Northern Parkway School is located in Uniondale, New York. In 2015, we were recognized as a School of Character. As a school, we focus primarily on three pillars: respect, responsibility and caring. Promoting core values, as encouraged by Principle 1 of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, has been one of the driving forces behind many of our accomplishments.

Respecting One Another through Learning 

Respect is the first pillar we encourage students to live out. Learning from each other is what respect means. It shows that although we might not understand what someone says or does, we care enough to ask questions so that we learn. My students show respect by challenging me and each other.

I asked my class of bilingual learners to make a list of ways they show respect. They shared words like “love”, “kindness”, “helping” and “understanding”. I asked them, “what would you do if someone said something you didn’t understand?” Thoughts like not judging and asking questions in order to learn from each other were common among their responses. I used the following children’s books to amplify this discussion on respect to facilitate conversations between the students. Feel free to use these books when having similar discussions on core values with your students.

  • The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah
  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarpley
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Exemplifying Responsibility

Responsibility is the second pillar that we encourage our students to embody. In preparation to write this blog, I looked up the definition of responsibility and zoned in on the two below:  

(1) The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something

(2) A thing that one is required to do as part of a job or role

As a school administrator, it is important for me to make sure that the first definition of responsibility is not used and modeled as a punitive act, but as a learning opportunity. After reading Troublemakers, by Carla Shalaby as part of a Twitter chat moderated by @valerieedu, I was reminded and challenged to ensure that at Northern Parkway we were providing the conditions and freedom for students to be children. This means that as we strive to encourage responsibility, we should never ridicule or penalize students who are learning to live out this character trait.  

My responsibility is to make sure that all students are given the opportunity to learn and grow in a joyful environment. I will no longer accept excuses for “teaching and management styles” that are harmful to students.  

How do you Create a Caring Classroom?

The third pillar that we model and encourage is caring. Caring in the classroom is an essential part of creating a thoughtful school environment. Most educators would agree we all care about our students, and encourage them to be considerate toward one other. As educators, we need to include promoting caring as a conscious part of our planning. It is important to remember that students come to us from many backgrounds and life experiences.

As an inclusion teacher, my co-teacher and I build our class community around caring relationships from the first day of school. The importance of a caring student-teacher relationship is critical to motivating students in their academic success. My team and I accomplish this at the very beginning by learning about the children and introducing routines with little academic demands. Teachers must create a warm environment without sacrificing classroom management. Rehearse caring as you would routines.

Learning about students begins with watching them. Look at how your students interact with each other, their materials and with adults. Children often care about the way they are cared for, so this assessment of caring is very important. Some children will need more remediation and modeling of appropriate ways to care. As teachers we can begin the modeling with eye contact, a smile and a soft tone of voice.

Here are some quick tips to promote caring, make it a priority in your classroom:

1- Cooperation not competition (team building/human connections)

2- Time for personal stories and encouraging compliments. Students need to express feelings

3- Caring/positive individual feedback by teacher. Ask students what they think.

4- Allow students to have a voice, give them time, model empathy, don’t treat students all the same.

5- Deal with lack of caring through reflection of specific examples. Encourage ethical thinking.

Alicia Boardman is a bilingual teacher at Northern Parkway School.  Her philosophy on teaching includes creating a student centered environment where student voice guides everyday learning.

Sheilah Jefferson-Isaac is an Assistant Principal at Northern Parkway School.  Her goal is to develop and maintain joyful learning environments for all students.

Lisa Stutts is a Special Education Teacher at Northern Parkway School. Her special interests include developing character while managing challenging behavior.