Many individuals understand the Hawaiian word “Aloha” to mean both hello and good bye. However, this is only a surface level understanding. It actually means love, peace, and compassion. It is these qualities that I found more endearing about the students and staff at North Rowan High School. The students and staff in that building have a lot of love for each other. The students are truly kind and compassionate toward others. In fact, much of the fabric of the school and community is built upon this compassion and love for others. It is truly the force that connects everyone. I was so fortunate to be part of this and have been propounding impacted by this love. While many individuals outside of this community often focus on the many challenges that that the students face daily, it is even more crucial for those individuals to dig deeper to develop a true and complete understanding of what it means to be North Rowan.
During my time there, I saw students who supported each other. They encouraged each other. They picked each other up when discouraged. They complimented each other. And they kept each other humble. The staff absorbed many of these same qualities. They were nurtured and inspired them to be the best that they could be each day. Each educator saw beyond each exterior to see the potential that each students possessed. The educators worked collectively to ensure that all students were support and encouraged to perform at these best possible level. It is these experiences and observed qualities that will forever be connected to North Rowan High. I encourage others who do not know the love, compassion, and kindness that exists in the North Rowan community to take time to integrate themselves into the community to see first hand how extraordinary this community is.
This past year was a year of fundamental change that will forever evolve North Rowan High. The school is no longer one of the status quo schools. Rather it is a school that had pioneered radical and necessary changes to create learning experiences and opportunities that will propel students forward in the future. Many of the changes implemented at North Rowan now serve as a beacon for the rest of Rowan-Salisbury Schools and the state. Innovation has driven the changes at the school and this has resulted in some extraordinary learning experiences for students and staff. While many may not yet realize, North Rowan High is a trailblazer and is moving into directions yet unknown. The most fundamental of this experiences involve the use of Design and Challenge Based Learning. If schools are not incorporating these practices into their curriculum and work with students, then I would dare say that the schools are failing to properly propel their students for the future. The administration has allowed for creative thinking coupled with determination to drive many of the changes at the school. At the heart of these changes is a strong desire to prepare students for the many challenges and tribulations that they will experience during their life. North Rowan High educators refuse to let students be unprepared to pivot when challenges and obstacles arise. Instead, they seek to grow the resiliency of the students by having them experience and learn how to think critically, problem solve, share ideas, and work together with others.
Recently AJ Juliana, co-author of “LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student,” tweeted “Our job as teachers is not to "prepare" kids for something; our job is to help kids learn to prepare themselves for anything.” The changes that have occurred at North Rowan High are definitely preparing students for anything that they may encounter in the future. This is precisely what schools should be doing. If your school is doing this, I would encourage you to ask why. In the spirit of Aloha, the work and changes that have occurred at North Rowan High have come as a result of the love and compassion that exists in the North Rowan community.
It has been an amazing experience to serve as a Design teacher at North Rowan and I will be forever amazed at the amazing growth that occurred. The changes have helped to energize a community and that is inspiring. North Rowan High will always have a special place in my heart and soul. For it is these experiences that have inspired me to experience the true value of education in changing the lives of others. As a previous chemistry teacher, I used to think that balancing equations and completing calculations were some of the most important things that a student needed to be able to do upon graduating high school. But my eyes have been opened to see that there are many more important things that our students need.
When the early pilgrims first came to North America, they left the world that they knew in search of a better life and future. They set out on unchartered seas to find a new and better way of life where they could live as they wanted. It is this same spirit and need to create a better way that drove the changes at North Rowan High. Must like our early settlers, North Rowan High was responsible for developing a new way that better served all students. Earlier this year, an opportunity arose in which I would be able to share many of the new and innovative ways of educating students with China Grove Middle School. As I contemplated this opportunity, I spent much time in deliberate thought, reflection, and prayer about which path I should follow. In the end, the answer was obvious. The amazing and brilliant things that are occurring at North Rowan High School need to be shared with others. It is too much of a good thing not to use with others. As a result, I have accepted a position as a Design Coach where I will work closely with teachers and students in implementing Design Thinking, Problem Based Learning, and Challenge Based Learning. While it is difficult to leave North Rowan, I know that I will remain connected to the many individuals and practices that have occurred and will continue to occur there. I know that these practices are what are best for all students and we must spread these practices to others. This is my personal “True North.” The great thing is that I will still be able to support and learn with my colleagues at North Rowan and we can share ideas and innovative practices with each other. If you have not yet had the chance to see the many positive things occurring at North Rowan High, you must do this. It is with much gracious humility that I saw a special thank you to North Rowan High for inspiring both my spirit and heart. In the spirit of Aloha, I send my deepest admiration and love to North Rowan.
It has been a year of extraordinary change and growth at North Rowan High School. A few years ago, North Rowan High School was designated as a “Restart School” and given charter school like flexibility. This designation was done based on the school not meeting growth goals for several years in a row. With this status, the school was allowed to relaunch itself with less restrictions and escape from the traditional ways that public schools are governed in North Carolina. The school was able to change its calendar to align with the community college system. As a result, North Rowan, while the smallest high school in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, has one of the highest percentages of students enrolling in community college courses while in high school. This affords students the opportunity to earn college credits before high school graduation. Based on this system, it is possible for students to complete a large majority of their community college course requirements for either degrees or certification programs. Further, there is minimal cost to the student and their family. This provides an opportunity for post-high school education that many of our students may not have received otherwise due. It saves families financial resources as well. In fact, North Rowan High School has so many students taking courses that our community college sends several instructors to our campus to teach classes.
Another benefit afforded by the charter like flexibility is the ability for the school’s leadership to work to redesign the school in a way that benefits all students. Many of our students come from challenging socioeconomic conditions. As a result, the school often provides positive interactions for our students as well as meeting many of their basic physical needs. In doing so, we have had to acknowledge that we must first meet our students’ primary needs of hunger, clothing, and belonging before we can assist them in meeting their educational goals. We have instituted training and development around recognizing and supporting students who have experienced various types of trauma. This has helped the staff to recognize signs of students experiencing trauma and how to respond to best support these students. While this is not necessarily tied to having charter like flexibility, the ability to really think and diagnose the true needs of our students in our redesign is tied to the flexibility.
One of the most extraordinary benefits of having flexibility has involved the ability to redesign our curriculum. We have created a lower and upper school. The lower school, composed of 9th and 10th grades, is a hybrid creation that helps to support student with the transition from middle school to high school. Again, we have taken the time to create protocols and practices that best support students as they enter high school. Each grade level is small enough so that it functions as traditional department. The teachers meet at least once weekly to discuss the progress of students and outline any necessary steps to better support students. Further, there are often multiple teachers who attend parent conferences and IEP meetings.
If one teacher contacts a parent, they share the overall progress of the student in all courses typically. This has helped to address any challenges that our students are experiencing. This set up is typically unheard of in high school. It is an effective practice that has been modified from middle school. The grade level also has the same planning period while facilitates the teachers meeting. We implemented intensive intervention with all students in danger of failing courses in early March and continued support through the end of the academic year.
Perhaps the biggest benefit that our students, especially those who had not historically been as successful in school, was the creation of a Design / Challenge Based Learning course. This is the course that would have had Piaget and Vygotsky giving “high gives” to our school’s visionary leadership. The school formed supportive partnerships with various organizations to institute this new way of learning in school.
Students were initially uncertain about this course as they were so accustomed to “the test prep model of schooling” where they are given the information, memorize it, and provide it back on the test. Instead of continuing to perpetuate conditions of “winners and non-winners” in the classroom, we have developed a learning experience where all students can be winners. This means that all students can share their unique gifts, attributes, and strengths in a way that is incorporated into their learning.
By changing the metric of how a student does against a pre-established and arbitrary standard, we have developed a curriculum where students are evaluated based on their progress and growth from where they started. We infuse critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and student agency into how we measure student success and growth. We have sent tremendous growth from our students who have struggled academically in the past. They are very willing to share their thoughts and ideas and prefer to learn through Challenged Based Learning.
By applying a Design Thinking mindset where we celebrate growth, many of our students are excited about learning for the first time in years. It reminds me of the love that my son showed for learning when he first went to Kindergarten. We have been able to push our students to think beyond the world that they know through feedback, nurturing, and resilience. We have seen our students take innovative ideas and make them into reality through Challenged Based Learning.
As we prepare to finish this year, we have also seen high school teachers transform how they think about curriculum and teaching. Traditionally high school teachers are fiercely independent. They often do not have time to collaborate with others to create true interdisciplinary learning across the curriculum. As part of our Design class, our teachers have seen an effective model of co-teaching where all teachers are equal and collaborate effectively. As a result, many of our content teachers have yearned to co-teach with other teachers since they have seen this model in action.
Typically, co-teaching involves one teacher performing the instruction while the other teacher monitors behavior. However, our co-teaching model in Design transcends this. As a result, our model had created teachers who equally share and participate in instruction at all levels. This requires extensive communication and multiple check-ins each day, but it is worth it. Those co-teaching in this model report satisfaction and enjoyment. One teacher even shared that this is the first time in years that he has enjoyed co-teaching. Each teacher is celebrated for their effective instructional practices and has a vested interest in the learning outcomes for all students
While I have only outlined a few of the successes afforded by having the charter like flexibility at North Rowan High School, it is worth noting that none of this would have been possible without having a visionary leader who is willing to do the hard thinking and find creative solutions to complex problems. Additionally, the staff at North Rowan High School has embraced the need to redesign school differently and create an environment where all students have the opportunity to be successful. The most important thing that our students have experienced is that they see that their work matters. They now see purpose and meaning in the work that they are doing. Ultimately, that is what we want all our students to experience.
In thinking about the opportunity presented to North Rowan High School, it has been outstanding to see the growth and positive changes made. While we are far from perfect, we have taken steps to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn at high levels. We also are able to implement new strategies and opportunities that we may not have previously considered. Additionally, we are more apt to think in different ways than before. We have often joked that we are more about “What Box?” instead of “Outside of the Box” as we don’t let the box limit what we do. The opportunities afforded to North Rowan High School are making a difference. We have less restrictions to limit what we can do to support our students. This leads me to wonder what all schools could do if afforded the same charter like flexibilities like we have been. I can only wonder how much joy that our students would experience in learning and growing.
This past week as we prepared for spring break, Design students were extra busy with finalizing many of their challenges. In our last challenge "Tikkon Olam," where students identified a need for an individual or group, they were tasked with designing a solution based on that identified need. We had four groups who went to our local middle school and worked with students in our CCAC course. Our design students took the time to interview each student to find out what they liked. They also interviewed the teacher who requested that our students create sensory board to help her students practice and master certain skills. Before this, I had never heard of a sensory board. Another indication of how much I learn as a teacher in our Design course. The students worked with drawing up prototypes of the sensory boards. They also had to do research to find tutorials on several of the identified skills. We also had to reach out to our construction teacher who was amazing with obtaining the boards needed. We also had to employ the construction skills of our co-teacher, Coach Causby to help with drilling various holes and other parts of the board. The students worked very hard to create board that would meet the needs of their students. They received feedback from both their student and the classroom teacher and made final design changes. Earlier this week, our students traveled to the middle school to present their boards. In the tweet below, my extraordinary colleagues captured the excitement and joy of the students at receiving their customized sensory board. The beauty of this experience is that our Design students applied empathy to understand the experiences and challenges of others. Many of the students asked me about how to teach someone how to open a lock, braid hair, or tie their shoes. Instead of answering them, I had them do research and find their answers. We checked in with them to make sure that were heading in the correct direction though. In this season of both Easter and Passover, it is important to note the love that our students showed for others in designing and creating a product that will serve the CCAC students well in years to come. Outstanding job Cavaliers!
Today was an extraordinary day at North Rowan High School. What appeared to be the last Monday before a well deserved spring break turned out to be one of North Rowan's proudest moments. Unbeknownst to many, a couple of Design Challenge students had been worked tediously behind the scenes to create a pep rally / basketball game for our athletes who would be competing in Special Olympics later this week. Students were charged with designing their own challenge while ensuring that they met the competencies set forth in the areas of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and agency. We challenged our students to create a challenge that really mattered. As this was our final challenge, we wanted to see what students had learned and could do.
One group, compromised of mainly athletes, realized that too often many groups in our school are "underlooked." One such group is our students who compete in Special Olympics. From earlier challenges, students had realized that these students often feel disconnected from various parts of school. As a result, this group decided that the school needed to do something to recognize and celebrate our Special Olympics athletes. And as such, they came through in True North fashion that only a Cavalier could pull off. This group coordinated the band and cheerleaders even though both groups have finished for the year. Additionally, they recruited buddies for each athlete to help and provide encouragement during the game. The group designed a poster for each student that included their likes. The group also coordinated with our principal and athletic director to secure the time, place, and equipment necessary for the event. Additionally, they worked closely with the teacher and instructional assistants to ensure that this event was a quality production.
While there were a few glitches and a learning curve, I was pleased to see the students used their strengths and talents to create a truly innovative experience that elicited many positive and encouraging responses throughout social media. Several parents shared the following:
One commenter even included that she wished her nearby high school would do the same for their students.
In working with our Design students on this events, I heard them comment numerous times how much more work this was than they imagined. They never realized how hard it is to keep everything running smoothly. The Design students learned a lot about event coordination that we could never have taught them in the academic classroom. Further, they showed the importance of empathy by taking this opportunity to recognize their fellow students in a positive way. In the end, this group definitely saw, along with the entire school, that their work mattered and it made a difference for students. It is my hope that others were connecting to this important lesson that our students were teaching each of us. I also hope that our example will inspire other schools to create a comparable event not just for Special Olympic athletes but for other groups who may have been underlooked as well. May this example inspire each of us to think of the greater good and remind us of what our students are truly capable of doing when given the opportunity and support needed.
The ability for students to choose their challenge to be a formidable challenge for many students. It definitely pushed my colleagues and myself to our limits. Part of the difficulty involved trying to coordinate over 15 different challenges and checking in the progress of students over time. Most students did a great job keeping us updated. We had a few that tried to dodge our "check ins" and it hurt them in the end. For those students who regularly communicated with us about their progress, their challenges exceeded expectations. Students were evaluated based on five competencies: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and agency. Agency proved to be the most challenging for students. Students were tasked with providing evidence to show that they exceeded the standards for each of these category. We provided working definitions that were written in student friendly form. We also did not provide a specific format or challenge book for students to complete as we have in the past. Instead, we infused a connection to the real world where students will have to show how they meet various competencies in their job into this challenge. For students who complied their evidences early, they had the opportunity to have their work reviewed and feedback provided. These students then went on to revise and resubmit for higher grades.
I mentioned earlier that agency was the most challenging for our students to provide evidence. We defined agency in two ways: 1) how you managed your learning and 2) why your work matters. I feel particularly strong about students being able to explain why their works matters. For our final challenge, it was important that our students could explain why their work matters. Upon some conversations and ideation, many students were able to succinctly explain why their work matters. One of our groups was particularly fascinating in responding to this. This group was made up of two students whose families come from Mexico. This group wanted to help other students understand (notice empathy's integration) some of the similarities and differences between their own culture and the culture here in the United States. They created a powerful keynote that showed comparisons ranging between TV shows, foods, and many other things. Below is their converted presentation. When I asked this group about why their work mattered, they initially had to think. This allowed this group to think deeply about why the work that they did mattered. They provided a later reflection where they shared it was important to them to "let others know how they grew up ... how they lived ... so we can show them how we experience life." This group then presented their presentation to the school's newly formed Equality Club. The group was a bit unsure about doing this initially but we pushed them to share their work. One of our colleagues who was in the room during the presentation shared how proud that she was of them for sharing and how informative it was.
This example is but one of many of the amazing design challenges that our students came up with during this rotation. Overall, we were very pleased to see how much the students had grown and changed from the first part of the year. It is my hope that the experiences that our students have had in Design will provide them with the skills necessary to be successful in any job in the future. But further, I pray that we were able to give them experiences to help them believe in themselves and know that they have the skills, knowledge, and attributes necessary to lead a productive life where they are able to adapt to an ever changing world and solve complex problems while making the world a better place.
For the next two weeks, our Design students will design their own challenge. It seems only fitting for them since our entire premise is to create solutions and solve problems using your existing skill sets. While we just getting started, it has been really interesting to see their enthusiasm and excitement around doing something that they are passionate about doing and learning. We also have our students writing their own rubrics for the 4Cs and student agency. I have attached some of the rubrics that our students have created. There are three categories for them to evaluate what each of these competencies look like. Those categories are approaching / developing, proficient/meets, and exceeds/accomplished. The conversations that have occurred with each group to develop their own criteria for evaluating their challenge have been very rich. Many students have shared that they love being able to explore something that they have always wanted to do and the fact that they can do it during school is even more awesome.
The ratings for each criteria are adapted from the NC Teacher Evaluation tool and uses three of the four ratings used in teacher evaluation. As you can see, students view each of the ratings for each criteria in various ways But the idea that students can evaluate their own progress against standards that they designed can be powerful and this is precisely what we hope to connect as students complete their challenges. This is much like the goals that adults develop in life: I create a goal and figure out the criteria that I will use to measure my progress. It is our hope that students will begin to connect the evaluation of goal setting by designing carefully selected criteria that realistically measures their progress.
As a side note, we fully realize that this approach may fail or need to be modified. It is these results that we are precisely looking for in order to better refine this challenge for our next group. If you are looking to learn more about Design Your Challenge, check out our introductory document provided to our students. Some of the challenges that our students have proposed involve creating a set of rules and policies to make MMA (mixed martial arts) safer for athletes, creation of YouTube channels to showcase various interests such as make up and fashion review, and the creation of a sponsored pep rally for our Special Olympics athletes. It will definitely be an interesting and exciting conclusion to our class. Be sure to check out this blog for more updates as we progress through this Design Your Own Challenge. I know that I will definitely learn a lot during this challenge.
We have finally reached our last challenge for the school year in Design. It has been an amazing year. The growth that many of our students have experienced is spectacular. I have seen students improve their ability to work and collaborate with others. Many students have realized that they have creative ideas that are matter. We have also seen students progress in their critical thinking skills tremendously. As a side note, many of our students, who were initially opposed to our class, are now some of our strongest advocates. Many students have developed tremendous leadership skills along the way that will serve them well in future endeavors.It has been a challenge year though. We still have some students who are working to develop key skills and competencies in the 4Cs and student agency.
Earlier this week, I co-presented with our school's principal, Meredith Williams, at the Connecting Communities of Educational Stakeholders Conference in Greensboro, NC. She is one of the architects behind the creation of Design Challenge at North Rowan High School. We shared the background of the school's evolution into Design Challenge as well many of the highlights and challenges that we experienced this year. Attendees asked many good questions and there appeared to be a high level of engagement in what we were doing. We emphasized that we are still learning and moving forward but we have seen some tremendous successes. Perhaps one of the most important successes is tied to a quote from a parent contained in the slideshow below. She indicated that her daughter is excited about learning again. As a parent of a 7 year old, I am beginning to see him less excited about school and that breaks my heart. However, when I think about what the parent shared, it reaffirms the importance of what we are doing and provides a relevant measure of our program's success as well as hope for my son. High school students excited about learning. Many of them eagerly run to class which is a huge accomplishment in itself. As we returned home from the conference, it really made me think about the need to share and spread much of what we have done with other schools. It is my hope that with our presentation, we have planted some seeds that will re-engage students in the school and sparked their curiosity and creativity.
As a side note, our principal, Mrs. Meredith Williams (@williamsmnrhs) was selected as one of the Marvin R. Pittman Champions for Education Award Winners. Mrs. Williams was recognized as the award winner for administrators and we are so very proud of her. In true fashion, she accepted the award on behalf of all the hard work that the students, staff, and community are doing to move North Rowan High School forward.
This past week, our Design class held their first ever exhibit based on the Tikkon Olam Challenge. Over 200 individuals attended the exhibition. For those not following this blog, Tikkon Olan is Hebrew for “heal the world.” Students were tasked with working with a “need knower,” a group or individuals to determine his/her needs and find a way to meet that need. While doing this, students applied the Design Thinking process which originates with empathy. Students worked collaboratively to create a list of questions designed to develop a better understanding of their need knower. After the initial interview, students developed a more concentrated set of questions to better determine a need or an opportunity for their need knower. After working to identify at least one need for their need knower, students ideated several ways in which to meet the identified needs of the need knower. Students then chose a solution and created a prototype. The students then solicited feedback from the need knower and made a second prototype and tested it.
This challenged proved to be one of the best challenges in that students learned to focus on meeting the needs of others. Here are some of the highlights of what our students accomplished:
One of our groups worked with our school resource officer (SRO) to identify that he needed the opportunity to work out more during the school day, often when he is in his office. They worked to create a Metaverse experience to connect various YouTube videos showing simple exercises that he could do in his office. They also found out that he enjoyed quotes from the Art of War attributed to Sun Tzu. They integrated quotes into the Metaverse experience to further inspire our SRO.
A second used Metaverse to help a special needs student learn to spell. They had to obtain various lists of spelling words from the student’s teacher and program them into their Metaverse experience. The students quickly realized that they had to include a short audio recording telling the student the word instead of typing it in the app since the student was spelling it. This was a great design challenge that our students realized they need to solve.
A third group worked with another special needs student to provide him with an experience of friendship and acceptance after identifying a need of social interactions. This group also interviewed the student’s mother to better determine needs. The group created an experience where he played several games and bonded with them. The student was extremely happy. This group also created a large poster with pictures to help him always remember his experience. They even plan to continue to work with him in the future.
Another group worked in secret to design a space for theatre teacher where individuals could donate unwanted goods for teachers to use. This was been a dream for this teacher for many years. When she visited the exhibition, they told her about their plan and she very humbled by what the students had created. Later, the students created a strong pitch to our school’s principal to help make this space a reality. They are already solicited donations for their space. A short video is embedded at the top of this blog from these young men.
The exhibition was simply a finishing stage for a successful challenge. Students seemed very pleased with what they accomplished. The visitors provided amazing feedback and even complimented how well spoken our students were in these presentations. It is moments like this solidify the importance of the work that we are doing. The work that our students are doing matters and it shows. By showcasing some of the extraordinary things going on at North Rowan High School, our students see that their work matter. They see that their ideas matter. They see that their ideas matter. The school’s transformation continues but the early successes of school designed with the idea of “what box?” seems to be the right path for North Rowan High School.
Based on the feedback of our visitors, we have much more to accomplish but we are pleased that we are marking on a journey that will benefit our students and their futures positively. This week, we will have two sets of students present at NCTIES in Raleigh on their Design Experience. If you are able, please stop by the student showcase and see what teams from both the 9th and 10th grade Design courses are doing.
It has been a thrilling past two weeks in Design Challenge. Our students worked to apply the Design Thinking process for our Tikkun Olam challenge where they identify a "need knower," a person or group with a specific need. The students started with the empathy phase by creating a T-chart with perceived needs for their need knower. Students then worked collaboratively to develop a list of questions to ask their need knower. Some of our groups worked with individuals with disabilities while other groups focused on individuals in our school such as our financial secretary, cafeteria worked, and assistant principals. Each group developed a preliminary list of questions based on the perceived needs of their need knower. After interviewing their need knower, students returned and completed the final part of their T-chart to list the needs that they actually discovered. The image below shows the work of a group that chose to work with the cafeteria workers. This group discovered a need to identify the foods that students would prefer and a need for students to do a better job cleaning up the cafeteria after finishing their lunch. Another group who is working with students with disabilities determined that their need knower needed a better way to count money and make change. Several groups really struggled with identifying the needs of their need knower. This was due in part to not asking enough questions to dig deep enough. In other cases, it was due to their need knower not clearly identifying or sharing a need. This really challenged students to think hard about their need knower.
During the ideation phase, students generated possible solutions to the identified needs. We really pushed them to think more creatively about how to respond. It was interesting to see the various solutions that our students ideated. As we finalize our prototypes and complete our testing phase, I am excited about what our students will create. More importantly though, our students have experienced how the design thinking process can be applied to solve problems that impact others. The work that our students are doing is work that matters because it makes a different in the lives of other. This is the beauty of the Tikkun Olam challenge in that it heals the world and makes it better for others.
Note: In my next post, I will share the results of our challenge. Design students will share their work during our "True North Design Exhibition" on Tuesday, February 26 from 10 to 11:30 AM. Please join us. You can learn more and register for our the event at bit.ly/nrhsdesign.
I have been involved in public education for just over 20 years. During that time, I have experienced a variety of hierarchical management structures. While I was taught to be flexible and adapt, nothing would prepare me for what I have experienced this year at North Rowan High School. The reality is that North Rowan High School is a different kind of place. In many ways, it is a trendsetter although it may not always be recognized as so. But like many artists, trends, and good practices, it takes time for the world to realize innovation. Education is especially slow to recognize this.
As a restart school, North Rowan High School has trail blazed a new path, one that I would dare say that no one, including me, saw coming. It is difficult to describe what makes North Rowan High School so different since no one factor dominates. As a restart school, North Rowan High has embraced and extended its flexibility to do many cutting edge things that are light years ahead. Sometimes I don’t even appreciate where we are until I take time to stop, breathe, and reflect.
One of the most influential factors that has influenced our transition is our students. Many of our students come from challenging backgrounds that would cause them to be considered “at risk.” Our community does not have a lot of benefactors with deep pockets. But we do have a lot of people in our community that love and support our school. This feeling has carried over to how our staff and faculty work with our students. Because the community supports the school, the school, in reciprocation, supports our students. The staff is very nurturing of our students and work with them as they are. We realize the realities of the lives of our students. But instead of making excuses, we support and lift them up. Our students realize this. They know that we are there to help them. In turn, our students thrive in our school. Many of them grow up to be effective leaders in our towns and community. Our students understand resiliency better than most students. They are able to recover from setbacks quickly and move on to create better solutions. They are also willing to accept responsibility in many cases for their actions and inactions. They understand that their success is based on the effort that they are wiling to put into school, sports, and life.
Our students are the heart of what we do at North Rowan High School and our decisions are driven by creating the best possible school for them. While we may not always get it right the first time, we always let what is best for our students drive our decisions. It is our desire to create a better future for them that drives us to come to school daily. Recently, a plan was put forward that would close our school due to low enrollment. This was particularly disturbing for our students and staff. As a new staff member, I listened carefully to the concerns of my colleagues. At no time did any staff member ever talk about what was best for them instead they focused on what was best for our students. Individuals in our community would often comment how sad they felt for us as we may lose our jobs. But that was never mentioned by any staff member. Our concern, rightly so, was on doing what was best for our students. Our staff rallied for what was best for our students. We knew that deep down closing our school was not in the best interest of our students. We are the individuals who serve our students each and every day. As a result, we know what they need and seek to provide the support and nurturing needed to help them be successful.
The next factor that makes a difference at our school is that our administration seeks to empower each of us in making decisions. This is one of the areas that I most admire about our restart. We, as teachers, are treated as professionals whose input is valued. Very rarely do we have unilateral decisions made by our administration. Instead the administration pulls the staff together to work collaboratively to design solutions that are in the best interest of our students. The input of each staff member is valued. While it would be easy for an administration to simply tell (or rather dictate) what each staff member will do, our administration does not. They work to actively support us in finding the best way forward. Much like they expect us to empower our students, they empower us. During the possible closures, our administration was one of the most at risk groups of losing their jobs. While it would have been understandable for them to be frustrated and discouraged, they never showed it. Instead, they worked harder to ensure that our students and staff was supported. In many experience, this is a highly unusual response to the impeding potential of losing your job. Our administration can be routinely found around campus pitching in where needed. Recently our assistant principals were outside picking up trash around our school. While some may argue that this is not their job, I was inspired by their actions. They truly lead by service to others.
As I reflect on the changes at North Rowan High, it is my hope that other schools in Rowan-Salisbury will use this kind of model as a guide to create something extraordinary for their students. We often do not let barriers impede our progress at North Rowan. When an idea is presented, we rarely hear “No you can’t do that.” Instead, we hear “That would be really cool .. Have you thought about this?” This kind of mindset is one that leads to growth and true change over time. We need not let obstacles discourage us from pursuing a better way. Our administration has empowered us to work together to create solutions that serve all. As I have spoken with other educators in our system, I am concerned that many of them are not experiencing the ability to create true change and transformation. This could be due to not being bold enough to really thing about schools differently. Or perhaps, their thinking is too revolutionary. At North Rowan High, we no longer even discuss thinking outside the box. Instead, we say “what box?” as we have learned to think in more global, divergent ways as we seek to best serve our students. My hope is that our school system will truly allow all schools to experience true change under our system’s renewal status where schools can be created that best serve students and their communities. What we have allowed to do at North Rowan High is amazing. Our students have already experienced so many successes and we are just getting started. Recently at a conference, I heard the following quote by Alice Walker. “The nature of the flower is to bloom.” To all my fellow educators, I offer the following advice: “Be bold in your vision. Create something much better for our students because they matter. Cultivate what is needed for all students to bloom.”
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.