"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself" ~ John Dewey
It's Spring Break here in Ontario and the snow just doesn't seem to want to stop falling so today I decided to do a bit of organizing, as well as, back up my computer and iPhone. As I started saving the the school pictures from my phone something hit me - school spirit. People will have different ideas on what school spirit is. In fact if you had asked me when I was in high school or university my answer would have been much different than it is today. Back then I would have said school spirit is much like the picture at the top of this post. Athletics and teams were the heart and soul of a school. They brought everyone together, cheering and supporting their peers and having some fun doing it. I know as an athlete that support was important. Everything seemed to revolve around the hockey and football teams. Pep rallies and early dismissal days to go to games were the norm. We had such great school spirit in High School that for 2 years in a row our school won a national contest called MOGA - Most Outrageous Group Activity. But as I followed my career path into teaching my idea of school spirit has changed. I now think of it as the spirit of the school.
What changed for me was the idea that spirit and culture should revolve around athletics. This doesn't mean I don't think sports and athletics have an important role to play in schools, it means that my philosophy has changed to include other important social aspects such as the arts and special education. I have always had a love for special education students. My mother worked with special needs students all through my time in elementary and high school. Through her work I saw students with strong wills, with so much to offer if just given the right opportunities and support. That personal strength I saw in students that worked with my mom was something I experienced again in my first permanent contract teaching position. The school had a large Developmental Education (DE) program that served students with medically fragile needs and developmental delays. I loved having my students work with the students from the DE program and they loved working with them. The way that they interacted with them in the classroom and on the yard showed me that they were an important part of the school. I can honestly say that the students from that school graduated as the most well-rounded young people I have encountered in my career. And one of the biggest reasons was because of the spirit they saw in the special education students they interacted with on a daily basis.
After I left the school to become a learning technologies coordinator and then vice principal I didn't have daily interaction with special education students until this year at my new school. And it wasn't until today as I started saving the pictures off my phone that it hit me what spirit they bring to a school. I try daily to get down to their classrooms as they work on various life skills and academics and the energy is amazing. They always have big smiles on their faces and are excited to see visitors interested in what they are doing. I love how our secretary likes to call them active learners, instead of DE students, because they are certainly active. They provide us with such a powerful example of how to live through challenging circumstances, some of which are life threatening. It is hard not to see how they create school spirit. Of course there are other great things happening in my school and yours too probably. Strong music programs influence the culture of a school as do drama, athletics and parent involvement. But when you see a special education student with a smile on their face, wanting to announce a message over the PA system or give the vice principal a "godzilla timeout" (that's a really big timeout, and an inside joke!) you know this is a place that has spirit!
If you're fortunate to have a Developmental Education program at your school I'd love to hear your thoughts on what they offer your school. What are you thoughts on school spirit? Has your idea changed?