Imagine a wall filled with thousands of notes expressing hope, peace and love. Any time a person passes the wall, a kind note is there to remind them that they are valued in their community.
We call this an “empathy wall” or a “Wall of Inclusion.” And this is just one of the many ways our schools are celebrating Inclusive Schools Week, which takes place each year during the first week of December.
This week, we’re taking time to celebrate something that’s at the core of what public schools are about. We have inclusive schools, which means we include everyone — and I mean everyone — in our classrooms and our schoolyards.
Inclusive Schools Week champions the progress that schools are making in providing a safe and supportive learning environment for an increasingly diverse student population.
This year’s national Inclusive Schools Week theme is “Charting the Course for Inclusion.” While we have made great strides in acknowledging the need for inclusion to achieve greater access, equitable opportunities and more authentic relationships, we know we have many more steps to take to reach our goal of fully inclusive schools.
Inclusive Schools Week is one of many weeks during the school year when we can reflect on our charge to assist students to be the best version of themselves. By engaging in discussions about the importance of inclusion, we can help all students and families feel included at our schools.
All across San Francisco, our schools celebrate inclusion in many ways. Some schools have a “Random Act of Kindness Day” and a “Sit With Someone New at Lunch Day.” Some schools make a list of “Things that make our school inclusive” and teachers read from the list each morning.
When we teach students about inclusivity, we ask them to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Imagine if people thought this way every day — we would have a lot less hurt feelings. We can make schools, and the world, a better place just by being nice to each other and understanding everyone’s differences.
If your child goes to an SFUSD school, I hope they share with you how they’re learning to appreciate that people have different kinds of intelligence. I hope they express even more empathy for others.
One of the great things about our inclusive schools activities is that they aren’t just for school — they can be practiced at home, too.
I hope this week helps all of our students gain an understanding and learn about the diverse lives of their classmates. And I hope that we all remember to be inclusive in the classroom, on the schoolyard, and in our communities all year long.
Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.