Can I Please Go to School?

Can I PLEASE Go to School?
10 Ways to make school irresistible for kids
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I know kids who hate school, but love to play basketball for their schools.  I know kids who can’t read, but can create something from nothing with their hands.  Everyday, my kids get into the car and respond to my question, “What did you learn today?” with “nothing” and “I dunno.” 

But they can tell me everything that happened at recess.

In college, I learned more on the quad talking to the international students than I did in most of my core classes.  As a teacher, I created more authentic “Aha!” moments with student travel than I ever did with hours of lesson planning and offering feedback. As a school administrator, I have gained more joy from creating programs that make people feel good about themselves than by raising the test scores.  While all facets of school and learning are important, building the culture for learning and self-exploration are essential to successful schools.

In order to improve the achievement of students in schools, we must give deliberate attention to the role of culture in student success.  Too often schools and districts focus only on the school’s academic curriculum and teacher efficacy. There are many strategies and initiatives designed around helping kids learn the core curriculum, but we need to invest more focused time and energy into making schools places kids run to and never want to leave.

Relationships and community-building are essential to creating a culture where teachers love to work and kids love to learn.  Recently, I read an interesting article by Dana Truby, where she discusses 8 ways from the Boys Town Education Model that school leaders can improve their school culture: 

  1. Make building positive staff-student relationships a school-wide priority.
  2. Teach explicitly the essential social skills for success in the defined culture.
  3. Create consistent classroom expectations and definitions for them, then establish consistent responses that are used throughout the school.
  4. Establish the understanding that all educators should be role-models for the expected behavior at all times.  That goes for teaching and non-teaching staff.
  5. Explain the rules and be consistent in implementation and enforcement throughout the school.
  6. Teach problem-solving and conflict resolution.  She suggests the SODAS method.
  7. Set appropriate consequences and deliver them with empathy.
  8. Give specific praise for good choices.  Challenge staff to give a set number of specific compliments for good choices in a day.

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While I think these suggestions are essential to building positive culture, I would definitely add a strong 9 and 10 to her suggestions:  

9.  Make school fun.  
Everyone loves to be in a place that is fun to work and learn.  My 6 year old son doesn’t gauge his school day on the quality of the lessons or the experiences in the classroom.  He cares about lunch and recess. “School wasn’t great today because we didn’t play.” Or “I didn’t have a good day because we had silent lunch.”  This matters to kids. Shoot… It matters to adults.

When kids enjoy school, they want to be there.
Then we can trick them into learning some things.  

Some schools go a step farther and employ recess monitors to make sure kids get included on the playground.  There are companies like Playworks that contract with schools to provide training for teachers, a full time Playworks coach, and structured games for indoor and outdoor recess.  The Playworks coach is assigned to the school full time and probably costs less than a full time employee.

Another option could be to find creative ways to add staffing who focus on making recess fun.  It’s a matter of safety, culture building, bully prevention, and fun. A third simple way to make school fun is to have staff greet kids warmly with high-fives and hugs as they enter the school and classes.  

10.  Add some morale boosting activities.  
In my former school, the kids would get pumped-up about a party or an assembly.  But nothing got them more excited than our school’s big Lion King performance, or our school’s first basketball game.  The time we got all staff and students to attend a big Pep Rally and won the “Big Game,” school pride and morale went through the roof.  When kids want to be at school and feel a sense of purpose, they love coming to school. School love improves culture.

School pride doesn’t come without work and planning.  Schools should have a culture building plan. In it, there should be dates and plans for assemblies, celebrations, and school-wide routines and rituals that create bonds within the school.  Even the announcements become great opportunities to involve and unify students. Having students participate in the planning and execution of school events pushes the envelope even farther.

I think the article by Dana Truby hits many key points about how to improve school culture, but simply making school fun and finding diverse ways to create belonging are important as well.

While I do have experience in creating culture in schools, I don’t believe that I am some kind of “all-knowing” expert.  The expertise is in all of us who have the desire to build strong schools or any other settings that care about creating great experiences for children.  

If you have ideas about how to make school and learning irresistible, co-create with us. We would love to hear from you! Leave your comments below or join the conversation on social media.

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