I walk into my dream school nearly every day. For the past four years, I have watched students thinking critically about the world around them. I’ve watched teachers inspire each other and push their thinking to become fantastic creators of project designs, I have seen students interact, communicate, and empathize with one another.
In my dream school, there would be more elements of improving what I already see. I would love a school where students who wouldn’t typically get a solid education from their neighborhood schools, could get in. I think that there is a large achievement gap at my school and all around the Untied States, and my dream school would address that issue. Teachers and students would inspire each other using the world around them to connect their passions.
Another idea of my dream school would be where students would create their own success plan. Parents would work along side with students to ensure that that success plan is achieved every step of the way from 6th grade until high school graduation day.
The third element of my dream school would be where students are fed organic food and learn about what is put into their bodies and are conscious of healthy eating and exercise. While all of these ideas are inspiring to us as teachers, I decided I needed to uncover more information about what some of my colleagues thought. After all, we may share the same passions.
I first with asked my fellow 8th Grade Humanities teacher, Ashley DeGrano, what dream school would be like. I wanted to get her perspective because she is a first year teacher at High Tech High, and new to teaching in general. She shared that she wanted to have more discipline coming from student-generated discussions on the impact of rules and consequences. Looking back at my ideas of my own, I realized that we shared the same idea about students involved in the decision making process of their school.
The next person I went to was Cindy Wallace, our front office manager. I decided that I wanted to talk to her because she sees the ins and outs of our school more than anyone. And, I really enjoy talking to her. She shared with me that she feels that we need to connect to parents and involve the community around us more. She would love it if we had a parent/community room on campus where parents could sit, read educational materials, view videos that our kids have created, talk with other parents or with students who visit the room. Parents would use this room if they have some time to kill after dropping their child off in the morning or arrive early for pick up. There would be a coffee pot and comfortable chairs. We could also invite local businesses to stop in for coffee and conversation, to view small exhibitions, etc. When looking back at my original thought, she and I shared the same value of making sure the community is involved with our school and they play in integral role of exhibitions. I was two for two. The reoccurring themes: student involvement/community involvement.
In asking coworkers their views, I realized that I love working with like-minded individuals who share the same passions that I do. However, a school is nothing with out the students that populate it.
I honestly did not think that when I was talking with my students that they would have shared any of my dreams! However, this was not the case. When talking with one of my most active students, I was very surprised when he told me that there was not enough PE in our school. Sure my students get breaks when they could throw football, Frisbee, or play volleyball. He mentioned more structured PE class, like they that he wanted have in traditional middle schools. This was surprising to me because it got me thinking that PE is definitely lacking at our school. Yes, we have it through elective classes, but it is difficult to get student buy in to being active. I am very passionate about health, particularly about the obesity epidemic in the US today and its shocking to me how little our children know in the united states about healthy eating and the benefits of exercise. Nic definitely shed light that this is a concern. I couldn’t believe it! Nic and I shared aspects of my dream! I believed that students should eat healthy, organic food and know how healthy eating affects their daily lives.
I noticed a common thread that was woven between colleagues, students and myself. These were: student autonomy, health and wellness, and parent involvement. I knew what needed to be done; implementation of a school-wide health wellness program. It is something that I’m passionate about, students could be involved and we can take it to the parents. It was a perfect fit!
Now that I had this great idea, many questions emerged: Where do I go? What steps can I take that will be inspired out of students thoughts, could involve the community and change the way students see health and exercise in our school?
I knew that I had to do the following before launching my idea:
One: I had to get all teachers bought in to implement this in their advisory. This may sound simple enough, but we often have so much on our plates, that it could be “just another thing” that we need to do.
Two: I needed to get the students thinking about their own health.
Three: I need to connect with our Parent Association to share our healthy agenda and pass it along to them. .
I knew that Advisory was a great avenue for the program. Typically in the middle school, Advisory is a time to talk about social issues. We meet every morning for about twenty minutes and every other Wednesdays for one hour. To tackle my first obstacle of teacher buy in, I had to complete a few items before rolling it out. So, I decided to create project to have the teachers for their advisories. First I had to think of how to plan the activities within the unit. Over the course of the four years I’ve worked here, successful advisory activities need to be specific, but not overwhelming. Therefore, I intentionally left the project open-ended, so it didn’t feel like there was something that was pushed on them and each teacher could tweak or modify it on their own. It was filled with smaller activities, helpful resources, and suggestions for implementing health and wellness. The next step was I discussed with a few colleagues and my director to see if this is something that we could be interested in as a school to propose to the staff. She agreed thought that it was something that was lacking in our school and would be open to doing something in advisory. She also gave me great feedback on how to present it to the staff or any obstacles that could impede implementation. One, teachers already has a culture in advisory, and this project could disrupt it. Two, teachers would only see this as a “filler activity” or something to do with their advisories. I want it to be neither. I would like to have this be a stepping-stone to address a larger issue in our school: healthy living and wellness. I hope to alleviate both of these by pushing the meaning behind the program and using the open-endedness of the project will help combat any issues that staff will have.
When I presented this idea to the staff, I was pleasantly surprised with the feedback, which overwhelmingly supportive. They feel that there is a strong need for more health and wellness curriculum at our school. I feel as though that the staff was generally interested in starting this new curriculum and developing it further. I also think that they liked having a loose structure so they are able to tweak and adjust accordingly to their advisory. This is not going to be rolled out until next month, but I hope to continue to develop this advisory through action group meetings. My fear still is getting staff excited and not feeling forced to implement an activity and then not have any follow though after the project is over.
Once felt I had majority of the staff on board, I think that it would have great to have students input. This came after the dilemma consultancy. I think that I was so concentrated about the staff feedback, I forgot about the student buy in. This helped remind me about the power of peer influence. I know that that we need students to influence each other. Now, I realized the value in creating a 4th quarter sign up elective. In this elective, students who are passionate about health and wellness could spread the word! My goal was to have students actually be the change agents and push each other to make healthy choices. I also realized that videos like Super Size Me and TV shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution could also engage students and help think about living a healthier lifestyle. These would be great jumping off points for the students and get them to understand the importance of healthy lifestyles.
My last hurdle to jump was to connect with parents. I wanted to tread lightly here. My thought process was to push the physical exercise, rather than healthy cooking. The rationale for this is I don’t want to make feel micromanaged if we, as teachers, were telling them how to feed their children. I spoke with the president of the PA and have made a connection to a “zombie” obstacle course fun run in June of this year. They are also working with Suzie’s Farm, local organic company selling veggie baskets. These both will be promoted through the advisory program and will be great for both the students and their families. It is a great way for us to connect what we are doing in advisory and the larger community.
Looking into the future:
Now that we have launched the project in advisory, the students have been thinking about their healthy decisions and actions. Now I know that change won’t happen over night. My hope is that if there are enough student change agents, students could make positive changes with their health in our school. I also could see this as something that will be implemented permanently into our school culture. While this is a small change that has been put forth in our school, I have been fortunate to find support with staff, students and their parents. I hope that this continues to grow and develop and could be a permanent part of our school. It is amazing to think that there is some part in my wild imagination of my dream school, which is actually coming to fruition. I’m very proud of the actions that I took that stemmed from my passions turning a small part of my dream into reality.