The Power of a Personalized Culture

There is a great deal of attention and focus in education today surrounding the idea of providing personalized instruction to every student. Providing instruction specific to each individual student can greatly enhance the educational experience. However, personalized instruction means little if students aren’t valued as individuals within the culture of the school.

My eyes were opened to this notion early in my career as a principal. I remember receiving student scores for the PLAN (now the PreACT) and noticing that one young man had done extremely well. Later that day I passed him in the hall and remarked, “Hey Richard, I was just reviewing the scores for the PLAN and you did an awesome job!” The student looked at me confused and thanked me. He then took about three steps before turning around and asking, “Mr. Berry, how did you know my name?” I was shocked and I could tell by his reaction that this was probably the first time that he had received a compliment from a principal. I vowed that day that I would seek to know the names of as many students as I could and call them by name whenever possible.

Our school also takes great pride in recognizing students in all areas of the school community. We have a Bruin Wall of Fame in which we recognize students for academics, service, athletics, character, and art. Through our Wall of Fame, we have recognized students ranging from star athletes to those who display outstanding character and make our school a better place. The idea is to ensure that all students, not just those gifted academically or athletically, have opportunities to be recognized for their contributions to our school.

We also hold a winter pep rally that has a variety-show feel and includes nearly every organization in the school. Of course, we recognize our athletes and cheerleaders, but we also feature musical selections from students and teacher-student games, and even allow students to face off against their teachers in a trivia game called “Are You Smarter than Your Teacher?” Students from our chapter of the National FFA Organization also hosted a “Kiss a Pig” segment, in which students collected funds to choose which two of their teachers would kiss a pig at the pep rally. The funds raised were donated to our local SPCA. (Side note: One of our Englsh teachers kissed the piglet and the FFA students let her name him Gatsby). The winter pep rally has also provided a way for us to announce our Teacher of the Year in front of the entire student body.

In addition, we intend to start a new tradition at graduation this year. Inside each student’s diploma cover will be a hand-written card from one of their teachers. Our teachers will sign up in May to write a card for at least one graduating senior. Each card will offer congratulations, but will also have an anecdote about the student’s experience in our school. This will ensure that every graduate of Camden County High School is aware of the impact that they had in our school.
These are just a few small examples of how our school seeks to ensure that our students know that they are valued. It is imperative that we as leaders get out of our offices and spend time with our students to help create a culture of personalization in our schools.

Here is a great video that displays the personalized, family culture of Camden County High School.

What steps does your school take to create and maintain a personalized culture? 

Billie Berry is the Principal of Camden County High School in Camden, NC. In 2016, Billie was recognized as the North Carolina Secondary Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @PrincipalBBerry.

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