Creating a Compassionate Culture in Our Schools

Written by Jodee Blanco, anti-bullying expert and New York Times bestselling author

It’s that wonderful time of year again when we all come together to celebrate our commitment to Catholic education. I can’t believe that this will be my twentieth year as a presenter at the NCEA convention. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve our NCEA family and I’m SO excited to see everyone in April 2024.

Children are like sponges. They absorb and learn from the behavior of the adults at school just like they do at home. As an anti-bullying and communications expert who works with large cohorts of schools across the country, I see the goodness in people and when their goodness is tested. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed a weary teacher find the patience to help a troubled student that others couldn’t or a principal make a tough but necessary decision in the best interest of his students and never waiver despite being bullied mercilessly by those who didn’t agree with it. I’ve seen hope in places where I didn’t expect to find it because of the kindness of a single person.

It’s not the grand gestures or the big moments that leave a lasting imprint on our students’ hearts of what being a Catholic means. It’s in the small stuff, how we communicate and treat one another each day that stays with them. Here are some tips for staying on track:

  • Smile — It may seem basic but when we start to feel tired later in the day, for example, after fourth or fifth period, we may stop smiling. Remember to smile. Put a sticky note somewhere as a reminder. You’ll be surprised how much a genuine smile will light up the room and infuse everyone including you with new energy!
  • Stay visible — If you’re a principal, let parents and families see you enjoying events and functions. Encourage teachers to attend parish and school functions too. The more families see their school principal and teachers at events, the deeper the connection will grow.
  • Don’t wait until the office needs something from a parent or there’s something wrong, to call — Call new families just to let them know how honored and excited you are that they’ve enrolled their child in your school. So often, a parent dreads phone calls from the school because the only time they feel like they get those calls is if the office needs something. For any family, especially those who come from a different culture and may feel self-conscious, shy or nervous about inclusion, having a principal call simply to connect on a human level can mean so much.
  • You can’t hear the concern in someone’s voice or their sincerity in an email or text — Emails and text messages can be too easily misinterpreted because they lack emotional context. There is absolutely no substitute for direct human contact especially when we’re talking about a worried parent or upset coworker. If you receive a nasty or negative email, text, or message on a social media app, do not reply digitally. Pick up the phone and call.
  • Build Relationships within your community — Reach out to local retailers, small businesses and community leaders and invite them to school events, plays and other celebratory activities. Embrace them as members of the community and inspire them to give back.
  • Create a welcome committee — Be strategic about who you ask to join. Choose a teacher, parent and a group of students who are open-minded and excited to have new families join the school.
  • Thank you posters — Have students make thank you posters acknowledging the maintenance staff, cafeteria workers, office secretaries and other employees who aren’t often honored and display the posters proudly throughout the school. Gratitude is a quality that must be cultivated. Lead the charge and you’ll see it spread throughout the community. Gratitude fosters inclusion, too.

We’re all human and sometimes despite our best efforts, misunderstandings can happen. Here are a couple of strategies for getting through those moments with God’s grace:

  • Ascending versus descending conversations — When someone tries to put you on the defensive, they want you to argue, they want to pull you down to where they are which is a frustrated, frightened place. Don’t give in. Don’t feed the negativity. Instead, reach your hand out and pull them up to your level. Acknowledge that you hear them, tell them you want to understand, ask them to help you understand, then listen. Keep listening. Resist the urge to become defensive. Ascend together.
  • How to talk to someone who’s being difficult:
    • Resist the urge to become defensive
    • Say, “I want to understand your perspective. Help me to understand it.”
    • Listen. Really listen. Sometimes all someone needs is to feel heard, not necessarily that you agree with them.
    • Say, “I think what you’re trying to help me to understand is this…” Then, paraphrase it. If a person feels understood, even if you don’t agree with their point of view, it can diminish the tension and anxiety in the room.
  • What to do when you’re feeling impatient and don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings — Ask yourself, “twenty years from now when I look back on this moment, how will I wish I would have handled it?” and then work backwards from there.

I hope you found the above helpful! Please join me at my session this year. I can’t wait to see you!

Jodee will be presenting at NCEA 2024!

It Begins with Us: Creating a Compassionate Culture with Each Other, Students and Parents
Thursday, April 4, 2024, 8 – 9:15 AM
Ballroom C

Meet the Author
Thursday, April 4, 2024, 9:30 – 10 AM
Level 2, Hall B, NCEA Central