Cues on 'what we're on about here'
In my last post I asked about the atmosphere at your school. What's the 'vibe'? When you walk onto a school's grounds you get a very quick feel for it. Is it tense? Chaotic? Settled? Manic? Aggressive?
I think there are cues that communicate to students, staff and visitors alike 'what we're on about here.' At my school we've had teams of staff and student leaders standing at the entrances greeting students as they enter the school. You can't underestimate the impact of this on the atmosphere of the school. Every student begins the day with a greeting, a smile and eye contact from a team of peers. It is humanising.
We are also working toward redefining what school breaks are about. Are recess and lunch seen as a desperately needed refuges from the tedium of the day? Perhaps a chance to vent the frustration of the institutionalised school experience? Well, in the first place hopefully school is energising and inspiring students. So why not continue this atmosphere at lunch? (Another question is why even have defined break times? Could students not take a break when they get tired?)
So we're trying to continue the creativity during break times, establishing a plethora of activities for students - sports competitions and events, a music corner with instruments and a PA for jamming, a regular program of student-run entertainment events in the plaza, chess, and many other activities.
Yesterday I visited the Universeum in Sweden - http://www.universeum.se/index.php?lang=en a large maze-like building containing everything from a massive rainforest (populated with monkeys!) to water experiments, and countless experiments and experiential learning activities covering physics, mathematics, astronomy, psychology, linguistics and so on.
What if your school were populated with similar activities? The needn't be high-tech or expensive to set up. We noticed there were mathematical challenges around the Universeum consisting of mystery sets of symbols representing patterns that needed to be reverse engineered.
If 30 or 40 such activities were put together they could be rotated around the school. A proportion would be retired at any given time, and would drop in and out of circulation from year to year. A steady injection of new activities, displays and challenges could appear.
What we noticed at the Universeum, without surprise, is that all the young people were utterly immersed in the activities. They were in high energy states, utterly focused.
Peppered around a school grounds, such activities would act as powerful cues for orientating students and staff with a sense of 'what we're on about here.' These cues have a powerful affect over a long period of time. They act as a wind that blows the school culture in a direction, defining "Who are we and where are we going?"
I think they need constant renewal. The routine of school, like any organisation, tends toward low energy blandness. It is human nature. I am reflecting on ways to reinvigorate the school vibe - not a one-off project, but an ongoing drive.