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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Principal Alicia Averette Builds a Safe Environment at School

The staff at Louisville's Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School enable students to thrive by cultivating a secure, inviting place to learn.

How Principal Alicia Averette Builds a Safe Environment at School (Transcript)

Teacher: We started from day one, the first day of school, talking to the students about how do they want their school to be, how do they want their classroom to be? What does it look like, feel like and sound like? We talk a lot about being respectful, so the students know, when they're in the hall, other classes are in their room, and they're learning. So if we're loud, we're interrupting them, they're not being respectful. So we talk a lot about helping the students. We want the students to understand why there are norms, and why there are rules, and there is consistency across the building, from our staff members.

When I got the job, and became principal, I met with every staff member individually and asked them what their vision was for the school. Where did they want the school to go, and then what were-- how did they think we could get there? And based on their results, even though I had my ideas in my mind, but based on their results, we started forming committees and teams, we had a discipline team, we formed an instructional leadership team, which consisted of teachers who I knew were-- had best practices and were implementing best practices in the room. And so I started building the shared leadership, and giving the staff members ownership by forming the committees, working together, because I wanted them to see that it's not about the leader telling them what to do. We have to own it as a staff.

The Care for Kids Program has allowed a structure and a framework for us to teach the social, emotional, intellectual components for the children. We were doing it, and trying our best to do it, but the structure of the morning meetings and the afternoon meetings, and the resources that we have, to really be intentional about how we interact with students, has definitely taken it to-- took it to a whole new level. Some teachers, the Care for Kids might come naturally for them. For others, it might be more of a struggle. The framework is there, they can pick up the book, and structure their morning meeting and their afternoon meeting and so forth, using the resources. And so it's helped everyone quickly be able to implement it successfully, consistently, school-wide. We've been able to do it, and I've noticed the interactions between students and also between the teachers and students, the interactions are more positive.

I make it a point to be in a morning meeting every day, to participate. That's one way I can get to know the kids, but I also want the teachers to know that I value the program, because they have to-- it has to come from me, and showing that this is a valuable program, we believe in it, so I'm always in a morning meeting, and then I do walk throughs daily, in classrooms, because that's one way that we can help move our school forward, is if I'm in there, I'm observing, interacting with the students. I will ask the students, tell me what you're learning, why is this important? They need to know how to articulate their learning. So that's one thing I look for, and then I'm looking at instruction, and providing feedback to the teachers on areas of growth, and we've built this culture where they are-- they accept feedback, they want to improve, or they want to know how they can help a child be successful.

It's just so rewarding when I have visitors come in, substitutes come in, and they have-- always comment about the kids and how they seem happy, and wanting to learn, and really wanting to do their best, and we have put a lot of the learning on the students. When we talk about, we conference with students on their work, and on their assessments. They set individual learning goals, so they have it-- they want to do well for them, rather than just for us. And it's something that we have to constantly work on, but we're putting a lot of ownership on the students, and so that they become lifelong learners.

Learning cannot occur until you have a safe environment, and that-- no matter what academic program you put in place, if you don't have that environment where students feel safe, and they're willing to take risks, and you have the relationships built, learning will not occur. And so I would tell any principal that that's what-- when you think about trying to raise your test scores, and all the requirements, that won't happen if the students aren't able to take risk. Our students want to do well, they want to do well for us, and then they want to do well for themselves. They are proud of the school, and so they want to do well, which, in turn, it helps with achievement scores, it pays off in the long run, it really pays off if you set that, you have that environment for learning. Our teachers can teach now, and students can learn, because they feel safe.

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Video Credits

Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Rob Weller
  • Mark Crowner

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Former principal Alicia Averette moved on from Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School in 2010 to become Elementary Priority School Manager for Jefferson County Public Schools. Allyson Vitato is now the principal at Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School.

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Comments (2)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Alberta Hallowbee's picture

I agree with Ms. Averette, however, all are not on board with SEL. In educational arenas where the climate is hostile toward innovation, it is extremely difficult and stressful promoting SEL.
It would be interesting to hear what Ms. Averette would have to say concerning this.

Guna's picture

I find this a very inovative and a great idea to work with kids

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