Measuring the Impact of Character and Relationship Building on School Spirit

John Norlin · November 28, 2017

What does SCHOOL SPIRIT have to do with this? While the traditional definition of school spirit falls flat and may only reach 10% of your school, creating a community where everyone belongs, seems like a sure-fire way to positively impact student learning through a new vision of school spirit.  School Spirit occurs when students and educators both WANT to come to school! When everyone wants to be at school, grades/attendance go up and bad behavior goes down.  This makes sense because humans need all of the following: purpose, validation, respect, safety, and trust.  If both students and staff want to come to school then these basic human conditions must be being met.

How would Character and Relationship Building impact someone’s desire to come to school?  That’s easy!  When people feel connected to something bigger than themselves they figure out “why” they come to school.  Simon Sinek taught us that when we understand our “why” we get excited to come to work or school.  The why-focused school community begins having a passion for learning, interacting with one another, and making a better school.  

Ok, school spirit might be a great gauge of a school’s work on Character and Relationship Building but how the heck do you measure it?  The same way you measure everything else in schools with hard data from grades, attendance, discipline, and test scores.  It’s no secret that students who have high social-emotional learning going on, have better hard data.  By understanding their “why” and having human conditions met, productivity increases all over campus.  Educators work harder and students accomplish greater success in these positive learning environments.  AND at EMS we’ve seen improvements across the board in these hard data measures.  But, if you’re like us, these cold, impersonal snapshots of school spirit leave you wanting more.  So, here’s a few recent anecdotal measures that matter to us on the impact of Character and Relationship Building on School Spirit:


  • Following a CharacterStrong Assembly one girl wrote a note of forgiveness to another girl.  Next day, the other girl reciprocated!
  • After receiving a CharacterStrong Award for Commitment, a girl posted a picture of the certificate and explained how proud she was for winning the award.  She went on to post that her elementary teachers had always told her she had dyslexia and that she felt she was dumb.  “This is the first teacher to believe in me!”
  • A high poverty, low academic skilled student reported that her band teacher had pointed out her “technique” and called it “outstanding” in front of the entire class.  She was asked to demonstrate her “finger positions” and detail it for her classmates.  She was overwhelmed by this experience saying: I’m not used to being told that I’m OUTSTANDING or treated like a leader!”
  • During a CharacterStrong lesson two girls became emotional as they detail who/why the person they looked up to MOST in the world was the other girl.  Despite a room full of squirrelly boys and girls you could hear a pin drop as everyone respected the two girls moment.  The Safe, Respected, Relationship-Building Culture that the teacher had created was Magical!
  • A local news reporter came to our school to do a 45 minute interview and get some footage for an anti-bullying piece she was doing.  She ended up spending nearly 3 hours.  Near the end of the interview, the principal, reporter and I were sitting wrapping things up when the reporter began to cry.  She explained that she’s overwhelmed with emotions about all the amazing things we’re doing with our school culture.  “Why isn’t EVERY school doing these things?”  “Why wasn’t it like this when I was in school?”

These are just a few of the anecdotes that we’re being flooded with since jumping into CharacterStrong.  They’re IMPACTFUL to us because they conjure up real students/staff who are being positively impacted by Character Education and Relationship Building.  All of these positive moments are enhancing School Spirit and in turn Learning!  


John Norlin

John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.