As Mr. John Norlin egged us on, I happily shook the ‘webbys’ around me at Enterprise’s first CharacterStrong assembly, and I knew I would be in for an incredible year.
I’ve been lucky myself, to have seen the growth of the students, the teachers, the school as a whole, from a front seat view through the position of a leadership student and ASB officer.
With CharacterStrong, I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t been changed for the better. In fact, my favorite thing about CharacterStrong is how Enterprise is using it everywhere. As a matter of fact, in my Band class we talked about what we could do as an ensemble to serve our school and community!
In fact, even outside my leadership duties and advisory, I’m still learning about building strong character. For instance, in my language arts class, we recently covered the Holocaust. We learned about Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, and the injustice of World War II. But it was so, so much more than that.
We talked about how and why we treat others the way we do, what we can take away from our history, and to my surprise, we talked a lot about the lessons we learned in advisory… CharacterStrong.
Through the whole unit, I felt so much more ‘into’ it, because CharacterStrong lessons were incorporated in them. In class, we had many meaningful discussions that started when we saw connections between what we were studying, and what we had learned through character lessons.
For the end of the unit, our essay topic was to apply what we learned from the Holocaust and our lives to the following question: What is our responsibility as humans to other humans? Writing that paper was a liberating experience, because I had the chance to think about all the character dares, all of the advisory lessons, and of course, all of the details of World War II together.
This was the first year in my middle school experience, where the school didn’t feel like it was about to explode! A new middle school opened so Enterprise’s student size decreased quite a bit -but the kindness only skyrocketed! This has, hands down, been the best year of my life, and not just because of the extra room in hallways!
For starters, something that I’ve really enjoyed this year is advisory, it’s always really fun and my teacher never fails to make sure we understand the things we learn. A big change I’ve noticed is how different it is from the advisory-like-things Enterprise used in prior years.
For instance, last years lessons were very reactive centered, but with CharacterStrong I’ve learned so much more about being proactive. For reference, a typical lesson last year would go something along the lines of watching a video portraying a dangerous situation we could find ourselves in, and then talking about what we would do.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it is vital to know how to react in situations but during these lessons, we never really talked about what we can do to stop the situation from ever even happening… By being proactively kind people.
While in a leadership clinic with Houston Kraft, after our second CharacterStrong assembly, I learned the true difference between nice and kind, and it really struck home. Being nice is being reactive, like seeing something and then reacting after seeing it. But being kind, is proactive, it’s doing things without reason, just being a good person by default, and serving others.
I don’t believe I’ve ever felt a better atmosphere than at Enterprise that day… It was like KINDNESS ON STEROIDS, everyone was feeling a little bit more inspired to make a difference, there were high fives left and right, but what I think made the world feel a little brighter and warmer at school that day, were the SMILES.
With all of these new things, in the classroom, in the halls, and in the morning, the ‘welcomingness’ of Enterprises school environment has immeasurably escalated.
For instance, every morning there's tons of kids holding open the front and bus doors, high fiving, smiling, and dancing to the music playing out of the speakers, to greet fellow students as they come inside.
I, personally don’t really get the chance to hold open the doors in the morning because I have Jazz Band zero hour. So one day, my zero hour teacher suggested that we should do something at the door in the morning. Lo’ and behold, a couple days later we were playing our concert set as kids walked in! Which goes to show, anything you can contribute will make a difference.
Along with the students, I feel the staff members have all contributed to the leap in the positive climate at school. In fact, I don’t think I have a single teacher that doesn’t greet students by the door to their class. It might seem like a pretty small thing, but my day honestly gets 100x better when a teacher says good morning to me, because it feels like I’m more than a blob they’re shoving information into for standardized tests, but a kid who’s ready to learn more. School isn’t a “have to go” anymore, its a “I get to go to school today!”
Over the year, through advisory, leadership, all the CharacterStrong activities, and even just regular school days, I’ve gathered so much more knowledge about pretty much everything; relationships, servant leadership, and the list goes on and on.
I feel I have grown as a person, and discovered more about myself. But possibly most important, now, not just me, but my fellow students, instead of thinking “I DON’T ‘WANNA’ GO” in the morning, we’re thinking “what will I do for others today?”
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.