According to research, the effects of creating strong community for our students is positive and far reaching, but for some reason this gets complicated for many large schools. Within Innovation Lab our philosophy and our scheduling make it a bit easier. For the past couple of weeks our teachers focused on reacquainting our juniors and introducing our sophomores to our educational beliefs. Students also learned how to work more effectively as a cohesive unit in STEM and Humanities. Most tenth graders met for the first time; our juniors melded from two cohorts into one.
Now that students established a rhythm with their classmates, it was time that we come together as an Innovation Lab community. We had noticed that within Design Studio, even after several weeks of sitting in the same space, sophs and juniors were not commingling much. The hub of Innovation Lab, this common area last year held a certain life force that you could feel but could not explain. This year it seemed we had lost our mojo.
At our last teacher meeting we decided to take action. We felt part of the change stemmed from an improper introduction among our two grade levels. To remedy this situation a pizza mixer was planned and executed yesterday in the GHS Media Center. It included pairing younger and older students strategically into buddy groups, fun brain teaser games, cookie prizes donated by Doc Goldin, “people” bingo, and (of course) Pizza Post pizza.
When third lunch wave began our junior students stood around in clumps waiting as timid sophomores entered the room. I have to admit I was worried when our biggest boys seemed more interested in the pizza boxes than in finding their younger “buddies.” Courtney Hawes had a stroke of brilliance. “No one eats pizza,” she declared, “until you find your buddy.” That certainly got the ball rolling.
Within minutes of getting pizza and finding seats, our juniors became the leaders that we trained them to be. As I walked around the room I overheard them prompting conversation, offering advice, making connections, and just having fun. By the time the brain teasers rolled out and the cookie bags popped open, Innovation Lab was no longer two cohorts but one community.
The power of this community transcends the warm fuzzy feeling you get inside when you belong. It moves mountains for us every day. It gives me, a veteran teacher, the strength to listen–really listen–as younger colleagues offer constructive criticism about a Humanities project I created after several weeks of toil. It moves Mike Belanger to help Courtney Hawes teach our Eleventh Grade Humanities class when I need to be at home nursing a sick infant. The students enjoyed having him there so much that if I were a teacher with less self esteem I may have quit my job. It urged Flora, one of my students, to offer her aid unsolicited when I struggled to help another student download her “noodletools” bibliography onto Googledocs.
Community means we are all in this together. Because of this no one is afraid to take chances. Everyone knows there will be someone on whom to lean when it becomes necessary.
It remains to be seen whether or not our pizza mixer will truly change the culture in Design Studio. We teachers are optimistic. If it does not work, we will meet and create a new strategy. If that fails we will try another. It is not only students who benefit from our belief in growth mindset. The InLab community is all the safety net we need to keep moving forward.