Every Grizzly In!
The primary focus of our RTMS staff is ensuring that EVERY Grizzly feels like they are a part of our community and valued for who they are as an individual. Research shows that a sense of belonging is positively associated with academic achievement and motivation as well as positive emotions, feelings of self-worth and social acceptance. From inclusive and historically accurate curricula to consistent analysis of trends in student climate and culture-- equity and inclusion is at the heart of our school culture. Holding us accountable to this work is our dedicated student group, Every Grizzly In. Learn more about the ways this group has contributed to a positive student culture at RTMS below.
Over the course of the 2021-22 school year, our staff gathered a group of Grizzlies to learn more about the student experience from their perspective and to enlist them in determining what we could do to make Rocky Top even more inclusive and enjoyable for all.
We invited any student to volunteer for participation in Every Grizzly In if they’d ever been made to feel like they don't belong, have heard others impacted by hatred or intolerance or have ideas to increase a sense of belonging for everyone at RTMS. The result was an amazing group of students from every grade level and a variety of backgrounds.
For our first meeting, we worked together to create a safe, comfortable environment that allowed our Grizzlies to share openly and freely about their time as a Rocky Top student. To ground the work of the group, administrators and counselors facilitated a discussion of data. This included analysis of the strength and growth areas identified by our most recent climate survey, trends in current discipline data and high level trends in student reports about their experience at RTMS shared through counseling meetings. The incredibly insightful students shared that it sometimes seems as if students and staff are speaking different languages. This student perspective shifted the way in which our staff offers perception surveys to students and highlighted the need to use more student language, instead of adult language.
After this robust and illuminating conversation, we changed focus from higher level thinking to individual reflection. We had students identify their core values then asked them to consider what they think are the core values of RTMS versus what they would like the values to be. From this conversation, the students settled on the following core values they would like to see at RTMS, which continue to be a focal point for our work in creating a positive student culture.
The students discussed different elements of their school experience that represent, increase or highlight these values and the elements that hinder them from being able to experience these values at RTMS. One of the biggest calls to action from this discussion was the need to educate fellow students on the importance of inclusive language and the harm done when discriminatory, biased, or racist comments are made.
We unveiled a unit plan focused on bias, microaggressions, and microaffirmations which was created in response to the student feedback at our November meeting. Students interacted with the lesson then offered ideas to enhance the lesson to make it even more impactful to the broader student population.
We invited more students after recognizing that our small yet mighty group was not fully representative of Rocky Top’s student population. Our original members re-oriented themselves to the work we had done together in order to bring the newer members up to speed on the values and lesson plan. We asked all of the students to consider the moments and locations they saw connectedness happening at school and the biggest areas of concern. This conversation yielded insightful information that helped our staff understand the value students find in Bear Necessities classes and time spent engaging in class community building each week. It also illuminated the need for drastic change to the student experience in the hallways during passing periods
The bias, microaggression and micro-affirmation unit was presented to 7th and 8th graders. Nearly 65% of our student population participated in these lessons. Students reported that they appreciated the serious tone with which teachers presented the information and felt as though teachers were comfortable with the lesson content and subsequent class discussion. Because of this, students reported feeling comfortable to share openly and honestly.
We met for a final time with all 7th and 8th graders who participated throughout the year. We heard more from them about the experience they had with the bias and microaggression lesson and the changes they observed as a result. After translating the findings and recommendations of the Adams 12 Equity Review into student-accessible language, our final activity was to solicit student input on areas for focus at the beginning of the year.
Their recommendations included:
Continued training with staff on calling out/in/on students when hurtful, insensitive or intolerant comments are made
Invite families into the conversation around the work the Every Grizzly In group has been doing
Uplift students who are upstanders