Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Ethos of "Us"

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.” 
(I would also like to mention Project Outreach (Me to We), the  Hospitality Club and AV Club here) 
    The net result is an amazing "ethos of US" -  where students are empowered, as much as the adults, to co-create their school culture - so that:
    • 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. 
    I am very proud of the “ethos of us“ at our school.  –  allowing relationships to foster and learning to flourish in a safe, caring and loving community. 
    Future Conversations
    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.....

    1 comment:

    1. Beautiful snapshot, Johnny and a wonderful testament to your school community.

      A few years back, Fran Norris Scoble wrote a great article that I shared with my staff: “Is School Good for the Soul.”

      The article (easily found online) speaks to the ideal of school as community and family: “It matters far less that we know what time class starts than that we know why we gather and how we are changed because we do.” Norris Scoble argues: “in the simplicity of relationships and the demanding nature of familiarity in intimate space, there is the grounding for a deeper understanding of ourselves and of what we care about.” She writes it and your community is putting it into practice!

      Like you, I believe that the relationship between each of us and our school community is reciprocal: we simultaneously shape our school and are, in turn, shaped by it. And, within each of us there is inherent goodness and compassion: a goodness and compassion that is not an act but rather a habit, a way of life; a goodness and compassion that states, quite simply, there is no ‘they’, only us.

      This point, one your are making at your school, also serves as our community mantra (one I share frequently here at JO): you are they, they are us . . .we are family.

      Thanks for sharing