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Weighing Risks vs. Rewards in Cultivating School Spirit

By Dave Krocker

01/03/2020

Weighing Risks vs. Rewards in Cultivating School Spirit
Why is it important as a high school principal to take risks? For one, it’s a way to model behavior, or “walk the walk.” After all, we encourage teachers and students to take risks all the time. Risk vs. rewards, right?

Just the other day a teacher came to me and said, “My Design Thinking lesson was a disaster.” I responded with, “Congratulations!”

A look of confusion spread across her face. I explained that I knew rolling out this lesson involved taking a risk, but she attempted it, tried something new, and can now reflect on how to improve the activity. She took a risk for improved student learning. This needs to be celebrated.

I do believe it is incumbent upon school leaders to place faith in our students’ and community’s ability to handle something new. Tell them you believe in them, that you trust them, and that you want them to have joyful opportunities and make positive memories of their high school experience. Yes, many things can go wrong along the way. But isn’t it empowering for your school culture when things go right?

One of our goals in the high school at Colegio Interamericano Guatemala for this year is to elevate our school spirit. Last year, as a new principal to the school, I held numerous student focus groups, using the prompt, “What if…?” Students overwhelmingly expressed a desire for more school spirit.

In collaboration with our Director of Athletics and our Student Council (STUCO), we organized a Friday Basketball Spirit Night. Inviting the varsity boys’ and girls’ teams from our neighboring school, Colegio Americano de Guatemala, for a double-header represented a real risk! Up to this point, the bleachers had been largely empty during home games. If students wanted increased school spirit, we were going to have to try something new.

As traffic is horrendous here in Guatemala City, along with safety and security concerns, we knew that if our students left after the 2:15 Friday dismissal getting enough fans back to make this evening a success would be difficult. Anticipating this challenge, STUCO set out to entice their peers to stay on campus until the start of the evening games.

They had great ideas and got busy planning. There should be food and movies, they decided, along with games like spike ball, soccer, and ping pong. They even planned to create a “chill out” room. As we got closer to the event, the STUCO members grew nervous. They could feel the strain of risk vs. reward.

My own mind raced with similar fears. “What if no one sticks around? What if this turns out to be a complete failure? Will my student leaders follow through?”

The event was an incredible success. We persuaded over 50 students to stay and enjoy the afternoon’s planned events, and we all had an amazing time. I heard repeatedly from students that they wanted to do this more often, that this is how school should be—a place where after classes wrap up we can just have fun!

Just as the basketball games were about to begin, the STUCO organizers along with my fellow supervisors and even the food vendors were shocked to see crowds of people stream in. They had braved the traffic to attend! We had a packed gym with standing room only.
I saw younger kids from other divisions playing on the field, eating food, playing soccer, and cheering on the varsity teams. Parents and family from the visiting school mingled with our fans. Our mascot, the Grizzly, was a big hit and was swarmed by younger and older kids the entire night.

After that memorable evening, I reflected on the effort and time required to pull off this event. From all the smiles, the roar of the crowd, the comments by students and parents, it was clearly worth it. Taking the risk had been stressful, but the rewards were deep and meaningful.

I guess the most reaffirming moment for me came when a group of seniors said to me, as we left campus for the night, “We will think back on this night for years and years. Thank you.”
As school leaders, we can get swept away by curriculum, assessment, professional development, budget, parent communication, and countless other responsibilities. It was this Basketball Spirit Night that reminded me, once again, of why we do what we do. It is always about the students, their pride, their sense of self, and their sense of belonging to this community. It is about modeling what we expect of them.

So try something new. Take a risk. Hopefully, you, too, will reap great rewards for your learning community.

Dave Krocker is High School Principal at Colegio Interamericano Guatemala.




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