VIDEO: Six Tips For Fostering a Positive School Climate


Fakhra Shah knows first-hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of anti-Muslim slurs and stereotyping. Growing up Muslim in the Bay Area, she’s experienced them her whole life.

As a social studies teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco, one of Shah’s primary goals is to prevent bullying by teaching respect and inclusion. She uses restorative practices and other techniques learned through her peer resources program, encourages varied student perspectives, and creates a warm and supportive environment where all students feel accepted.

In this series of short video excerpts from our NEA interview with Shah, she shares practical tips to improve the school climate in your school community.

  1. Use Sentence Starters
    Download Fakhra Shah’s “Islamophobia” presentation.

    Every day in her classroom, Shah starts with a check-in that includes a sentence starter or topic. For example, one starter she finds to be effective is: “One thing that is going really well for me is…” Students finish the sentence and go around the class.“Not only do I get to find out what is going well for them and I can encourage them,” says Shah. “But I also get to find out what they are struggling with… Instead of then a student acting out later or having some sort of incident with a peer, we can address it at that time and I can encourage the student with that as well.”
    View the video clip –>

  2. If There is an Incident, Address It
    If negative or intolerant words are used or actions taken in a classroom or elsewhere in a school community, educators need to address it immediately. “It should be reiterated at that moment that this is not OK,” says Shah. “It should be named. It should be addressed. Its impact should be discussed. I think the lesson should be stopped.”
    View the video clip –>
  3. Listen to Your Students
    When students feel heard and validated, they feel as though they have been brought into an ongoing conversation, “That promotes a more collaborate teaching and learning experience,” says Shah. “Versus an authoritarian, top-down teaching and learning experience.”
    View the video clip–>
  4. Handling Incidents Between Students

    Download Fakhra Shah’s “Islamophobia Lesson Plan”

    Shah had one incident at her school where a student yelled out something racially insensitive to another student. They addressed it in that moment in the class. They then had individual meetings with the students, and then met with the students together.“The student who said the racially insensitive words mentioned how he had heard those words somewhere and he hadn’t realized the impact,” says Shah. “And then he apologized and the students shook hands and they even hugged. And they talked about how they would then move on from that experience.”
    View the video clip–>

  5. A Safe School Should Be a Priority
    In order to learn effectively, it’s important for students to be able to trust their educators, their peers and their school environment. “Not only will students become safe, but they will become learners,” says Shah. “They’ll become excellent learners.”
    View the video clip–>
  6. Check In With Your Students
    It is important for educators to try to understand where students are emotionally and psychologically. Whether it’s regularly part of a class period, or just one day a week, says Shah, “having these conversations will really promote learning and promote trust and a better school climate.”
    View the video clip–>




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