Challenge Success, a Palo Alto High School Climate Committee, held the event in the Media Arts Center (MAC) to help students understand what might stress their teachers and build empathy for them.
According to Paly Assistant Principal and Challenge Success member Kathie Laurence, the objective of these two meetings was to spread awareness on how teachers can aid students in minimizing stress.
“The goal was to increase empathy around the life of a student and the life of a teacher,” Laurence said.
To facilitate these discussions, senior and Lead Student Representative for Challenge Success, Candace Wang, and the Challenge Success committee decided to go with the “fishbowl” format after hearing the positive effects it had for those who speak and those who listen.
The fishbowl format functions so that the speakers are arranged in a circle with listeners surrounding them.
“Every person has a story to share, and fishbowls are surprisingly effective for letting students’ or teachers’ voices be heard,” Wang said. “I think the fishbowl is the best way to get messages across because it’s direct, personal and emotionally very impactful.”
Nine teachers from several departments spoke about their daily routines, the challenges they face, how they solve problems, and the new teaching styles they try.
“I thought that [if students wanted to hear me] that would be valuable, and it would help students understand where we are coming from,” said Steve Sabbag, a World History teacher.
Although the focus of the discussion was about student stress, teachers described their own stressful challenges — getting to school early, being fully prepared for every class, helping students individually — and after a long day, going home to grade papers and take care of themselves.
Teachers also talked about ways to reduce stress for students. Caitlin Evans, a U.S. History teacher, said she wishes she knew more about students’ individual situations so that she could know exactly how to help each student. Science teacher Josh Bloom thinks teachers agree that they are trying to do what is best for students, but there is disagreement on how.
Science teacher Alicia Szebert said students’ grades need to reflect their knowledge, so she will not give everyone an “A.” She agrees that teachers should be flexible, but she feels like teachers need to hold students up to a high standard, and students need to realize that they have done well even if they get a “B.”
After the session, both Challenge Success and the teachers were inspired to do more to alleviate stress among teachers and students.
Although Sabbag was glad that there was a sufficient teacher turnout, he hopes that teachers with broader perspectives can join future fishbowls.
“I’m not sure that we had a diverse group,” Sabbag said. “For example, [teachers] who are too busy or have a minority view on how to help kids.”
For the future, Wang detailed how Challenge Success would take the information from both fishbowls.
“Challenge Success is planning on working with both parties to create next steps that will stem from the empathy created during these last two fishbowls,” Wang said. “It’s important that we move forward carefully and thoughtfully, because at the end of the day, we’re trying to make a better culture for all stakeholders, not just for one particular group.”