Change Your School’s Culture and Save the World

Imagine that you’ve been given two tasks as a principal: change the culture at your school and save the world.  And the timeline is pronto.
Most of us would start adding up sick days, vacation days, and annual leave days to see if we could retire early.  But there’s a simple solution out there.  It’s a solution that would not just change the culture at your school, but it would also – literally – help save the world.  It does not need a 5-year plan or a committee.  It can be done in a hurry and with little or no money.

PART 1:  Changing Your School’s Culture

I recently visited a high school campus . . . let’s call it the Folsom County Senior Prison High.  It was surrounded by the most elaborate (if that’s a suitable synonym for “thrown together”) fencing architecture that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to Panmunjom on the DMZ and the Great Wichita Cattle Company.  (Both have a complex fencing structures.)
A school administrator told me that it keeps students from sneaking off campus.  I think she said “students.”  My brain wasn’t ready to process “inmates.”  I was already forming plans, though, on how to sneak out of that place myself.  Everything in the school said adults vs. students. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Fencing. I couldn’t help but wonder, has it really come to this?
No, schools don’t have to be that way.  Imagine a school where the students do not want to leave.  They love campus. Those schools do exist.  Our state has a partnership with Ministry of Education in Singapore, and one of the most striking cultural differences there is that the schools are a place where students want to be.  In fact, Singapore schools are a place where the entire community wants to be.  Swimming pools, tennis courts, grand theaters, dance studios, parliamentary chambers, and completely wired from top to bottom.  Check out Milton Friedman’s CSI Singapore experience here:
Note: there’s no mention of fencing for inmates.
So how do we change our culture so that students actually want to be at our schools?  We have no money, so pools and dance studios are out.  We have fewer personnel than last year, so morale is not the highest that it’s ever been.  That only leaves us with leadership.  And this will take some bold leadership.
Here’s the promise of my premise.  And you can do it within the next 30 days.

Create a game room at your school.

That’s right, a game room.  I mean a real G.A.M.E. room.  Not a 1980’s game room, but a 2011 game room, decked out with the Wii, Xbox Kinect, and the PS3 in particular.   (I’ll explain in Part 2 why we must have PS3.)
But I promised you cheap or even free, and a game room sounds expensive. Trust me, though, if you’re at a high school with over 1,000 students, you can collect an entire room of first-generation systems that kids and parents will donate to you or sell on the cheap.   For televisions, start with your lounges and round up at least five of them.  That’s how many stations you’ll need in your game room for multi-player games, role playing games, and the massive turn out.  You need to have the games wired to the net.  That’s important for competing against each other, but more importantly . . . you’ll need to be wired to save the world in Part 2.
After some strategic planning, you’ll be able to watch the culture shift.  You’ve just set off a beacon that broadcasting “we get you” to your students.  They will look at you like you’re partners with them and not ancestors before them.  New vocabulary will be shared between screenagers and adults. Teachers will take part and help lead the way.   Competitive leagues will be formed.  Bonds will be established. Relevance and relationships will be apparent. (Rigor comes with Part 2.)
See if this will change your school’s culture:
Here’s some strategy:  Use the game room as reward time or a club after school (to start with).  This is not just for your A students.  We want those potential drop outs to drop in, too.   Keep your games PG, of course.  Educational games like Big Brain Academy, Word Coach, and Endless Ocean are some obvious choices, but don’t skip on the lateral thinking, problem solving, role playing games.  Titles rated E are safe, but if you allow PG movies in your school, you will want to explore T (teen) role playing games, too. Used GameStop games are as cheap as $10, but let students and teachers bring in select titles, as well.
Your focus, though, should be on the Wii and Kinect games that rely on movement and kinesthetic learning because that is how the digital world will be manipulated in the near future. Check this out:   Your advanced Mavis Beacon skills will not be so useful in 2019.  After two or three attempts at swiping the restaurant menu, each ending with you starting your smart car outside in the parking lot instead . . . . well, let’s just say awkward, and you’ll wish you had started developing these skills in 2011.   Here’s a test:  If you can’t “wave on” the hand dryer in the restroom, you need either Wii or Kinect treatments now.
We’re not done.  Add a row of recumbent bikes and treadmills that have to be used before students play non-athletic games. Physical forms and comfortable athletic gear are required for this gamers room.  Change the habits of the next generation of obese kids before it’s too late or before it even starts.  They didn’t have educators there the first time through.  Promise them that they will leave with more than sore thumbs. Same rule for the teachers who play. You’re changing the culture.
Disclaimer:  I’m NOT a gamer.  I have no other game agenda than knowing it will work.  I’m also not a pharmacist, but I know that medicine works.

Part 2:  Next time, we’ll save the world.  We’ll start with cancer.  You’ll need a PS3.  I’m serious.

Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011.

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