AJ Juliani is co-founder of Education Is My Life and works as a K-12 Technology Staff Developer currently running a 1:1 initiative.
Over a thousand fans packed the gym and stood quietly. No chatter about the myriad of costumes filling the rafters. No cheers for the game in progress. They stood there silent and boy was it intimidating. Across the gym the other team sat watching and waiting for the inevitable. Parents and fans of the other team whispered to each other like they too were supposed to be silent. The sixth point was a three pointer from the baseline that put the home team up 6-1…yet no one said a word. A teletubby and teapot looked at each other and smiled. It was almost time.
A sophomore stepped to the line with a packed gymnasium holding their breath. His teammates watched both excited and envious at the same time. The first shot went through with a swish. The gym somehow became a vacuum of silence as he dribbled twice before letting the ball go. It touched through the cylinder and eruption burst through the crowd. The calm had lifted and now a thousand-plus students were on their feet screaming in delight. They jumped and laughed and cheered their school name for the rest of the game, never stopping until the final whistle blew. They had won emphatically in the second annual Silent Night basketball game.
This is my school, but three years ago if you would’ve come to the same game between these two teams you wouldn’t believe that the stands were a quarter full and many students did not know there was a game taking place. Now, our school is the winner of the 2012 Sportsmanship Award and our FANS have been featured in multiple articles and videos chronicling their infectious school spirit.
This post is about school spirit, and how the right plan and mindset can transform an entire student body from being “too cool” to care about their school, to wearing their spirit on their sleeve (literally). Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, coach, or administrator…we can all agree that school spirit is infectious and dramatically improves an overall school culture with its presence. However, it’s not as easy to have these days with the many opportunities that exist for students outside of school. I’ll touch on the six steps to design your school spirit with the end goal in mind.
1. Diagnose what is wrong
The first issue (and one that many schools face) is diagnosing what is wrong. In a perfect school all of the students would be invested in their sporting events, activities, concerts, plays, etc. They would want to support each other and come out to support their school. Much as we hope for a sense of nationalism, it usually shows itself during extreme times of happiness or despair. The same too can be said for many schools.
In our case Steve Mogg and I compared past experiences (in other schools with great spirit), to our current situation. We realized that many of our students were proud about our school and the accomplishments of fellow students, but rarely heard about these accomplishments, and didn’t have a means for organizing a large group of students to get together for activities.
We decided the main issue was that those students in drama club were not connected to the basketball players. And the National Champion Robotics team was not connected to the field hockey players. While they all stood for the same entity, they felt no sense of shared pride across activities and athletics. We set out to change this by creating a club in our school called FANS. It stood for “Following Sports and Activities”. Our idea was to give students in our school club credit by attending events, activities, and games during the school year.
2. Find others who are ready to step out
Being teachers, we naturally set out to find students who felt the same way. During the end of the 2009-2010 school year, Steve and I had discussions in our classes about school spirit to gauge how the students felt. Many felt the same way we did, and this open conversation led to a good number of students who expressed interest in being a part of FANS club next year.
I received two emails over the summer from students ready to get started with this club. But our first meeting had only 8 students show up. It was a bit disappointing. However, we stuck together and developed a plan for the future of FANS and our school’s spirit.
3. Develop a plan with measurable goals (but be flexible along the way)
During our first meeting we planned out what our end goals for the club would be (in true Understanding by Design fashion). We developed essential understandings that our group would have, and continually share out with the rest of the school. We then decided on a “plan of action” to reach these goals, and each person received a different role in our club.
Our Initial Goals:
- Win the Sportsmanship Award
- Grow our club to over 100 members
- Go to over 20 events during the school year as a club
Our Initial Essential Understandings:
- Fight LOSS (Lack of School Spirit)
- Involve everyone in the school
- Go to activities that are not usually attended by many people
- Promote using video and media
These goals seemed very ambitious at the time. The EU were different than any other club or activity I had been a part of…but what was important in all of this, was that students helped create and mold these lists.
4. Involve all stakeholders
We wanted to involve everyone at the school, go to many activities, and grow to over 100 members in just a year. What was the best way to make this happen? We decided on positive propaganda. Our 8 early members were very creative and motivated (an awesome combination) so we made a FANS t-shirt with our own logo (seen to the right). We also began to make a series of videos about school spirit and our club. Our second meeting had 20 people attend…we were making progress.
Once the t-shirts arrived we had about 50 students sign-up for the club. We charged $10 for club dues and the t-shirt. We gave out t-shirts to teachers and administrators. Our videos brought in students from all over the school to participate. By the end of year 1 we had almost reached our goal of 100 members (we had roughly 80 students involved) but had gone to many events and started to see a change in the spirit.
Three years later our club now has over 300 members at the high school, and a middle school (FANS Jr.) club starting this year to continue the idea of involving all stakeholders. We’ve gone to most events and activities in our school and are making a big effort this year to spread our FANS across all extra-curricular events.
5. Be innovative and make it fun
This is my favorite (and I believe the most important) step. We started small, but it really allowed us to do some fun things with the club and come up with all sorts of new ideas:
- Our Silent Night idea was inspired by Taylor University, and now many other schools in our area are also doing Silent Night type events.
- Our videos are sometimes mock Gatorade ads, sometimes a rip off the Kardashian’s opening sequence, and always made in good fun.
- Our shirts and FAN gear have evolved. We’ve got three different sets of t-shirts, a sweatshirt, and this year we introduced FANdanas with our school colors for students to wear to games and events.
- We’ve come up with different themed events including: FANcy night, FANwagon games (traveling to away games), and I was so proud this December when they decided to wear Green & White to an event to show support for the victims of Sandy Hook.
- Our club is now broken up into FANilies, with FANily heads overseeing about 20 members and our four officers overseeing those Fanily heads. The structure works great and keeps everyone involved.
- We’ve used Facebook and Remind101 to keep our FANS ready for any event changes and get them pumped and ready before games.
- We’ve done tailgates before games and sponsored Faculty basketball games.
- This year we plan on taking FANS to our local Special Olympics to volunteer and cheer on the students.
6. Share accomplishments and be proud
The last step is an easy one. You should share school accomplishments and be proud. Our Principal has done an awesome job of promoting school spirit through weekly emails highlighting accomplishments of students, teachers, teams, and clubs. Our TV announcements routinely feature accomplishments and we spread the message on all types of social media.
It’s easy to be proud when everything is going well, but our club has shown spirit and pride in all types of situaions and circumstances. Be proud of your school. Be proud of each other. Be proud of where you come from, and I guarantee it will start to spread like wildfire.