Bad Images of School Spirit

For the past two weeks I have been trying write about how I view the concept of school spirit. It seems like the topic has come up in discussions at staff meetings and even among the students themselves. Every time that I have tried to write I have come up with some kind of imagery that I was going to use an analogy to describe school spirit. At first it was a tripod, then a pyramid. Even a Russian nesting doll came into consideration. Think about that for a second.

The Nesting Doll of School Spirit….ugh, what a waste.

I keep trying to write and I keep second guessing myself because no matter what I use I always feel like I am missing the point. When I feel like I miss the point I feel like I am contributing to the problem rather than solving the problem.

We have brainstormed ideas on activities and many of them sound really neat. I would be excited to try some of them. But I think what we are doing is backwards. The practices that represent a positive school spirit only manifest themselves in the correct environment. And that is where we don’t focus our attention enough. It is the reason that our all of our activities ultimately feel shallow and contrived rather than being authentic. School spirit requires an emotional investment, but we haven’t created an environment where that emotional investment can thrive.

In the post linked above, the author talks about the professional relation between the staff and students. A successful, spirited, supportive school can only exist when there is a collectiveness between the major stakeholders in the school. Students to students, students to staff, staff to staff, it all needs create a cycle that builds a mindset of us. The intrinsic nature of the educational system we live with though, tends to push us apart. We form cliques. Students group themselves by GPAs, extracurriculars, and different career paths. Staff divides themselves into departments, coaches, classified vs. certified, just to name a few. Our schools do not represent an opportunity to unite, but instead drive us apart. When we are driven apart our leaders tend to divide us into groups that suits their own self-interested pursuits and wonder why their followers revolt or resist.

Once we are driven apart we aren’t under any obligation to view our peers, colleagues, students, teachers, and administration as people. We can assign them traits that we would never ascribe to ourselves. We don’t think of them as us, but rather they are something other. We otherize people. As teachers we create assignments, give grades, and demand obedience that we would never wish upon us. As administrators we create rules and climates that are the furthest thing from being warm and inviting. As students we continually tune out teachers, ignore and belittle their effort, and worship credentials rather than knowledge. Our schools have created an environment where we live by the adage, “what have you done for me lately?” If those others won’t give us what we want, well screw them. We hand out detentions and suspensions, give out low grades, assign more homework. We leave to take classes online, take classes at the community college, just flat out skip school. Then we justify our actions by claiming that they deserved it.

We do all of those thing because it provides a barrier that protects us. Until we are willing to be vulnerable in front of each other, we will always have an unsafe environment that will never be supportive, collaborative, learning environment. (On a personal note, I really think that I have been struggling with the vulnerability side the past two years.) When we are vulnerable we place our self-confidence, our self-image in others. When we are vulnerable we inherently trust each other. As a teacher, when I am vulnerable, I am trusting my students to not ridicule me and tear me down. As a student, when I am vulnerable, I am trusting my teachers with my self-esteem. If that trust and vulnerability are mutual we become emotionally invested in each other. Once we are authentically invested in each other, then, and only then, can we begin to build the activities that appear to create a positive school spirit.

Until we learn to give a crap, our culture will be crap.



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