A maximal learning environment cannot exist without students feeling safe and connected with their teacher in the classroom. But teachers quickly get caught up with the demands of covering curriculum and meeting mandates. Most times, it is easier to conform to the system instead of infusing our individual personalities into our school lives.
When students only know us as teachers, the scope of the student-teacher relationship is narrow. In order to overcome this traditional norm, middle level schools must dedicate time outside of content classes to allow students and teachers to get to know one another.
The middle level schools in our district feature a 30-minute advisory period at the end of the school day, which is intended to serve as a study hall, extra help, and catch-all for anything and everything outside the normal curricular day. Over the years, we’ve evolved from using that time as “homework help” to building a powerful model where students and staff build positive relationships and rapport.
This was the genesis of school-wide clubs. We asked every teacher in the building to create a student club based on their own personal interests that would meet once a week during advisory time for twelve weeks. We created a “catalog” with all of the teachers’ names, their club names, and their club descriptions. As you can imagine, our “All-Stars” embraced the concept immediately and came up with amazing club ideas. Some of our more reticent teachers chose the easy route with “Silent Sustained Reading Club” or “Watch the News Club.” Below is a sampling of some of the more original and exciting offerings:
- Cwalina—The Crazy Cat Lady and Dudes Club: In this club we will learn how to
make homemade cat treats and cat toys for our own pets and those in shelters. In addition, we will also create cat-related projects and/or artwork.
- Hemple—Cricut Club: Bring your Pinterest vision boards to reality in this hands-on crafting club. We will use the cricut machine to design and create unique, one-of-a-kind projects.
- Pat—HVAC Basics and Repair: Learn the basics of how heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems operate in your homes and in large buildings such as schools!
- Meade—Save the Monarch Club: Students will explore the drastically declining numbers of the Monarch butterfly and the reasons for the dramatic population change. We will work on flower and garden designs to attract the butterfly and do some flower pots for the courtyard. In October, we will perform a citizens scientist count of the migrating butterflies we see in the school courtyard.
We also included principals, custodians, and other staff members. For my part, I started a powerlifting club, which taught the basics of weightlifting. Mason joined my powerlifting club for the first 12-week session and subsequently signed up three more times to round out the year. He was an otherwise average student who didn’t play any school sports and wasn’t part of the arts program. Mason took all grade level courses and was a “B” student. By definition, he was the type of kid who often was overlooked, moving through the middle school world without forming any strong teacher bonds.
There was nothing spectacular or particularly wonderful about my club. I didn’t plan any amazing ice breakers or cool team-building activities. I simply introduced myself to the kids, laid out the ground rules for safety and respect in the weight room, and started teaching the fundamentals of the four basic barbell lifts. Some of the more interested students quickly joined the “course” I created in our learning management system, Schoology, and began studying the demo videos, reading the expert articles, and uploading their own practice sets of the exercises from home.
Mason loved lifting and picked up the technique quickly. His parents helped him join a local fitness club so he could pursue his interest outside of school. Mason and I would chat several times a week and he began hanging out with some of the other kids from the club. He smiled a lot more in the hallways. It seemed like he had genuinely found his place. By the end of the school year, he found me and said, “Hey, Dr. Indeglio! I can’t wait until club sign-ups next year. I want to get even stronger than this year!” I smiled, we exchanged a fist bump, and Mason went on his way to class. With close to twelve hundred students, I might never have even met Mason, much less learned his name and so much about him, if it weren’t for our school-wide clubs.
In the end, our school-wide clubs allowed our staff to share the most wonderful parts of themselves with the students and, in kind, the students embraced new interests and hobbies outside the normal curriculum. But even beyond that, our entire school community, including parents and families at home, reaped the rewards of this worthwhile endeavor.
What are your experiences with school-wide clubs and staff-designed activities?
Nicholas Indeglio, EdD, is the principal of Downingtown Middle School in Downingtown, PA. He is the 2017 Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @DrIndeglio.