By Celeste Joyce MSN, John Baker, Saima Farooq, and Joseph Vespignani, Ed.D.

Nurses are uniquely qualified as team members. Academic training that takes place in a complex health care settings, prepares nurses to work with other highly skilled professionals to have quality outcomes. On a daily basis, school nurses monitor the rhythm of the school to stay on top of concerns such as communicable disease, injuries, chronic conditions and stress. Nurses use the information they gather to compile data that is useful to administrators and school safety committees. As advocates for safety, school nurses are active in developing school safety plans to address a wide variety of potential emergencies that may occur on school grounds, including bullying and other types of school violence.

Bullying can have a profound effect on communities and students. It impacts physical as well as mental health and can affect academic performance. School nurses are often the first staff members that students seek out when they feel unsafe. School nurse collaboration with team members of the school safety committee has a direct impact on bullying and the overall safety of the school community.

At Salvatore R. Calabro Elementary School in Hoboken, an integrated model of leadership implemented by the building principal empowers the School Safety Team members to create a safe environment for all while complying with state law. A key component is collaboration and partnership between staff and leadership. Integrative leadership shares much with the nursing model of shared governance, which aims to provide quality care through collaborative teamwork and retaining accountability.

The team has implemented a school-wide kindness referral program to recognize students who demonstrate benevolence or generosity. It motivates students to be compassionate and caring toward others. In the classroom, this program creates an atmosphere filled with respect, generates enthusiasm toward exhibiting good character traits, and also builds a culture of teamwork throughout the school.

The school nurse plays a significant role as a member of the school safety team. The health office is not just a place for the delivery of nursing care. School nurses are actively involved in student social-emotional health and create an inclusive environment. The school nurse is readily available to support students during moments of conflict. At our school, the office houses the school’s confidential bullying mailbox, where students can anonymously report cases of bullying.

The school nurse is often viewed as a neutral staff member, not directly involved in academics or dispensing discipline. This status allows the nurse to establish a unique relationship with students, a trusting one where students may share something about themselves or about their classmates that may allow the nurse to proactively intervene to avoid school violence. In this manner, the school nurse creates a safe, comfortable location for student voices to be heard.

Changes lead to success

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act in 2011 and subsequent mandates of a School Safety Team provided an opportunity for change. At Calabro Elementary School, meaningful changes through new organizational routines have been effectively implemented to establish an inclusive school culture that is truly an exemplar. The School Safety Team, which is composed of the anti-bullying specialist, school nurse, teacher, parent, and principal, created a new routine of monthly, anti-bullying activities aligned with various curricula to promote respect within the school community.

The team has implemented a school-wide kindness referral program to recognize students who demonstrate benevolence or generosity. It motivates students to be compassionate and caring toward others. In the classroom, this program creates an atmosphere filled with respect, generates enthusiasm toward exhibiting good character traits, and also builds a culture of teamwork throughout the school. The weekly kindness acts recognition ceremony provides students with a sense of internal satisfaction and allows them to be considerate and selfless. The school has enjoyed and celebrated a bully free year through these effective routines.

While these routines are not mandates, they have been critical to making a shift towards a school culture of warmth and kindness. This type of change did not occur overnight.

Change can be viewed as a new set of beliefs and habits of action to accept new experiences (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). The challenge is that this requires a shift in the values and norms of all staff members (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002). At the Calabro School, the integrative model of leadership aligned to the needs of the school’s culture was of paramount importance to make this shift (Hallinger, 2005). For example, the anti-bullying specialist works closely with teachers to empower and engage them in the planning and delivery of the monthly activities. To highlight the March activity, the entire school proudly marched the hallways with classroom created posters to stomp out bullying.

Another example of integrative leadership can be observed in the teacher’s role on the team. The teacher took an active leadership role in organizing the school’s first Parent/Guardian Academy Diversity Summit, which served as the June activity. The summit began with a presentation to parents and guardians who were asked to reflect on what diversity means to them and how they are unique as individuals. This was followed by diversity performance by each classroom. Prior to the presentations, the teacher worked with colleagues by providing resources and ideas for the performance. The result was a day of reflection and learning about how we can celebrate and relish our diversity.

School leadership maximizes the health and safety of the school community through support of school safety teams. This shared responsibility leads to an effective change for school as a place for teaching and learning.

Celeste Joyce is a school nurse at Calabro Elementary School in Hoboken, where John Baker is a physical education teacher and anti-bullying specialist and Saima Farooq is a K-5 Science teacher. Joseph Vespignani is the building principal. Each are members of the Calabro School Safety Team. Joyce can be reached at celeste.joyce@hoboken.k12.nj.us.

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