Introduced by Art Kleiner and Peter Senge

When the New York City school system introduced its version of the “framework for great schools” in 2015, one of the six main components was trust. This is the idea that all stakeholders in a school – the administrators, educators, students, and families of students – need to feel that they share common interests and will truly act on each others’ behalf. The six years since then have included two mayoral elections and the Covid-19 pandemic, which struck New York early and intensively. Trust has proven to be even more critical than many people realized. And it has also proven very difficult to achieve.

Tyee Chin is a senior administrator in Staten Island, one of New York’s five boroughs. Just as the Covid-19 pandemic began, he initiated a project to foster trust in the borough’s school system, by encouraging a reflective, mindful environment where administrators, teachers, and students can talk about the challenges that they have in common. Staten Island is a dense and intensely divided community. It has liberal and conservative neighborhoods and wealthy and poor residents. Its public schools serve people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. It is considered the most racially divided borough in New York City. The data shows that the minority student population has a disproportionally high likelihood of being suspended or identified as having a disability. 

In the last few years, some of Staten Island’s educators have increasingly sought to bring a higher level of equity into the school system. Tyee Chin is one of them. He joined the school system in 2000 as a math teacher in Brooklyn, then became an instructional coach, assistant principal and then school principal. He is now director of student services in Staten Island. He supports all 70 schools in Staten Island (Pre-K to 12) around issues such as attendance, crisis, guidance, health, suspensions, school culture and climate. He and his team are thus responsible for social-emotional learning (SEL) opportunities for about 55,000 students and school staff people. He is also a parent of two children, one in college and one in middle school, who both experienced the remote-learning restrictions of the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

The project to develop schools as welcoming environments began as part of his work in the year-long Center for Systems Awareness master practitioner certification program. (He was part of a Staten Island cohort of participants, including three principals and another district administrator, in 2020.) Chin’s project has had three phases: a series of weekly gatherings for administrators focused on self-care during the pandemic, a second gathering focused on changing the school culture, and a third gathering, just starting in Fall 2021, in which teachers and students will be included. In this essay, you’ll see how Tyee developed his view of a welcoming school, how he initiated the gatherings, and what he has learned along the way.

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Jennie Snyder: “If I had to sum up what I’ve learned in one phrase, it would be about the importance of listening.”
“Instead, I now try to take the time to really understand what each person is saying, and the broader context around all of us. The important part is not the ideas themselves, or the specifics of what we’re going to do. It is the act of asking questions, of suspending certainty, and always being in a place of learning and inquiry. ”
From the intro by Art and Peter: “… the need for quality leadership [is brought] to the forefront, especially as a catalyst for change. Seemingly small shifts in attitudes and behavior, aligned with self-awareness and empathy, can have great personal and professional effect.”

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