Creating Cultures of Caring: Supporting Student Needs by Empowering Their Voice

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I work at a rural high school serving approximately 550 students. In a recent PDE School Climate survey, completed within my building, many of our students expressed that their teachers are not supporting their needs outside of the course curriculum. Students within my high school stated that they felt that they were alone and that their teachers only cared about making it to the end of their curriculum, and their scores on standardized tests. I can recall, within my own high school experience, hearing my peers feeling describe how they felt as though they had fallen through the cracks of their school experience.

Many of whom walked across the stage at graduation trying to make sense of the blur that were the previous four years; and this is what cultures of caring look to eliminate.

Specific Problem of Practice

It is for this reason that my passion for this subject comes from a passion for my subjects. Our district lies in what was once a booming coal town but with the closing of the mines, like many of its kind, it is now a shadow of its former glory, and the students in my district are products of this environment.

Therefore, many students are hardworking, as many of them go to school and then head to work; many are mature of their age, as some play an essential part in supporting their families; and many are determined to make something of themselves. Unfortunately, many of these students do not receive the support they need at home, when it comes to their education.

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As a result, we see that they look to their teachers for support in their academic and, in many cases, personal needs.

Many of my colleagues claim that caring in high school is juvenile, and that we are “babying” students. As a result, there has not been much buy in from the staff. I believe that it is the job of teacher to aid in the development of the whole student. By fostering caring relationships with students’ teachers are able to make important connections that can help support the essential decisions our students make to prepare them for college and career readiness. Therefore, my study will begin in my own classroom. It is my hope that by providing concrete evidence, of the impact these kinds of classroom climates, to my colleagues that it will create more buy-in to the ideas of cultures of caring.

Definition of Terms

I seek to contribute to a positive and caring school culture in my high school, starting in my own classroom. By “culture,” I mean “a pattern of basic assumptions, invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration” (Schein, 1990, p. 113). It is my hope that by creating a “culture of caring” in my own classroom I can eventually affect the larger school culture, as the students in my school deserve to see their education as important and supported.

By “caring,” I mean: the building of a reciprocal relationship, between teacher and students, that “take[s] into account [students’] feelings and desires that are actually there and respond as positively as [their] values and capacities allow” (Noddings, 2005, p. 2). Therefore, it is the role of the teacher to help these students meet goals both academically and personally. Building these bridges will allow students to feel that they are partners in their education, rather than products of the current testing-centric mentality.

To promote a caring culture in school means that students are supported to meet their personal and academic goals. For this study, I will be focusing on the impact of celebrating student interest and empowering their voice in the classroom. It is my hope that by making students partners in their education we will see the gap, between teacher perceptions and student experiences, decrease as students are provided with additional supports in the classroom. This study will focus on aiding students outside of the realm of curriculum and center on the achievement of fringe goals, which I define as personal goals set outside of the prescribed course curriculum resulting in the students’ holistic education and positive school experiences.

Connections to Literature

The topic of holistic, student-centric, education has been the subject of decades of research, however with the dramatic increase in school violence and student self-harm this topic is essential as we look to promote student success and achievement. To paraphrase one of his most prolific statements, Mr. Fred Rogers says that when times are looking most bleak to seek out the helpers. In our current education system, the rapport between teacher and student could be one of the greatest examples of this kind of situation.

Rogers and Webb

Rogers and Webb (2016) explore the impact the ever-changing world of education has on the role of the teacher. They say that through all the reform schools experience they focus is beginning to shift from the persons we teach to the new rules implemented in the latest swing of the pendulum. As a result of this, the relational nature of secondary education has been devalued, but that the “ethic of caring provides a way to reclaim the affect in education,” and “with caring at heart…all of [a teachers] actions should be considered in terms of their impact on the welfare of their students” (p. 175). This call to action served as a launch point for this study; but the question remains, how to boil down such an expansive undertaking into manageable, actionable, tests of change.

The answer came from examining the work of several scholarly works focusing on the significance of student voice. Through the empowerment of students’ voices, it is my goal to create a classroom environment in which students feel safe to express their thoughts, feelings, and interests by applying acquired literacy skill activities. One inspiring example of this kind of activity came from a recent article about the relationship between teaching practice and social change in the English classroom (Storm & Rainey, 2018). The authors describe an activity Storm utilizes in his classroom, in which students contribute to the day’s curriculum by bringing in a work of literature that they are passionate about. On Fridays, students examine the piece and dissect it utilizing literacy skills they have learned. This project aims to have students critically interrogate the piece, and “creat[es] space and opportunity for students to name and position themselves . . . and articulat[e] their own interests and needs” (p. 95). It is my hope to create a similar experience for students within the classroom to begin the creation of a “culture of caring.”

Dr. Boroditsky

By focusing on the way our students speak, and see themselves, language becomes a major catalyst in instituting this change. Dr. Boroditsky, states that “language is like the air we breathe, we hardly notice it. We just think that it’s perfectly reflecting and channeling our thoughts” (Carruthers, 2018). In many cases, students adopt their world view from the people around them, what they hear, and what they see; so if we stop and focus on how we speak to, and with, students the power in the situation falls into the hands of the students. Boroditsky also explains how language is a powerful tool for opening the minds of young adults and those around them. Too often we see people becoming comfortable with their situation, as it is their norm. She states that,

“whenever you choose to describe an event . . . you’re taking a perspective, a frame of reference on that particular situation. And that frame of reference is shaping the way you think about it, and it’s shaping the way your conversation partner thinks about it, and so you’re jointly creating a particular perspective”

Therefore, by creating opportunities for students to express what they are thinking and feeling, in a positive atmosphere, the culture will begin to shift not only for the speaker but their peers as well.

By utilizing literacy and language skills to help build this positive exchange in the classroom, I hope to build a bridge between home and school culture. Frankel and her colleagues explain how we, as readers, must not only look for literacy at the construction of meaning in a text but there must be an integration of our background information to create impactful, inclusive, knowledge. This makes the literacy process more meaningful for our students, and that “as participants in communities of practice, in and out of school, we are always reading to learn . . . to gain insight, knowledge, and the skills of critical inquiry” (p.13). By connecting the literacy process to their everyday lives, I hope students will begin to foster a reader identity that they will carry with them as they enter into life outside of high school.

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Creating Cultures of Caring: Supporting Student Needs by Empowering Their Voice. (2021, Nov 12). Retrieved from

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