Can Learn A Lot From the School Bathroom
Dr. Kathie F. Nunley
Want a quick
view of a school's climate? Visit the bathroom.
I've been to
a lot of schools. Big city, small town, rich neighborhood, scary
neighborhood. And when you've seen a lot of schools, you've seen
a lot of school bathrooms. I've learned that I can get a very good
sense of school climate from just a quick visit to the bathroom.
talking about the protected "faculty restroom" found off a corridor
in the main office. I'm talking about the "boys" and "girls" bathrooms
for student use in the hallways.
First, I like
to look at the factors that are determined by the adult community
of the school. It is interesting to note that while most of my visits
are to high schools, the labels stenciled on the majority of high
school bathroom doors read BOYS and GIRLS. Not MEN and WOMEN as
we expect them to behave, but BOYS and GIRLS. I have seen a good
deal of high schools that label them Men and Women,
though whichever way it goes, it does give an initial indication
of the overall level of expectation. (One school labeled them MEN
and GIRLS....I've yet to figure out how to interpret that)
Then there is
the issue of the the main door. Does one exist? Many of the schools
built in the last 35 years, are designed with a maze type entrance
that eliminates the need for a door. But some older schools, despite
design, have simply removed the main door, presumably for security,
(or to be fair, it may be due to handicap accessibility). But if
there is a door, is a key required for admission?
there individual stall doors? Mirrors? (real, or the unbreakable
type that are similar to looking in a piece of aluminum foil?) Are
there functioning sinks? Soap and towels and other necessary supplies?
What about decor?
decor?" you may ask. Yes, some school bathrooms do have decor.
like to look at the factors that are determined by the student community
of the school. These are things like graffiti and what types of
graffiti are on the walls and stalls. Also the general state of
cleanliness in the bathroom. Are used paper products in their proper
place or strewn about?
to get a feel for school climate, bathrooms tell the truth about
how students feel about their school. This is because they are the
student equivalent to a faculty lounge...an oasis from "those other
people in the school". While teachers value a faculty lounge as
a place away from students, students view their bathroom as a haven
from teachers. It's not that teaches are banned, it's just that
for the most part, in most schools, teachers don't want to go into
love to visit them. They tell so much.
and student ownership of a school is not about the socioeconomic
climate of the neighborhood. I've seen school bathrooms in elite
high income areas as well as high poverty areas that resemble prison
bathrooms. Keys required for entry, stall doors missing, floors
filthy and littered with a myriad of dirty items. I've also seen
school bathrooms in both areas which show student pride and indicate
a true sense of community. I've seen schools where faculty and students
both happily share the same facilities. I've seen bathrooms with
student-facilitated decorations and artwork and school spirit.
What goes on
in a school bathroom and what is allowed to go on in a school bathroom
is all about trust. It's a reflection of the trust-building and
emotional security that's occurring throughout the school between
the adult and student members of that community. Respecting students
and ensuring that they feel they are valuable members of the community
with recognizable input, is step one in building a successful school,
regardless of what is going on outside the walls.
The next time
you want to get a glimpse into how your school is truly doing, visit
the students' bathroom.
Dr Kathie Nunley is an educational psychologist, researcher and
author of several books on parenting and teaching, including A
Student's Brain (Brains.org) and the best selling, "Differentiating
the High School Classroom" (Corwin Press). She is the developer
of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction and has worked
with parents and educators around the world to better structure
schools to make brain-friendly environments. In addition, her
work has been used by the Boeing Corporation, Family Circle Magazine,
the Washington Post, and ABC television.
her: Kathie (at) brains.org