Extremely Powerful School Culture Activity

Mandatory staff development days are always a little tricky. Administrators do their best to welcome everyone and provide motivation and encouragement, while trying to push the 100+ powerpoint slides full of information that is required by the district. It can often feel like torture for all parties invloved and in the end teachers are sent to their classrooms feeling overwhelmed and exhausted before students ever enter the building.  My campus participated in a very powerful activity during staff development in August and I would love to share it with you in hopes it will spark a trend that places a higher value on creating connections through community outreach.

Our 9th grade campus and accelerated high school which are housed in the same building hovers around 450 students enrolled.  Teachers were combined into groups of 4-5 and given a list of students and their addresses. We were also given a stack of “Welcome Back to School” flyers and a gas gift card for the group driver.  Our mission was to venture out into our community and meet with as many students and parents as we could within our set time limit of 3 hours.  

In order to keep it interesting the scavenger hunt guidelines were laid out: leaving a flyer at the house = 1 point, handing a flyer to the student or parent = 2 points, handing a flyer to the student and parent = 3 points.  How did we prove which points we earned you ask? Selfies, of course! Points were awarded when a selfie including the entire group was captured. We were instructed to return promptly back to campus when our 3-hour time limit was over so that we could reflect on our adventures and tally up the points.  Point winners were rewarded with all kinds of office supplies, also known as, teacher gold!!

Although the competition aspect was exciting and added an element of fun the consensus of the group was that we had all returned to campus a winner because we gained a perspective on our students that we hadn’t had before this experience.  Here are 3 lessons we learned from our community outreach opportunity:

 1. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Seeing the diverse neighborhoods within our district was eye-opening.  We visited students who lived in large, well-maintained brick homes and we met with students who lived in houses that looked inhabitable.  Seeing what our students go home to everyday added a layer of understanding that we will keep in our hearts and minds as we continue to build relationships and connections. 

2. Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover

On the flip-side, we realize that their living situation doesn’t define them. It is just one piece of the puzzle.  Just because a student lives in the nicest house on the block doesn’t mean he has a perfect life at home and will automatically come to school to be a model citizen.  Just because a student lives in a trailer house with broken out windows and trashed piled high on the porch doesn’t mean they don’t care about their education and have no family support.  

3. Knowledge is Power

This activity allowed us to initiate communication with parents and students before classes even began. The experience gave teachers an insight into the lives of those they serve and it allowed our community see our dedication to building meaningful relationships. As the students walk the halls and recognize those adults who cared enough to visit their home they may have a more positive attitude towards school which can have a strong impact on the entire campus culture.

Working with JC Pohl and TEEN TRUTH has inspired me to seek out more opportunities like this outreach activity.  The thread of building connections is woven through his student assemblies and leadership summits, as well as, the various books he has written.  I’m thankful I walked into his presentation at a counselor conference 2 years ago and highly suggest you take a look at all TEEN TRUTH has to offer.  

Please feel free to take a look at the outline of this activity, plus some tips we learned this year that we want to implement next year in order to make more of an impact.  

Go out and make a difference in your community. You don’t need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating.”

Barbara Sher 

Penny Knight
School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH

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