President's Corner

The Bright Light of Civility
By Gail Pletnick/School Administrator, April 2018

IN HER ARTICLE “Civility 101: Who’s Teaching the Class?” on her Roots of Action website, psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell defines civility as a behavior that “recognizes humanity of others” and puts the interests of the common good above those of self.

We recognize the importance of teaching respect, understanding and tolerance and do so through character education programs in our schools. Many schools also have service programs through which children learn about giving to others, supporting the good of the whole or making a positive difference in the community.

These programs address behaviors associated with civility and are important to our mission of preparing students to be successful, contributing members of their local, national and international communities — but are these programs enough?

All of us, including our children, are bombarded every day by words and images that expose a lack of civility in our country and throughout the world. Digital and print media are saturated with reports of hate-related violence, mass shootings in public places, and harassment and bullying. There is a seemingly never-ending list of famous people who make the headlines for behaving in anything but a civil manner.

We cannot ignore this lack of civility in our world nor can we raise our children in a bubble in an attempt to shield them from this negativity. What we can do is highlight the positive things happening in our schools, the backyard examples of civility that our own students and staff model every day.

Our schools and communities long have celebrated athletic victories and academic accomplishments. Now let’s put the same amount of energy and attention into recognizing those who lead with compassion and concern for others. Let’s celebrate the student leaders, district employees, parents and volunteers who act with kindness, show respect for diversity and put others before themselves.

As an organization, AASA modeled compassion and caring for the public school communities in Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico affected by the devastating hurricanes this past fall. Under the direction of Executive Director Dan Domenech, AASA staff quickly reached out to state and local education leaders to offer assistance and help organize support.

The relief initiative allowed superintendents to provide direct support to children and families who suffered significant hardships after the hurricanes and connected school districts that had much-needed materials and products to those districts that needed them.

School communities across the nation carried out similar efforts focused on supporting the good of the whole, but these kinds of crises are not the only opportunities we have in our school communities to showcase the models of civility that are evident in our public schools.

Each month in my own district, Dysart Unified in Arizona, the governing board recognizes and celebrates students, staff, volunteers and community members — anyone from our district who has shown compassion, caring and concern for others.

We call these individuals our Dysart Heartbeats because on a daily basis, in sometimes very small but very meaningful ways, they model caring and giving from their hearts. Their everyday examples make our schools and district environments more civil and start a “chain reaction of civility” in the community and beyond.

Let’s showcase the civility we witness in our school communities every day. Use #WeLovePublicSchools to share the good news and let our nation and countries around the world know that the bright light of civility shines in our public schools.

 is AASA president in 2017-18. Twitter: ­@GPletnickDysart