By: Chris Edwards, Assistant Principal, Kreps Middle School, East Windsor, New Jersey
I’ve been an educator for 10 years, and more than anything else, I feel that building positive relationships in all parts of your school community is integral to your overall success. Knowing students’ names, jumping into a badminton game during gym class, personally relating to fellow faculty members, and working with a small group during a math lesson are a few ways I try to build a positive school community and climate. In our school, assistant principals loop with their students from 6th – 8th grade. My students are now excelling in the 7th grade, and I’ve been able to watch their growth since they stepped off the bus a year and a half ago when they first entered middle school, as 6th graders. By engaging in the activities mentioned, I feel that I’ve helped further cultivate the family like atmosphere that my principal and other assistant principals established long before I got here. When I heard we would have to switch to remote learning, I immediately questioned how I would continue to cultivate this feeling.
One thing kids at any level of schooling enjoy about the school environment is being around their friends and teachers and engaging with one another through jokes, games, group projects and competitions. This type of interaction is challenging during these unprecedented times. In order to address the need for these interactions, I used my interest and familiarity with social media to my advantage. In my time of social distancing, even though I may not want to admit it, I’ve spent a lot of time Tiktok watching, Twitter scrolling, and viewing pictures and videos on Instagram. No matter the site, there were a number of dances and activities that caught my eye. Because of this, I decided to use some of these ideas to my advantage with students and staff – knowing that they were probably watching these videos in their own homes as well.
I created a grade-wide Google classroom where both students and staff members could join. Leveraging the ability to have everyone in one digital place, I introduced weekly challenges to students and staff. These challenges became a way for kids to “see” some of their friends and teachers from their new makeshift classrooms and engage with each other in a fun way. The first challenge went out to everyone during the second week of remote learning. It was the #leanwitit challenge. The #leanwitit challenge consisted of performing a viral dance to a specific song that I found on Tiktok. I felt the best way to get students and staff to really jump into the challenge was to make a video of myself performing the dance. I made sure to pick the right outfit and put my own twist on it before posting it to my Google Classroom page – I take this stuff seriously! Upon posting the challenge, there were over 20 submissions from students and staff, and I was ecstatic about the number of entries. Not only were there 20 entries, when it came time for students and staff to vote on their favorite video, we had over 250 votes! Students who may not have wanted to learn the dance or participate in the challenge still found a sense of community by voting for their favorite submission. Once I saw this level of participation, I was excited to share another.
We followed that challenge up with a pet challenge, where students and staff submitted photos of them with their pets, a pushup challenge where you had to complete ten pushups with some background music highlighting your personality, a trick shot challenge where you had to post a creative trick shot using items that you had in your house, and my favorite one, the #dontrushchallenge. The #Dontrushchallenge really brought all of our students and staff together! The #Dontrushchallenge consisted of another viral video where people take a quick video of themselves in lounging clothes, before completing a quick change into something much more formal or more representative of their personality. This was a staff favorite! We were able to put together extensive videos from teachers and staff at all three grade levels, which also included our whole administration team. Staff really enjoyed seeing their colleagues’ submissions and being able to connect with them in a way they haven’t been able to since we’ve gone remote.
We are planning on continuing these weekly challenges throughout the rest of our remote learning experience. What these challenges and their responses have further emphasized is the need for both students and staff to look at school as a place of fun and positivity. Obviously, making sure students are receiving high quality instruction and providing teachers with academic support are integral to success, but providing outlets for the school community to engage in lighthearted activities especially in times such as these, is just as important. Being able to see both students and staff alike, that you may not always expect, submit videos and pictures into these competitions has been unbelievable. As much as I’d like to think I know my students and staff, I’ve been able to learn so much more about them through something as little as these weekly challenges. I hope that even as we prepare for whatever the new “normal” is going to be, we never lose sight of how important climate and culture is for both children and adults. If your climate and culture keeps the idea of family and togetherness at the forefront, the possibilities for what school can continue to evolve into as we push through this challenging situation is very exciting!
(There are videos attached to his email that can be inserted)