Learning about Relationship Building from a School Culture Coordinator
SCHOOLS | September 7, 2021
Learning about Relationship Building from a School Culture Coordinator

Mr. Cesar Calderon knows that having a successful year at Spry Community School will need to be a collective effort among all members of the school community, from teachers, to administrators, to parents, to students. As the school culture coordinator, he envisions a restorative, trauma-focused approach that builds positive relationships with students and helps them reach their full potential. 

A Chicago native, Mr. Calderon initially joined Spry to mentor male students through a partnership with Mount Sinai Hospital. When the position of dean opened up, the school wanted to take the role in a new, more community-centered direction, and Mr. Calderon was selected to help Spry transform its culture. 

Read more about his vision for Spry and approach to supporting students as they return to school five days each week below. 

What are you most excited about this school year? 

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and I always find myself coming back to the idea of building community. I feel like it was really, really hard to do that over the last year and a half, and some of our students have been disconnected and disengaged. I’m really looking forward to creating a space that is welcoming for all our students and helps them grow academically and socially. 

Can you describe your priorities for the first few weeks of the year? 

We’re trying to double down on the idea that we are a school family here at Spry, so we will be focusing on relationship building during the first few weeks of school. Each classroom will create its own shared agreements, and we’re inviting students to bring photos of friends and family to share with each other. 

The school culture and climate team is also planning a celebratory assembly to start the year that will embrace our culture by highlighting Hispanic Heritage Month. 

How do you think your colleagues and the students at Spry would describe you? 

I think my colleagues would describe me as being calm, level-headed, and relaxed. As the school culture coordinator, this is a big part of advocating for more restorative mindsets, so I try to model being calm for both the staff and students. 

As for the students, I think they would describe me as relatable. I’ve had some students ask me about my time in high school and other life experiences. At the end of the day, I enjoy simple things like having lunch and talking with them. 

How do you approach building positive relationships with students? 

I try to dismantle the hierarchy of power where I am way above where the students are. Yes, I am a staff member, which comes with different responsibilities, but we’re all humans who are on the same level and are here together. 

How do you plan on supporting students who might be struggling? 

I want the students to know that if they are having a tough time, they can come talk to me or just sit in the beanbag that’s in my space or borrow a fidget toy that I have. Focusing on SEL is extremely important because our students are returning to Spry with a lot of trauma that has taken place in their community or personal lives. 

When it comes to attendance, we’re working closely with trusted adults that are in the neighborhood and being very intentional about not leaving any students behind. 

What’s your long-term vision for your school? 

I would love for Spry to move past any exclusionary or punitive disciplinary processes and for restorative justice to be more automatic. It would be awesome to see that come naturally for students on their own. 

I also want to build my image so students know that they can talk to me when they have good news to share or just want to check in with someone. Becoming welcomed in this community is an honor and something I don’t take for granted.