John & Houston have some fun and talk about the first thing that comes to mind on different School Culture & Climate topics.
Topics: Hallways, Cafeteria, Custodian, Spirit Swag, Funniest speech moment.
John: All right, everybody. Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast. My name is John Norlin. I'm one of the co-founders of CharacterStrong, and with me is our other co-founder, Houston Kraft. And we wanted to have some fun every once in a while with a podcast where we throw out some topics. Like, Houston, I would throw out a topic, and I want you to share the first thing that comes to mind connected to school culture, and / or climate. It could be an example, it could be an idea. It could just be a word, or even like, "Eh, I don't know." Right?
John: But the first thing that comes to mind, and then I'll have you throw out a topic, and I'll share first thing that comes to mind. We'll see where it goes, and every once in a while we'll do these knowing that we're trying to keep them to ten minutes, or under. So, I'll start. First topic, hallways.
Houston: School cultures through the lens of hallways, I think that when I walk into a school, and what we value is on display. All right? And I think there's a lot of evidence right when you walk into a building. Sometimes when you walk into the entryway, it's just trophies for academic things, for athletic things. And the schools that I think are thinking about this holistically are getting more intentional about also displaying things related to character. So, are we celebrating kids who are practicing forgiveness, or patience, or humility, or honesty, or kindness well?
Houston: Because what I love about character is that you don't need a certain body type to practice patience. You don't need a certain brain type to practice kindness. That these things are ... These skills are available to everyone, and they give access to kids who might not ever end up in a trophy case, or on the wall. Access to be celebrated in really purposeful ways.
Houston: John, how about cafeteria?
John: Cafeteria, hmmm, interesting. First thought that comes to mind is the intentional work we did with student leaders on actually looking at an age old challenge that we give to students that we actually need to look at a different way. So, the famous challenge is this, you see that kid sitting alone by themselves at lunch? You should go sit with that student, which is a terrible thing to do to a student, and / or student leader because we are totally setting them up for failure. Because the reality is I've had students take that challenge. I've given them that challenge, and had them come back and go, "Mr. Norlin, I went and did it. And the person just got up, and left." Or, "They looked at me, and said something rude, and then left." Or, whatever, right? We didn't set them up for success.
John: And so the first idea is do we even notice who is in the lunchroom, and where? Who is by themself, and / or it might not even be the lunchroom, it might even be beyond that, somewhere else in the school. So, once we notice, two, have you even learned that student's name? So, what you do is you start breaking it down.
John: Go get that their name somehow. "Well, how do I get it?" I don't know there's lots of ways that you can find out someone's name. Once you get their name, use it in the hallways for like a week, or two. Right? "Hey, Brian, how are you doing today?" Right? And it might be because you introduced yourself. "Hey, Brian, like ... Or what's your name? Oh, my name is John, nice to meet you." And done. Use the name for a few weeks.
John: Right? Connect with Brian maybe once before school, right? "Hey, what are you listening to, Brian? That's great." And these intentional little connections. And now two, or three weeks in, you see Brian who has been sitting by himself, and you come up to him and say, "Hey, Brian, is anybody sitting here? Can I sit with you?" And there's far more likelihood to get a yes then because you've taught him how to build those initial connections, and to build trust with that student, versus just go sit with that student.
Houston: You've got to earn the right to sit next to a person.
John: That's right.
Houston: It's a relationship.
John: So, we need to be intentional with teaching students how to do that, instead of just like this idealistic thing where we're setting them up for failure.
John: Topic. Topic, topic, topic. Hmmm. Custodian.
Houston: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is we just got an email from one of our CharacterStrong schools today, while I was here with the crew. The title was CharacterStrong Works, and it was a picture of a custodian who was coming in on a day when students weren't there, and I think that he was down a person, and some students through some of the CharacterStrong advisory curriculum had created this packet of notes of gratitude, and I think like even a couple snacks and things. And the picture is this guy beaming, holding the bucket of snacks, and notes, and just said how honored and celebrated he felt on a day that otherwise was gonna be really challenging.
Houston: So, yeah, reframing how we're supposed to show up for everyone on our campus, and how sometimes the people that we ignore actually have a tremendous amount of influence, and a tremendous amount of wisdom, and sometimes work harder than anyone else if we're paying attention. And I love ... Yeah, go back to that first piece of this whole thing is awareness, and are we teaching kids that awareness.
John: That's good. This is fun by the way.
Houston: This is fun. Topic, spirit swag.
John: Oo. Spirit swag. That's kind of a tough one since a lot of our focus ... Even though that is an important part, like was not as much my thing. So, you're kind of throwing me for a loop here. Spirit swag, well how about this? I think we need to look at activities through the lens of sometimes what we might call the activity's gap. And so the idea of does every student in your school no matter how much money they have, how involved they are, does everybody have the opportunity first and foremost to have like a piece of spirit swag, or gear?
John: Because what if not everybody can afford that $20 spirit shirt, or that $50 spirit pack, or whatever it might be. So, have we done the work as a school? And sometimes it might be pulling in some community support, or whatever else. Or even just as a school investing in saying, "Every single student on the first whatever ... The first month of school will get a spirit shirt that they can wear on Spirit Fridays. And we will guarantee that every single student has it." So, I think when it comes to school culture, that'd be the lens is, are we finding out a way, and making sure that everybody has access to be involved in that way with spirit swag? How about that?
Houston: That's good. You want to do one more?
John: Yeah, let's do one more. Is it my turn?
Houston: Yeah, hit me with it. Yeah.
John: How about ... Gosh, this is a tough one. I want to give a good one. How about funniest speech moment? Wait, that's not really a ... It's a topic related to school culture.
Houston: No, this is a good ... A teachable moment. I had been traveling, I was pretty tired actually, and sick. I was very sick. I was at a middle school in Las Vegas, and I was so tired, I was walking out of the bathroom, I hit my face on the corner of a bathroom tile. So, I had a swollen head, I was ill, and back-to-back assemblies followed by a leadership workshop. And in my second assembly towards the end of the school day, about halfway into my speech, some middle school student audibly vomits onto the back of another kid's head.
Houston: And the immediate response of course, middle schoolers are like ... And I'm in this moment, I have this decision to make of how I'm going to react. Do you draw more attention to this? Do you pause everything, and wait for this kid to leave? And I decided in my delirium to run to the other side of the gym, and yell, "Who wants to learn how to beat box?" And everyone is like, "Wait, what?" And I was like, "Repeat after me." And I started to teach them this goofy little beat box thing that I do.
Houston: And meanwhile the counselors come in, and they get this kid out of the room, and then I'm able to resume the assembly. And at the end of the assembly, we had the Leadership workshop, and I'll never forget this like seventh grade girl. As soon as we basically sat down, I asked if anyone had any questions as we began our time. The seventh grade girl starts to cry, and she goes, "That's what I want to do." I said, "What?" She goes, "You took all the attention to yourself, so that, that kid didn't have to be embarrassed." She goes, "I want to do that for kids in my school."
John: That's a powerful story.
Houston: And I loved ... I will never forget that girl crying.
Houston: And then I went to the Vegas airport, and threw up.
John: And nobody took that away from you.
Houston: But you can't take that away from me, that moment of this girl who just so profoundly understood what was happening, bigger than I understood.
Houston: I just was trying to run a distraction technique. But she was like, "Yeah, you stole the attention in a way that put it all on you, so that, that kid didn't have to be humiliated."
John: I want to do that.
Houston: "I want to do that for others."
John: Shows you a little insight into the heart of our young people.
Houston: That's right. What they want, what they're craving. Opportunities-
John: To make a difference.
Houston: To do good.
John: Yep, that's good stuff. Right on. Let's do this again sometime. Topics. Love it.
Houston: That's it for today's CharacterStrong podcast. Thanks for checking in.
John: Make it ...
Houston: A great day.
John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify, and iTunes. Thanks for listening, make it a great day.