culture of care.

“We knew that to make this ‘stick’ and be of benefit for all the students, it needed to be a building-wide approach and something the entire school staff was trained in and bought into,” said Airline Drive Academy Principal Barb Lounello. “It couldn’t just be independent activities happening in individual classroom. We had to see it in the hallways, on the playground, and through new instructional models and ways of supporting students through conflicts.”

To that end, Airline Drive Academy teachers and support staff took part in planning as a school team. Through trainings and on-going support with consulting groups, such as Restorative Justice Education, they are learning to create a culture of care and use restorative practices as an alternative to traditional and punitive approaches to discipline.

Restorative Practices In Practice

At Airline Drive Academy, daily “community circles” offer students the opportunity to practice restorative justice essentials: being a good listener, speaking up for oneself, expressing oneself honestly and appropriately, and understanding that behaviors can impact others. Developing these life skills is helping support the positive school culture at Airline and will benefit students in their lives and interactions with others outside of school, too.

“The circle is about checking in on how we are all feeling and if someone is not feeling happy, we can inspire them to have a good day by giving them a positive thought,” said Airline Drive Academy student Jaidyn Alecia.

At our Maywood School, restorative practices such as “restorative circles” to build community and navigate behavior issues have also been in play for the past two years.

“It’s good to see everybody each morning and to hear how everyone is doing,” said senior Carissa Furnia of the morning circles that happen with students and staff in the school’s high school program. “Even if someone is having a bad day, they can just be in the group, or talk about what’s going on for them. Everyone, especially the teachers, is supportive and doesn’t judge—that is the best part.”

“I didn’t take school very seriously during my first couple of years here. When we first started meeting in circles I didn’t think I could do it, but learned that I could. That kind of carried over to school work and I started to take it more seriously, too,” added fellow senior Carter Mower.

Mower also participates with the school’s student leadership team, which uses the circle approach to help students problem-solve around issues they would like to change for the betterment of the school culture and climate.

Becoming Better Listeners, Fostering Compassion and Empathy

“The large and smaller group circles have opened all of us up in terms of our willingness to listen, to grow and to be more compassionate and empathetic with each other,” said Maywood Principal Sarah Horaczek.

Horaczek said that at Maywood they work to resolve student-to-student conflicts restoratively, before things escalate. Not only is this helping avoid suspensions, she said this helps students process situations with those who were impacted, make plans to be successful moving forward and integrate back into the school community after an incident.

Furnia, who has attended the Maywood School since her freshman year, says that the circles and other restorative practices now in place have made a noticeable, positive difference. She said that both the students and the teachers are more patient with each other and listen more to each other. She added that there is less fighting and students are more inclined to reach out to each other throughout the day to connect when they could use a patient listener or some positive support.

“We are all learning that we can rely on each other,” she said.

Take A Video Tour of Airline Drive Academy and Learn About Our Culture of Care

Educators In Conversation About Restorative Practices

Recently, members of our administrative team had a chance to share how restorative practices are being used across our student programs. This conversation with area educators was part of the edTrends series BOCES is co-sponsoring with the University at Albany. Senior Executive Officer Joseph P. Dragone, Ph.D, Deputy District Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Lauren J. Gemmill, Director of Special Education Caralee Kardash and Director of Curriculum & Instructional Data Sharon Swain talked of the deep thought, training and dedication that is helping create a more caring school culture in our schools. Listen to a recording of the edTrends conversation on restorative practices in our schools.

Our Commitment To Creating A Culture of Care

Capital Region BOCES is committed to providing students with a positive, trauma-sensitive culture and climate where teaching and supports emphasize students’ strengths. Our school teams work together to create safe, pro-social environments where students learn to take responsibility for their actions. An emphasis is placed on building, nurturing and repairing relationships.

View our Code of Conduct (Policy #5300) for more details about the restorative approaches we use to resolve student conflicts and behavior.