Parents and guardians are important members of a school community. Your involvement and engagement matter to your children’s academic success and emotional well-being. This is why the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) include parents and guardians in their strategies and consultation related to Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools (SCIS), and why the WRDSB Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) recommends that you take an active role in this part of your children’s education. PIC, in collaboration with board staff, have created information relating to school climate and well-being for parents and guardians.
What does Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools Mean?
Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools (SCIS) refers to all board and school activities directed at creating a learning environment that is emotionally and physically safe for all school community members (students, staff, family and community). Some areas of interest include:
- promotion of individual differences and diversity
- respect for the WRDSB Code of Conduct which highlights expected standards of behaviour
- engagement by staff, students, family and community in supporting a whole school approach
- the development of positive and productive relationships among all school community members.
More information can be found on the Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools section of this website. The Ministry of Education has a number of resources for families and schools relating to Safe and Accepting Schools.
Why is positive school climate something that should matter to you as a parent?
Positive school climates matter because:
“educational research has consistently demonstrated that a positive school climate is associated with academic achievement, effective risk prevention efforts and positive youth development.”
The WRDSB Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) is actively involved in promoting Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools (SCIS) issues and supporting SCIS teams because we recognize that a positive environment for all members of the school community will be more successful at engaging parents in their children’s learning.
How can parents/guardians be engaged with SCIS at their child’s school?
SCIS teams are mandated by policies of both the Ontario Ministry of Education and the WRDSB. This means that all schools are required to have an SCIS team. An SCIS team is a working group made up of at least 1 parent or guardian, 1 administrator (principal or vice-principal), 1 teacher, 1 non-teaching staff member (e.g., Educational Assistant, Child and Youth Worker or Designated Early Childhood Educator), 1 community member, and, where appropriate, 1 student (most teams in the WRDSB have at least 2 students).
This group focuses on promoting a positive school climate (the school learning environment and the relationships within the school) by reviewing data related to school climate, planning and implementing activities and assessing the impact of those activities.
The SCIS section of the WRDSB website contains detailed information regarding these teams, including information about their role and function.
Some schools might have another name for their SCIS Team. That is fine so long as the team meets the expectations of the school board in terms of who is a member of the team and the kinds of activities of the team. Some schools, especially secondary schools where students are the main promoters of change, may have many school committees, clubs or teams that all have a positive school climate as one of their goals. For example, at Eastwood Collegiate Institute, there is a Caring, Safe, and Inclusive Schools group that serves as an umbrella organization, overseeing the work of many other committees and groups.
How can you support your school’s SCIS Team?
- ask your principal about the school’s SCIS Team in order to learn whether a parent is still needed on the team (two parents can share the role)
- offer to assist the SCIS Team with an event or with raising awareness of its goals. In consultation with the principal, non-team members could assist with putting together website or communication materials, advertising of events, or anything that supports the team
- if your school does not yet have a team, please follow up with your principal to discuss some possible next steps to establishing such a team. The WRDSB website provides additional information about the teams. You may also contact PIC for assistance with this process
Information to support SCIS team members
PIC has a parent member representative for SCIS issues. This parent is an SCIS team member at her own children’s school as well as a PIC member. She is happy to speak with you at any time regarding your school’s SCIS team, whether you are a member of the team or just learning about these teams for the first time. PIC’s strength is its focus on collaboration among parents and on enhancing the relationship between parents and school board staff. We want to spread that collaboration to SCIS team members. PIC has launched a website to help do so. The website allows members of SCIS teams across the WRDSB to:
- review on-line resources as well other SCIS materials,
- access information about what SCIS teams at other schools are doing, and
- communicate with one another on-line to share ideas and ask questions.
The scope of the SCIS initiative field is very broad, and so by learning about specific strategies used by other SCIS teams at schools within the WRDSB, SCIS team parents can support the principal and the school’s SCIS team in moving the initiative forward. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and specify that your inquiry is related to SCIS and our representative will be in touch with you. Our SCIS representative provides updates on a regular basis to PIC. Please share your successes and any concerns you may have regarding the functioning of your SCIS team.
In collaboration with staff, PIC has created a one-page flyer relating to SCIS teams that your school can use to create awareness about your SCIS team. An orientation manual was also created to support the activities of SCIS teams.
Please find below some materials and links that will help you to navigate the SCIS system at your school and to become an active member of your SCIS team. Please remember that the SCIS section of the WRDSB website provides many ideas including a list of useful bullying prevention resources under its bullying prevention/intervention tab, and a list of useful Ministry of Education resources under its progressive discipline tab (at the bottom of the document) so, in order to avoid duplication, they have not been included here.
Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plans
The Education Act of Ontario states that all school boards must have Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plans and must require the schools of the board to implement those plans. The Education Act also requires school boards and schools to post the plan(s) on their website. The WRDSB’s plan and its template plan for schools are available above. Your SCIS team could spend time exploring priorities from the plan for your school and/or looking at current gaps in the school’s programming with respect to the plan. Your team could also look for feedback on the school’s plan from stakeholders in your school community. The Ministry of Education expects consultation with stakeholders on these plans, and the WRDSB endorses consultation at the school level.
Introduction of team to parents/communication with parents
There are many ways in which you can let parents and the rest of your school community know that your SCIS team exists: email, printed letter, website notification, newsletter; and you can provide a brief introduction, with more information to follow, or you can bring them up to speed with a lot of information up front. No matter how you do it, it is important that you let them know who is on the team and what the team’s purpose is. Most parents are not familiar with SCIS teams and will not know that your school has one until you let them know. This is why it is important to introduce the team to the school community each and every year since every year you will have new families joining your school community.
It is important to keep in mind that parents tend to become most interested in knowing how the school handles incidents among students at the time that a problem occurs; however, this might not be when you are sending home communication from your team about that topic. Therefore, ideally you would have all of the information that you send home posted on the school website so that parents can view it at any time.
Examples of ideas for SCIS teams:
- social event at the start of the school year for the whole school community or for families new to the school (consider what first impression you want to give students and parents regarding the school culture)
- events during Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week – celebrated every year in Ontario during the 3rd week of November. The Ministry of Education website has ideas of what other schools have done in the past. You can also check out Bullying.org for ideas for Bullying Prevention week.
- communications to parents to keep them informed of SCIS activities around the school. For example, Mary Johnston Public School’s SCIS team updated parents during Bullying Prevention and Awareness Week.
- celebration of Pink Shirt Day in February or International Day of Pink in April – check out how Bridgeport Public School is celebrating Pink Shirt Day!
- focus on an issue of concern in your School Climate survey data (see below for more information regarding School Climate surveys)
- prepare resource kits (with written material or videos) that parents can check out of the library that address various SCIS issues that seem pertinent to the school community
- staff, student and/or parent “training” on bullying prevention and intervention strategies, support for diversity, or equity and inclusion. This could be by way of assemblies, guest speakers for staff meetings or sessions for parents in the evening. For ideas you can see the Ministry of Education registry of resources for Safe and Inclusive Schools.
The surveys ask a variety of questions designed to allow SCIS teams and school administrators to get a sense of where the school is achieving success and where the school needs to improve the school climate. All might seem fine to those in charge, but school climate is about the perceptions of those in the school community. The surveys give an opportunity to understand those perceptions.School climate surveys address two critical goals: (1) assessment of the current school climate and (2) the opportunity to track progress of a school with respect to school climate by having the same survey completed each year. Data from the surveys are provided to each school principal in the Fall to share with her/his SCIS team. The data should guide the team in deciding what goals to pursue to promote positive school climate. The greater the number of survey responses, the more meaningful the data will be to the SCIS team as it attempts to assess the school’s climate.What can you do to help?
- Complete a school climate survey for each child you have enrolled in the WRDSB. You are encouraged to chat with your child as you complete the survey in order to provide the most accurate information possible as you might not be aware of some issues if you have not previously discussed them with your child. Even very young children have opinions on these issues and, because only some grades of students have the opportunity to complete surveys, the parent surveys are another opportunity to include the experiences of your children.
- Encourage other families at your school to complete the survey. This can be done informally through word-of-mouth or through formal communications (in print, email etc.) that come home from the principal, the School Council or the SCIS team. Make sure that parents know that the data will remain anonymous and will come back to the school to help the SCIS team plan activities.
- Request that the school climate survey be available on the school’s website.
- Ask the school principal to advertise a time that families can come into the school to access the internet from school computers in order to complete the survey.
- Ask parents who require an interpreter to complete the survey to contact the school principal to see if one can be made available.
- Ask the school principal to share the results of the survey with the school community.
As an example, in past years at Mary Johnston P.S., the staff members have organized nine character development assemblies throughout the school year. Each assembly focused on a different book that exemplifies one or more of the WRDSB’s character traits. On the day of the assembly, the school principal posted information about the assembly and the book on the school website along with a few questions that parents could raise with their children that evening. This gave the opportunity for parents to learn along with their children and to reinforce the important character development messages from home.
School Council meetings provide an opportunity to highlight the importance of SCIS issues for your school community. You can decide what format best suits your school. Here are some suggestions:
- Make SCIS a recurring agenda item at council meetings. Invite your SCIS team parent member to attend and provide updates on the team’s activities or ask your principal to update parents on what SCIS related activities have been occurring within your school or the classrooms.
- Invite a teacher whose class has participated in a special SCIS event to come to speak to parents about what happened and the impact it had on the students (for example, a class may have prepared holiday songs and treats to share with residents at a nearby retirement community).
- Feature a different SCIS activity from the school for 10 minutes at each council meeting (e.g., one month it could be a presentation about the school’s Roots of Empathy program, another month it could be a discussion of the use of learning buddies at the school, another month an education piece by the principal about how restorative justice is used within the school to resolve more serious conflicts etc.).
- Rather than making SCIS a regular small part of all School Council meetings, you could just pick one or two meetings throughout the year that will involve a special focus in this area and advertise to the school community that SCIS will be featured. At the first meeting you might spend time explaining what SCIS is, the role of the SCIS team, and where parents can get further information. As an example please see material prepared for Mary Johnston P.S. School Council meeting in 2014 which is based upon the WRDSB Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools Model 2012-2013 and Ministry of Education legislation and policies – view the example.
- At a subsequent SCIS focused meeting, ask the principal to prepare a few vignettes or made-up scenarios where there is conflict among students in the school and where the principal describes how those would be resolved. Parents are often particularly interested in being told when they will be contacted and what role they can play in helping to resolve issues. Parents may also wish to know what types of disciplinary measures will be administered when required.
School principals and teachers have many priorities and responsibilities. No matter their good intentions, at times important areas are overlooked. Given what parents know about the importance of a safe, caring and inclusive learning environment to the education and well-being of our children, we can let the school know that we want attention paid to SCIS! You can share the material from here or from the WRDSB’s website on Safe, Caring and Inclusive Schools where you’ll find a list of WRDSB beliefs including that “learning is optimized in a safe, caring and inclusive environment.” In its section on positive school climate, the WRDSB focuses on a whole school approach that begins with the principal:
Leadership is essential in establishing a vision, policies, and procedures that promote a positive school culture to prevent bullying and violence. Moreover, it is the principals’ leadership that is essential to establishing a foundation of collaboration across the groups within the school community (Jaffe, 2010).