My school just wrapped up its first successful Field Day (May Day to you old folks) for the first time in three years. Staff members have shared many different stories about prior Field Day events, but the long and short of it is that for one reason or another they weren’t successful. Now, as I’ve written in the past, I work at an inner city school and unfortunately that usually means that a culture of low expectations for students’ academic performance as well as their behavior tends to infiltrate the hearts and minds of some of the people charged with creating an environment that is not only conducive for learning, but one that feels inclusive, safe, and enjoyable. I believe that past Field Days may have been failures because members of the staff had low expectations of our students and their parents and these low expectations prevented them from putting in the work needed to ensure that an undertaking the size of Field Day was a success. I’m speculating, of course, but lots of signs pointed me in the direction of my previously mentioned conclusion.
I worked on the planning committee for this event with the intention of working with the team to create an event fit for my own children. This meant that Field Day needed to be safe, orderly, highly structured, and that the planning team had to consider, and plan for, a number of different contingencies. I’m happy to say that all went as planned yesterday and that the kids had a great time. 9 people successfully managed fun and games for approximately 600 people…on a shoestring budget. At the end of the day I felt like we were the 2004 Detroit Pistons, a rag tag collection of role players who put numbers on the boards for our team; the learning community at Margaret Fain Elementary School.
A rather welcome, but unforeseen, consequence of the day was that our parents, who up until yesterday seemed to me to be rather disengaged from the school, came out in droves to help work with the staff to make sure that the day was a success. I spoke with a number of these parents who expressed their pleasure in being able to come to the school to support their children. Some shared with me that they felt welcome at the school for the first time in years. Others expressed a desire to participate in more events at the school.
All year long I’ve heard stories from members of the staff bemoaning our parents’ disengagement from their children’s’ learning as well as complaints about students’ behavior. And for awhile, I thought I agreed with some of the criticisms lobbed at both our parents and our students. Until yesterday. Yesterday showed me that our school has done a poor job of engaging parents and students with programs that promote the school in a fun, inclusive, or celebratory manner. Everything we do is focused on academics, student discipline, or some combination of the two. Academics and discipline are important, but can also be fairly boring if that’s the only thing a school has to offer.
So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about schools culture and climate, and how investments in creating programs that invite parents into the school to work alongside teachers and students could be the catalyst for turning our ship around. I think that members of my staff at are on the verge of doing some great work…and I think that if we use the Field Day momentum to attack our school’s history of having a less than welcoming culture then we can really begin the work of re-branding our school.
As always, thanks for reading and pardon the typos…I’ll be revisiting this topic again with some regularity.