Podcast S2. Ep 3: TOPICS: School Culture & Climate - John and Houston

Character Strong · September 6, 2019

CharacterStrong Co-Founders John Norlin & Houston Kraft have some fun and talk about the first thing that comes to mind on different School Culture & Climate topics.
 

Topics: Back to School: Helping everyone feel welcome, School Dances, Back to School for Staff 

 


“...a lot of times when stuff at the beginning of the year happens where it's like zeroed in on certain students, but you might have like the 10th graders, right? Who have already been the new students, right, or the 11th graders who are in this middle identity crisis of what about us? The seniors are excited because they're in their last year, and so what do we do to make sure that all, on a regular basis, are being reminded that we are excited that you're here, you are part of this community, and that we do that on day one?”

— John Norlin

Episode Transcript:

  • Houston: Welcome back to the CharacterStrong Podcast. I'm here with my co-founder John Norlin who normally runs the show, but I get to be pitching some questions your way today, John, as we're back for our round two to kick off season two of our topics episode. One of my favorite things we do, we kind of go back and forth and just popcorn topics or ideas that you and I can speak into around school culture and leadership.
  • Houston: Wherever you're listening from, welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, 10 minutes or less, we call it the CharacterSrong commute. We talk about cutting the fluff, getting right to the stuff. John, let's get right into it.
  • Houston: On the last topics episode to kick off season two, we talked about starting the year off intentionally, which I know you did a number of times, whether it was from the teacher perspective or from the district perspective, and you talked a little bit about that transitions program and how critical that is for sort of incoming freshmen or sixth graders. I want to know what did you see that was really successful in terms of making sure on that first day back or that first week or so back everyone felt welcomed?
  • John: Yeah, that's a great question because, you're right, there is a lot of times when stuff at the beginning of the year happens where it's like zeroed in on certain students, but you might have like the 10th graders, right? Who have already been the new students, right, or the 11th graders who are in this middle identity crisis of what about us? The seniors are excited because they're in their last year, and so what do we do to make sure that all, on a regular basis, are being reminded that we are excited that you're here, you are part of this community, and that we do that on day one?
  • John: Very practically, and I know a lot of schools do this, but I also know a lot do not, I think we have a great opportunity to recognize everybody when they walk into the building. A way that you can do that is use something, say like die cuts, and there are a lot of them out there. We were the Spartans, and so we found a Spartan head that you can cut out in a die cut, and we did it in the school colors. It was like on purple and/or yellow-goldish paper, and we would cut one of those out for every student and staff members, so not just teachers, every single staff member, every single student in the building, write their name on it and then have it hanging on the wall for when they come in on day one.
  • John: That was huge because, one, it's like you walk in and it's everywhere, right. Then the other thing it does is, students are in that ... they're always looking for their name because you don't tell them, "Hey you're in hallway B in this spot," right, so they're having to look. They'll even have friends like, "I saw yours," you'll hear them in the hallway and they're like, "Really?" They're going down to get it. I think it just makes the statement immediately that we are one community and everybody in this place is important.
  • John: One of my favorite stories ever was a ninth grade student. The first day of school's done, right, they've had their freshman orientation and then the upperclassmen joined after lunch and all the Spartan heads were up on the wall and everybody's left, it's like an hour after school. I'm coming downstairs and I'm walking towards the office, then I see this new student with his mom. He's pointing towards the wall and he's like, "That one's mine." I'm just like, wow, that is what it's about, like that one's mine. How many students never see their name, so to speak, up on the wall, right? It's kind of like being on the refrigerator, this piece of work is up on the fridge. I just think, it may not have huge impact for all students, but it does make a statement. I know students who will take theirs down, put it on their locker for the entire year, put it on their notebook for the year. But I think it is a way to say that all of us are a part of this community.
  • John: I'll start with that one. On the student side, even though that's student and staff, I think it's a huge focus obviously on the students. I've got a staff one as well that I'll share, but I'll flip it to you to keep the topics piece moving. I know that one of the things schools are sometimes struggling with nowadays is something that used to be a staple, especially at the high school level, but it's also at the middle level, and that is even just the idea around dances because I know you like to dance man. What if the topic was dances?
  • Houston: Yeah, I do like to dance. I've declared 2019 my year of dance.
  • John: Whoa, I didn't know that.
  • Houston: Oh yeah. It's going well. I try to dance at least once a week, and I love it. I love it for lots of reasons, and I've seen a couple of things be really interesting and successful in my own personal like dance life here that I think would be really cool things to translate to what we do at schools, right.
  • Houston: I just love ... One of my favorite things that we have the opportunity to think about at CharacterStrong is because we're not like in the work, we get to look at the work, one of the things we talk about a lot, which just allows us a different perspective. Sometimes you get so, like you mentioned, this staple of the dances and how we've always done it. We just sort of get caught up in that narrative of the way we've always done it, it's the way we need to do it.
  • Houston: One of my favorite things I was introduced to over this past year is a organization and an event called Daybreaker. The whole premise of Daybreaker is that it's a sober dance party that starts at 5:30 in the morning with about an hour of yoga followed by like two hours of dancing, and it ends around 8:30 in the morning, and many people walk out of it and go right to work. Just from a general perspective, I think that's awesome. Radha, one of the founders of Daybreaker says, the most valuable thing we have is time. One of her rules, she's like, "I want to own the morning. I want to create a morning experience that people are in love with." Her whole model, she talks about community and she talks about happiness.
  • Houston: One of the conversations, we have a lot at CharacterStrong are on happiness, and she says that happiness is lots of things, one of them, there's a lot of chemical reactions in our brain that create happiness. She says, one of her goals with Daybreaker is to create a dose D.O.S.E., a dose in the morning of happy. That dose includes dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Everything they do around the Daybreaker experience is programmed around those four ideas. Dopamine is about setting and accomplishing goals, so just the fact that you are there at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, you've already beaten most of the world.

“One of my favorite things that we have the opportunity to think about at CharacterStrong is because we're not like in the work, we get to look at the work, one of the things we talk about a lot, which just allows us a different perspective. Sometimes you get so, like you mentioned, this staple of the dances and how we've always done it. We just sort of get caught up in that narrative of the way we've always done it, it's the way we need to do it.”

— Houston Kraft


  • John: By the way, real quick, Houston I think this is cool. I'm looking at the website and Buzzfeed has a quote that they had in maybe an article, it says, "Do I need coffee? No, I'm going to be energized by dance."
  • Houston: Yes, yeah, exactly. See you're up, and already there's something energetic about accomplishing that goal. Then, O, oxytocin is the experience of being connected to people or even they have hug lines when you walk in. Figuring out what that looks like on your campus, but like physical touch or being high-fived or hugged by someone is a way to generate that oxytocin. S is serotonin, which is released when we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. At Daybreaker, they always end with a, sort of a community intention for the day where people perform, and then we read something together. Then, E is endorphins, which is the exercise piece. By dancing for two hours, you release those. Every piece of happiness in our brain gets released through this intentional process, which I just love, A, that lens of building a thing, but, B, I think that can play out in the middle school or high school setting.
  • Houston: In fact, I've had friends, one of my friends in Moses Lake did it at the middle school level to huge success. What a cool paradigm shift from the traditional dance, and not to say you have to do all dances like this, but right away you get to reduce some of those natural risks of having a Friday night event where you're always having to monitor how students are acting or behaving or showing up. The early morning premise changes a little bit about everything, and it's just a really cool, powerful, fun way to start the day, totally paradigm shifting. When I've run them myself, even at leadership camp, I like to sort of facilitate the dance, so that students feel like dancing is more accessible. I'll say, "Dance like the letter P or dance using only squares," and I just add framework, so people, sometimes when you add constraint, it actually allows for more creativity.
  • Houston: There's just lots of fun ways to play with the Daybreaker model. I'd be a huge advocate, as you start this year, to think about incorporating, changing one or two of your nighttime dances and making them first thing in the morning dances, see what happens.
  • John: I love that paradigm, man. I wonder if, I truly would wonder, I'd love to hear about a high school who tries to flip the homecoming model.
  • Houston: Yep.
  • John: You do that in the morning, and then what if it was a different event that was in the evening, could even be a different kind of social, I don't know. It would be interesting, like where you don't have to get super dressed up and spend lots of money for the Daybreaker, but you just go and have a blast. Then maybe the group goes and does a dinner or hangs out, I don't know. It'd be really interesting to hear.
  • John: Okay, we have about a minute left. Should I flip to the staff piece-
  • Houston: Yeah.
  • John: Since I talked student? Okay. I think staff, I love this idea because it, same thing, it moves beyond what maybe we're used to with writing handwritten notes or whatever. But what if on the first day that staff come back, not only like the last episode where I talked about that we have students greeting them at the door when they come back for their first staff professional development day, but what if when they came in, on every staff door, so every teacher door and then for other staff, near their workstations. It could be their door or it could be just inside on the the wall where the secretary has her desk or whatever it might be. But there's what we would call like an educator big note because everybody's an educator in the building, and it's like butcher paper and it's a big handwritten note of gratitude and door kudos, something specific.
  • John: Use students and/or other staff to help write those. But now it makes the statement when people come in and students are walking from class to class, now I see, even though I don't have Mr. Smith, I see that really cool thing about Mr. Smith or something that he's passionate about or something that he brings to his students or class. It's a really cool way to add, not only a boost of encouragement to your staff at the beginning of the year, but to spread that kindness throughout the building about the good things that are there.
  • John: I love that idea of the practical nature of what would it take, it's some up front work, but it makes a huge statement when you walk in and all of those are there because it's not just them receiving it, it's other people seeing it and being influenced by it as well.
  • Houston: We call them the fingerprints of kindness. I love it.
  • John: Love it, man. Well, as we transition out, man, season two is going to be awesome. We have got some already in the queue and recorded amazing guests. When I say amazing, like people I think have said, one of the things they love is just people that are in the work who have really cool practical ideas that never thought about that. In fact, if you know people are out there or even yourself, let us know. We'd love to be getting key people that are out there doing the work, doing great work. No matter how small the idea, sometimes it's a little things, obviously, that make the biggest difference. As well as we have some pretty amazing people who are doing, whether it's work around research connected to it or policy or other things. We're super excited. We're going to be dropping some episodes around the CASEL Conference coming up, is it in October, Houston?
  • Houston: That's right. First ever CASEL Conference, it will be a really fun week where we're highlighting some people that are even speaking there.
  • John: Yep, yep. It's gonna be a blast. Stay tuned for more. We're going to be coming out every Monday, every Tuesday with the CharacterStrong Commute, the podcast. Be listening in.
  • John: We're grateful for you all. Don't forget to let other people know about us who are out there that you know could benefit from these episodes.
  • 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 iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools. Visit characterstrong.com.
  • John: Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.

If you enjoyed this episode, please rate review and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, & Google Play and also please feel free to share this page on social media

Share:

Character Strong

The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.