The advisor program at Bement has long provided an opportunity for a small group of students to build a close relationship with one member of the faculty. That relationship is meant to provide guidance and support to each student as each year of their upper school career unfolds. While much of the focus has been on academic support and direction, deeper relationships often develop as students get to know each other more, and a teacher gets to know them more as well.
In an effort to strengthen those relationships, the upper school has undertaken a new initiative directed towards providing our faculty with additional resources in building strong and healthy relationships with students, and also provides our students with those same skills in connecting with one another.
Bement has begun collaborating with the good people at The Mediation and Training Collaborative (TMTC) in Greenfield. During faculty meetings at the start of the school year, teachers worked with trainers from TMTC in learning how to lead a circle. Circle work has thus become a central focus of our time together in advisory this year. During the fall, TMTC workshop leaders also spent four Friday afternoons on campus, leading each upper school class in such skills as active listening and making “I” statements, playing theater games to strengthen social skills, understanding the dynamics of the roles of bystander and intervener, and better recognizing different approaches to dealing with conflict.
The relationship with TMTC will continue into the spring and beyond, as Bement deepens its commitment to circle work and restorative justice. As we have quickly learned, enacting a change such as this is a multi-year commitment. Nevertheless, the early returns are very promising. As an eighth grade advisor, I already feel like my relationships with my advisees are deeper and more substantial, as are their relationships with one another. As dean of students, I feel like our students are already better able to negotiate conflict situations in constructive ways, restoring relationships that have been frayed and doing repair work with a more meaningful understanding of how and why it strengthens our community. When relationships are deeper and stronger, so are the wellsprings of compassion that sustain them. Our important work continues!