How We Can Make School Special

Last Halloween, I took my 8-year-old daughter, Juliet, to a Brooklyn Nets game. She had just started playing basketball and was so excited to go to her first professional game that she gave up trick-or-treating to do it. That’s dedication!

Juliet in her Nets Hoodie

We arrived about 45 minutes before the game. Standing just inside the entrance, marveling at all the sights and sounds of the arena, we were approached by a member of the Nets staff who asked Juliet, “Would you like to be part of the ‘High Five Line’ and stand on the court with the players during the national anthem?” You don’t you have to guess what her response was. Juliet dashed off with the nice Nets lady so fast I thought I would never see her again.

After she got to go on the court, high-five the players, and stand with the team during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, it would be impossible to overstate Juliet’s excitement about the Nets, basketball, and her awesome night out with her dad. She is a lifelong Nets fan now. I was so grateful to the Brooklyn Nets for going to all the trouble to make it special for Juliet.

But was it really a lot of trouble?

When you think about it, this was actually quite easy for the Nets to do. Every game, the players run onto the court for warmups and stand for the national anthem. It’s a fairly straightforward process to grab 12 fans and invite them to join them. They gave all the fans a T-shirt, but they were created by a sponsor and every shirt was XXXL so they didn’t have to worry if they fit each participant. Juliet was able to put hers on over her hoodie.

It wasn’t complicated, but the Nets were able to create this special moment for a group of fans because they are in charge. It’s their building, their court, their team. They have the power to make the event momentous for the fans. And our school does something similar.

One of the guiding principles of our school culture is “always do your personal best.” We tell kids they don’t need to be better than somebody else, but to strive to be better today than they were yesterday. To focus attention on social-emotional literacy and on personal development, we have monthly themes and use the CASEL SEL Competencies to guide our work in building students’ personal capacity.

As part of an initiative to promote this capacity building, we have something called “Personal Best Awards.” Four times a year, teachers select students to be recognized for doing their personal best. There’s a small ceremony after school, where students are given a T-shirt and a certificate with the reason they were nominated. Families are invited to attend. There’s cake with the school logo on it, and the school jazz ensemble performs as families enter and at the intermission. As the awards ceremony takes place on a Friday immediately after the school day, many parents can leave work early. Most of the staff attends as well.

JMS staff and proud PB Award Recipient

Parents are so proud when kids are recognized

The superintendent and board trustees join us to present PB Awards

Certificates, T-shirts, music, cake—nothing particularly fancy. Personal Best Award Ceremonies are special occasions for the kids and for their families, but they’re not difficult or expensive for us to plan. This small, simple event sends a powerful message about what we value as a school and creates a special memory for the students who are honored.

Principals and teachers can create singular moments for kids every day. Like the Brooklyn Nets, these are our schools, classrooms, hallways, gyms, and cafeterias. We are in charge of these settings. We can do extraordinary things to create lifelong fans of learning and of our schools.

What are some ways that you make it special for kids in your setting? How do you generate memorable moments that create lifelong fans for your school and classrooms? 

Donald Gately, Ed.D., serves as the principal of Jericho Middle School in Jericho, NY. He was the 2016 New York Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @donald_gately and visit his blog.

 

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