The other day I our school hosted three volleyball games in our gym. Each of our girls' volleyball teams (Bantam, Junior and Senior) hosted their respective league championship game.
The experience was nothing short of amazing. With each game, the crowds of cheering students, teachers, parents and alumni packed our gym. It was standing room only. The gym was electric with school spirit. I saw alumni from as far back as 30 years joining in on the cheering. I saw Gr. 12 students cheering in support of their Gr. 8 school mates.
At one point in the evening I was approached by a parent from a visiting school and he asked me "what our secret was" for nurturing this kind of school spirit.
At the time, I didn't really provide him a good answer.
I keep reflecting on that incredible evening (an similar ones I have experienced). Why do the students, parents, teachers and alumni feel so connected to the school and each other?
There are a multitude of reasons. Perhaps the most significant, however, is the fact that students have a deep sense of ownership in the school. There is an intentional effort, by the adults in the building, to enable and guide students to take ownership of their school, its culture and their learning.
The "ownership" I speak of is rooted in few core ideals: Giving our students an authentic voice in their school life and making them co-creators of school culture. The bottom line is that students want to make a positive difference for their classmates and their school. The requirement of the adults is that we...well..."get out of their way".
There are numerous student driven initiatives at our school that help animate this student ownership and authentic voice. Such as :
- Peer Counselors: Moderated and trained by our school counselors, these students provide a listening ear to students who need support. These students also assist in the planning and delivery of student workshops such as our “Anti-Violence Workshop”, “Anti-Bullying Workshop”, “Healthy Living Workshop” and “Drug Awareness Workshop”
- Peer Tutors Within our school’s pyramid of intervention, these peer tutors provide another level of academic support for students
- Peer Ministers We have a large number of students who want to nurture their own prayer life but also be leaders of prayer – leading small group and school wide prayer services. These students also assist in the planning of grade level retreats.
- Student Parliament This group meets the day to day needs of students and and is a vehicle for communicating various aspects of student life. They plan and run school assemblies and other events like our annual talent show
- Grad U 8’s This is a group of Gr. 12 students who volunteer their time to mentor our Gr. 8 students when they arrive at our school. This year, 60% of our Gr. 12 class volunteered to be a part of this group. When asked why they joined this group one Gr. 12 students told me “it’s important that the Gr. 8’s understand what it means to be St. Pat’s student. We want make sure that the school remains a safe, caring and loving place.”
- When we celebrate, we do it together (including filling the gym for a volleyball game).
- When we have challenges, we deal with them together.
- When tragedy hits, we mourn together.
- When someone is hurting, we comfort them together.
- When someone makes a mistake, together, we support them.
Interestingly enough, as we embark on revitalizing our education system in BC, much of conversation revolves "personalizing" the learning for our students. For me, the key to achieving this "personalized learning" is to give students ownership of their learning. Perhaps the best way of achieving this is by giving students an authentic voice and enabling them to be co-creators of the learning culture in their schools and classes.
As always I am always eager to hear what other schools are doing to foster this "ethos of us". Please share your thoughts.....