Sharing Responsibility for a Safe, Just, and Caring Community

Sharing Responsibility for a Safe, Just, and Caring Community

On a recent Friday morning, I had the privilege of visiting several classrooms during our monthly “Olweus Shared Class Meeting” time.  During this time (in lieu of K-5 Community Meeting and during Gr. 6-8 Advisory), every adult in the school is assigned to a classroom and participates in an activity from our Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

A key component of Olweus is class meeting. Throughout the year, teachers incorporate activities from the Olweus “Class Meetings That Matter” into their morning meetings (K-5) or Advisory (Gr. 6-8).   The monthly school-wide meeting time, now in its third year, enables all staff to be an active part of the program and helps students see that ALL of the adults in the school are working together to provide a safe environment.

A Sampling

Here’s a quick summary of what I observed during our January meetings….

  • KC & KG:  These two classes doubled up for their “Kindness Circle.”  In addition to teachers Nora Carpenter and Jessica Gordon, aides Caroline Lew and Hannah Driscoll and Music Teacher Lauren Cecchini participated.  Children listened to the story The Recess Queen, about a bossy girl who controls what others do at recess.  The classes then generated a list of real-life situations from our own playground (e.g. taking turns on the tire swing) and how to address them.  The goal, as Jessica reminded the students,  “Be kind and be sure everyone feels included.”
  • 2R:  Teacher Maggie Russell was joined by aide Merritt Lee, special educator Maureen Houston, and Spanish teacher Elisa Convers.   The class was divided into four groups.  The teachers posted a series of real-life issues (e.g. “What do you do if someone calls you a name?”). Small groups, facilitated by the adults, discussed possible solutions and then shared their ideas as a class.
  • 5N:  Teacher Katherine Nguyen was joined by aide Darren Martinez and Music Teacher Holly Ahearn.  The class discussed the idea of “Listening from the Heart.” The class generated a list of what good listening looks like and sounds like.   The teachers then role-played a conversation with Ms. Nguyen listening to Mr. Martinez talking.  The first time through, Ms. Nguyen did not listen actively. After a critique from the class, they repeated the role play with Ms. Nguyen modeling active listening. Students identified what she had done to be an active listener.
  • 5RW:  Teacher Rhodinne Wang was joined by Office Aide Maria Kalaitzides (who supervises three lunches) and Literacy Coach Dianne Muendel.   The three adults role played a scenario in which two girls were intentionally excluding a third.  The class identified what the girls were doing that was hurtful and discussed when mean comments lead to bullying.
  • 7-1:  Advisor and English teacher Allison Closter was joined by aide Alexa D’Onofrio.  Students had worked in small groups to generate a list of qualities of a good friend.   After posting their lists, the groups looked at what qualities were in common and which were different.  Loyalty was a quality that appeared on each group’s list.  Interestingly, the most spirited discussion came around whether a good friend was always honest (Think:  “How do I look?”).   This discussion clearly hit a nerve as students passionately defended their points of view.

Other Components of the Olweus Program

A second key component of the program is “on-the-spot interventions” – addressing behavior in the moment following a common protocol recommended by the Olweus Program and adapted for our school. Our goal is to respond to “bullying-like” behaviors early before they rise to the level of bullying.

A third key component is an annual Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (OBQ) survey of students in grades 3-8, administered each spring for the past several years.  Each summer, Laura Horst and I review the previous year’s results and modify our school’s supervisory plan to address any new “trouble spots.” The Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee takes another look at the results in the fall in order to identify themes or areas to address through our school events and class meetings.

More information about the Olweus program (including Spanish and Japanese translations) is available our school website at:

Closing Thought

I came away from my classroom visits pleased with both the content and the process of our shared class meetings.   I believe it sends a strong signal to our students to see all of the adults in the school engaged in these lessons.  We all share responsibility for making Lawrence a safe, just and caring community.

Rick Rogers

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