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Prevention Council Hosting School Climate, Kindness Expert Jo Ann Freiberg

UPDATE (Monday, March 17, 2014): This event has been postponed to the fall. Read more here.

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School climate has nothing to do with air quality or the physical temperature of the classrooms in which Newtown students learn. But when it comes to school climate, Jo Ann Freiberg, PhD, recently told The Newtown Bee that she prefers to see it cool versus heating up.

Dr Freiberg is an educational consultant with the Connecticut State Department of Education working with the Bureau of Accountability and Improvement. According to her bio, she manages the wide arena of bullying, improving school climate, and character education. 

She will be the next guest in the Newtown Prevention Council’s Parent Speaker Series, Wednesday, March 19, at Newtown Middle School. Her presentation is open to all residents, but she hopes to see lots of local parents and students at the talk, which is scheduled for 7 pm.

Dr Freiberg has worked as both a classroom teacher and a teacher educator, and has held faculty appointments at a number of universities, including Central Connecticut State University, Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Hartford, and the University of Connecticut.

Dr Freiberg holds a PhD in philosophy of education from Ohio State University, and her areas of academic teaching and research include moral and character education, educational studies, professional ethics, and multicultural education.

She has served on the statewide task force on bullying, as an educational consultant in a variety of settings both in Connecticut and across the country, and she is a member of the National School Climate Council. And as a parent, she prides herself on seeing the issues that often engage her professionally from multifaceted levels.

She defines school climate as “the quality and character of school life with a special focus on the quality of relationships in school.”

“But it’s also about safety and access to learning — breaking down the barriers to learning,” she said. “It’s about how connected and engaged students are, and what kind of supports they have.”

Dr Freiberg said that school climate under a different label has been around for centuries — defined as school culture.

“Some people use culture and climate interchangeably, but I think of climate as focused on relationship building, while culture describes the norms, expectations, and values of the community,” she said. “Educators have been writing about school climate for decades and decades, and the research is finally catching up.”

The educator and kindness specialist strongly believes that without a positive school climate, students cannot learn.

“This is really about student success, and creating the proper, engaging environment where students feel safe and are provided the intellectual and social supports — and where everyone is treated with dignity,” she said.

Dr Freiberg said she not only looks at the victim or the person on the receiving end of negative behavior, but everyone involved in bullying incidents or confrontations.

“Unfortunately, as a nation, we are too quick to put ourselves in a reactive mode — we wait until something happens and then we move in and act,” she said. “But what climate is really about is setting the conditions, and the stage and the foundation so we are spending less time in reactive mode, and spending more time skill building and practicing using those skills for relating socially and being successful.”

She said to achieve those goals, it is even more about teaching adults as well as students.

“When we can create that environment, there is far less of a tendency to react or intervene with both the target and the perpetrator,” she said. “Every member of a school community lacks certain things and they need those skills to be met. We need to create environments where it’s ok to take risks and to learn in a way that is ok for each participant.”

Dr Freiberg said reaching that place is becoming increasingly harder as more mandates and demands are falling on staff and faculty. She believes that academics are important, but creating positive school climate creates the ultimate academic environment for success.

She said those attending her March 19 Parent Speaker Series visit will provide educators, parents, and all community members with evidence that directly links school climate and bullying.

“True bullying prevention is school climate improvement,” Dr Freiberg said. “When people treat each other appropriately, there are far fewer inappropriate, mean spirited, and hurtful interactions going on.”

She will also review the current state laws pertaining to bullying, and will help promote connectedness between parents and the school community as a common sense means to better understand and support student success.

For those who cannot attend, Dr Freiberg offers a range of resources and helpful links on her own website, joannfreiberg.com.

Reservations for the March 19 program are requested, and can be done through chboothlibrary.org.

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