List of Actions

Caring Schools #CommonGood

To join our national MCC Caring Schools #CommonGood Campaign, we are asking schools to commit to new action(s) or substantially augment existing action(s) that:

  1. Deepen students’ care for others and their communities; 
  2. Increase equity and access for all students in the college admissions process; and
  3. Reduce excessive achievement pressure.

The following is a menu of concrete steps that schools might take to achieve these goals. We expect schools that join the campaign will:

  • Collect and review data related to the impact of their action step(s). This data might be collected multiple ways (e.g., surveys, focus groups, individual interviews, online tools).
  • Ensure their action step(s) impact at least half of the students in a grade level or in a school.
  • Ensure their action step(s) are sufficiently deep, frequent, and sustained to significantly impact one of the three goals of the campaign.
  • Engage at least twice a year in a structured reflection process on their school's progress toward their commitment.

Because this work can be time intensive, we encourage schools to limit themselves to 1-3 commitments.

When your school is ready, fill out our commitment form and a member of the Making Caring Common team will follow up with next steps.

Potential Actions

Actions to Deepen Students’ Care for Others and Their Communities

Why caring for others and communities? These days, it is especially critical to prepare young people to invest in others, including those different from them, and to take responsibility for their communities. Given the fractures and antagonisms in our common life, we need young people who focus on our collective well-being, and who are able to build strong, inclusive communities and a healthy, resilient democracy. Schools are vital in preparing young people to be caring, constructive citizens. Read more →

1. Build a caring, inclusive community via data. Students’ ethical capacities, including their concern for others, are far more likely to develop in communities that support these capacities and model and express them in daily relationships. That makes it vital that schools assess school culture and the quality of relationships in the school building. What gets assessed gets addressed. Schools can assess student, staff, and parent perceptions of the school environment with low-burden, anonymous, brief school climate surveys 1-2 times per year that determine whether the school is safe and supportive for all students. These surveys can help determine, for example, the quality of relationships between students and staff, levels of bias and discrimination based on gender, race, and class, and the prevalence of various forms of bullying and cruelty in the school community. Schools should develop a school leadership committee that can utilize this data to implement solutions as part of a continuous improvement process. 

2. Engage students in regular activities that enable students to “talk across the aisle.” Schools can regularly utilize various activities and strategies that guide students in listening respectfully and constructively to those who don’t share their political views, and in identifying common ethical values across political views. These activities might include structured debates that require students to take opposing political views or partnerships with schools in other parts of the country in which students with opposing political views are guided in engaging one another constructively. Schools should monitor the effectiveness of these activities via brief surveys as part of a continuous improvement process.

3. Implement an evidence-based social and emotional learning or character education program. Evaluation evidence suggests that several character education and social emotional learning programs are effective in building empathy, social awareness, self-regulation, and other capacities at the core of caring for others and taking responsibility for one’s communities. 

4. Leverage the power of student leaders to create more welcoming, inclusive, and caring school environments. Students themselves are likely to have a much deeper understanding than school adults of student peer dynamics—e.g., what cliques and hierarchies exist, which students are regularly ostracized, where and when bullying and cruelty occurs—as well as a deeper understanding of the levers that will change these dynamics. Schools can create and support student-led initiatives and activities that are focused on developing caring, inclusive communities. These activities should be powerful enough to have a substantial impact on school climate and a wide range of students. This work might take the form of a contest in which groups of students submit ideas. It’s important that schools monitor the effectiveness of these efforts via brief surveys.

5. Engage students regularly in meaningful, low-burden, and fun activities in the school and classroom that promote empathy and build community. Schools can consistently utilize and thoughtfully sequence over the course of the school year a variety of activities that build empathy, including empathy for those different from oneself, and that strengthen bonds between students and between students and teachers. Many organizations provide such strategies, including Facing History and Ourselves, National School Climate Center, and Making Caring Common. Schools should monitor the effectiveness of these activities and strategies via brief surveys.

6. Develop a youth capstone exercise focused on ethical engagement. Students are not likely to develop greater concern for others as a result of brief, one-off projects. Schools can work with students to complete long-term projects that inspire and teach them to think and care about others in their communities, pursue justice, and stand up for important principles. One type of project is a semester- or year-long capstone exercise in which youth provide some type of service to their communities while reflecting with a mentor and peers about their obligations to others and their communities.

7. Support high-quality, sustained community service. All high school students should be required for a substantial period of time to focus on and contribute to others. It’s vital, though, to give students choices among service opportunities and to define services broadly. Helping out regularly in the school, such as assisting the custodian after school or tutoring younger children, for example, should count as service. So should regularly taking care of a sick relative or working to provide needed income for one’s family. Schools should also pay close attention to the quality of service. In general, research suggests that service is far more likely to be meaningful if it is sustained, includes skilled mentoring/facilitation, is connected to coursework, and provides opportunities for personal or group reflection. Whenever possible, it’s similarly important to create service opportunities that enable students to conduct service with diverse peers rather than providing service for those from different backgrounds. These diverse groups might include peers of different races, cultures, economic backgrounds, identities, religions, and political and religious beliefs.

8. Collaborate with parents to promote ethical development. While children’s ethical character is shaped by many factors, there’s no question that the primary influence on their ethical character is parents. Schools are far more likely to be effective in cultivating children’s concern for others if they can find useful ways to partner with parents. These partnerships might take the form of regularly sharing strategies for building children’s concern for others and their communities or creating a compact with parents that defines their role and the school’s role in promoting children’s care for others and the school community. It’s important that schools monitor the effectiveness of these strategies via brief surveys. 

Actions to Promote Equity and Access

Why equity and access? Justice—and any healthy democracy—depend on a fair and equitable education system. Such a system is also fundamental to the core goal of this initiative—preparing all young people to be informed, constructive community members and citizens. Yet access to key educational opportunities and resources, and specifically to resources in the college admissions process, clearly differ dramatically in this country based on students’ economic class, race, and ethnicity. It’s vital to level the playing field for economically, racially, and ethnically diverse students. Read more →

9. Capture the strengths of students facing disadvantages. The strengths of many students who do not do well on traditional measures such as the SAT or ACT are not adequately captured in the current college application process. Often, the college application process fails to capture the strengths of low-income students and students of color in particular who are dealing with demands and burdens of various kinds. A student might, for example, work 20 hours a week to support his/her family and take care of a sibling after school and still manage to obtain a “B” average, but this student’s impressive determination and aptitude is not typically captured in the college admissions process. This may include:

9a. Developing a system that enables all students to compile and articulate information about their background, goals, and out-of-school time commitments that demonstrate diligence and resilience in the college admissions process.

9b. If you have connections to college admissions representatives, consider asking them if and how they consider these strengths in the admissions process, and if they’d be willing to provide application fee waivers or other forms of support to students demonstrating these strengths in the application process. Consider asking college admissions offices if and how they consider social and emotional strengths as well as information about students’ backgrounds in the admissions process.

10. Partner with other schools in reciprocal relationships that promote equity and access. In the college admissions process, many high school students can benefit from reciprocal relationships between high schools that draw on each school’s particular strengths and assets. Partnerships between high schools that differ substantially in race, class, and culture can be especially useful. Yet these partnerships also present many challenges. Too often, such partnerships are structured in ways that are, for example, patronizing to economically disadvantaged students and to schools lacking financial resources and fail to adequately draw on these students’ and schools’ many strengths. Too often, such partnerships also don’t adequately prepare students to collaborate effectively with students from different backgrounds, and too often students are unprepared for the anger and disillusionment they may feel when fully confronted with vast disparities in resources between their schools and other schools. Thoughtful attention to these challenges, including careful preparation for these students, is vital. This may include:

10a. Partnering with other schools on a college counseling institute where counselors from a diverse set of schools can share best counseling practices or exchange information about effective college search tools for students. Schools can bring different strengths to these partnerships. Schools with large numbers of immigrant and low-income students, for example, often have particular expertise on guiding these students in the admissions process.

10b. Providing regular opportunities to share resources—e.g., guidebooks, college planning tools and admissions-related curricula—as well as to share contacts with admissions officers and with others who may be helpful in admissions.

10c. Bringing students from a diverse set of schools together several times a year to learn about bridge and gap year programs or about the many non-traditional, alternative pathways to postsecondary success.

10d. Forming peer networks across a diverse set of schools that enable students to share information about colleges and the college application process, as well as about alternative pathways to careers.

10e. Co-sponsoring career exploration fairs, beginning in 9th and 10th grade, that expose students to a wide range of possible careers.

11. Provide support to students outside of your school. There are great disparities in college admissions resources between schools. Some schools, for example, provide SAT prep courses or transportation for college visits to students, advantages that are not available to students in most schools. Yet there are many ways that schools with considerable assets can advance equity and share resources with students outside of their school. Consider using your school’s resources to support others—especially schools and students that have fewer resources and/or limited access to higher education. This may include:

11a. If you offer standardized test prep for your students, consider inviting students without access to this prep to join your prep for free.

11b. If you rent a bus to take your students on college tours, invite members of a local school that might not otherwise travel to that college. Recruit parents and students from your school to invite students who cannot afford these trips to join them on college visits.

11c. If you host a program for families or students about college options, invite families or students from a neighboring community that may not otherwise be exposed to this information. 

11d. If you provide or pay for training for your staff about college preparation or admission, expand these opportunities for staff in other schools that cannot afford this training. 

12. Utilize data to guide continuous improvement. Squeezed for time and resources, schools often don’t have a clear picture of which students are—and are not—receiving adequate support and guidance in exploring post-secondary options. Yet even a small commitment of time and resources can yield very useful data that can be used to identify students needing more support. This may include:

12a. Tracking post-secondary data for all students in your school to identify which groups are least likely to attend college or to embark on another promising post-secondary path. Develop an action plan to better serve the needs of those students.

12b. Collecting survey data from students about the support they received from your school as part of the college admission process. Questions might invite students to share whether they received enough support, the right kinds of support, and what steps the school took that were most and least meaningful. Develop an action plan based on students’ feedback.

Actions to Reduce Excessive Achievement Pressure

Why achievement pressure? While in many communities, students lack access to key academic resources and opportunities, such as AP courses, in many middle- and upper-income communities especially, students are overloading on AP courses and extracurricular activities and fierce pressure to attend highstatus colleges is taking a large emotional and ethical toll. Rates of depression, delinquency, substance abuse, and anxiety, for example, appear to be considerably higher in these communities than in the general population of adolescents. Research suggests that achievement pressure is a prime culprit (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013; Luthar & Becker, 2002). The intense focus on personal achievement can also crowd out concern about others and the common good.

The goal of our campaign to reduce achievement pressure is not to reduce rigor, but to work with a motivated group of high schools to generate a "positive contagion," creating a healthier balance between challenging students academically and ensuring that students care for themselves and others. Read more →

13. Ensure that school staff reaffirm the importance of balance between academic rigor and care for self and others. This may include:

13a. Regularly assessing school culture and pace of life by reviewing student survey data in an ongoing effort to create a schedule and culture that is balanced and promotes adequate sleep, pursuit of interests outside of school, and overall student well-being. 

13b. Systematically training all school staff in how to recognize and respond to student symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression related to excessive achievement pressure. Briefly surveying staff at least once a year on the types of student problems they are observing and whether they feel equipped to deal with them

13c. Ensuring that students have reasonable homework loads that reduce undue achievement pressure. To ensure adequate time for student rest and recovery, you might consider offering most weekends and school holidays as designated “homework free” times, and minimizing homework assignments over summer vacation. Briefly surveying students once a year to determine whether homework loads are causing high stress and take further steps to reduce homework if necessary.

13d. Adjusting school and/or exam schedules to reduce pressure for students. This might include replacing the traditional eight block schedule with a schedule that allows for fewer courses daily or coordinating exams and major projects across departments. Exams can also be scheduled to take place before student holidays, and not after them, to ensure that school vacations can serve as genuine periods of academic rest. Briefly surveying students to assess whether these steps reduce excessive stress. 

14. Make a consistent, compelling case to students to consider a wide range of colleges, including colleges that are not typically considered “elite,” and support them in pursuing admission to excellent colleges that are not highly selective. This may include:

14a. Meaningfully exposing students to colleges that vary in selectivity. You might, for example, create opportunities for alumni of less-selective colleges to share compelling stories with students and parents, or require students to read Colleges that Change Lives, which provides examples of excellent colleges that tend to fly under students’ and parents’ radars. You might undertake a marketing campaign, beginning as early as elementary school, that elevates a wide range of non-selective colleges. You might also eliminate communications to parents and prospective students that tout the percentage of your graduates who attend highly selective colleges or that name the specific colleges students attend. 

14b. Educating parents and students about tuition rates and/or scholarships available at a wide range of schools. 

14c. Reducing the influence in your school of commercial rankings such as U.S. News & World Report, which have little to do with a college’s real educational value. This might include a joint statement with other schools that describes to students and parents how commercial ranking systems commonly mislead students and fail to capture colleges’ actual educational value and that strongly encourages parents and students to ignore these rankings while directing students and parents to more meaningful sources of information about colleges. In addition, schools can encourage local parents and/or students to share qualitative (non-ranking) information about colleges with each other in a school forum or online message board. 

15. Place more value on the quality of students’ academic engagement than on the number of branded or test-driven advanced courses (such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate-designated courses) that they take. Large numbers of students across the country do not have access to advanced courses, and increasing students’ access to these courses is critically important. At the same time, students in some schools feel compelled to take more advanced courses than they can reasonably handle. In these situations, schools should take steps to reduce the pressure on students to overload on advanced courses. This may include:

15a. Having clear guidelines in place before allowing students to enroll in multiple AP/IB courses each year. College students rarely take more than four college-level courses at a time, so consider setting advanced coursework limits. For example, you may limit the number of AP/IB courses that students may take annually to 1-3 or limit student enrollment in advanced courses to a smaller number of total courses throughout high school. You might eliminate AP courses altogether. Briefly survey students to assess whether these changes reduce stress.  

16. Take new steps to reduce stress created by overloading on extracurricular 
This may include: 

16a. Discouraging students from enrolling in a large number of extracurricular activities and/or setting guidelines related to students’ participation in extracurricular activities. For example, while you might support students in trying out a range of activities, you might also actively discourage students from involvement in more than a few hours of extracurricular activities each day. You might also work with school staff to limit the number of hours students attend activities and sport practices each week. Assess each semester whether fewer students are overloading on extracurricular activities and try new strategies if needed.

17. Collaborate with parents to reduce excessive achievement pressure. This may include:

17a. Creating a new “compact” or agreement with parents that spells out what your 
school will do and what is expected of parents in reducing achievement-related stress. Briefly survey parents to determine whether this compact is affecting their behavior and try new strategies if needed. Expectations of parents in this compact might include:

  • Exposing students to a wide range of colleges and postsecondary opportunities.  
  • Avoiding preparation for standardized college admission testing before 11th grade, except where such preparation increases college access and equity for low-income and otherwise marginalized students.  
  • Limiting students’ extracurricular and academic activities to ensure they have adequate time for sleep and free play each week.

Whichever of these options you choose—or if you choose another approach—consider supplementing that approach with meaningful feedback to students. That feedback might include providing thoughtful feedback on report cards on whether students are caring, respectful, inclusive, and contribute to their classroom and school community. Or it might take the form of routinely recognizing students who are decent and contribute to the community in ways that are meaningful to these students and that positively motivate other students. Students might, for example, give monthly “shout outs” to other students who have been helpful to them or others.

Additional resources:

  1. Actions to Promote Ethical Development: Inspiring Students’ Concern for Others and the Common Good (PDF)
  2. Actions to Promote Equity and Access (PDF)
  3. Actions to Reduce Excessive Achievement Pressure (PDF)

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