Start With Why
By Dennis Plubell | Retired Educator, Union Director and Division Director of Secondary Education
I doubt I’m the only boarding academy principal who recalls the almost annual debate in faculty meetings about why students in a touring music group would need to miss another class period of Geometry or American Literature class on Friday! The academic pressure for student learning was keenly felt by our dutiful teachers. It was evident that what students needed for university entrance and what they needed to experience a comprehensive, wholistic Christian education were often in tension. The faculty debate would subside (for another year) when staff would recall that what was cherished from their high-school years was the memory of the fun and friendships formed in co-curricular activities. These were meaningful experiences.
Adventist education declares “head, heart, and hand” learning as a philosophical foundation. We highlight this whole-student learning as a special feature of our faith-infused education. However, when we peruse Adventist school schedules and activity calendars, the evidence for balanced learning is only faintly recognizable. We mean well and speak well, but the push for academic achievement from many directions makes it challenging for the Adventist school to consistently go deep in spiritual, physical, and emotional/social growth for students.
More than two decades ago, a North American Division committee charted newly developed student learning goals in the curriculum guides of that era. It was startling to discover that most of the essential evidentiary elements for the goals ended up listed as being found in the co-curricular program of the Adventist school. What we do beyond the classroom matters!
To attain the balanced learning that we proclaim, it is vital that we do not leave these learning goals to the same few tried and true programs or traditional yearly activities. Our high hopes for developing every student’s potential in all areas of learning cannot be left to happenstance. Every co-curricular activity, from student organizations to athletics and affinity clubs, must have a clear purpose that aligns with the school’s mission and goals for learning. It bears repeating often to students and staff the “why” we do each program.
Students benefit in many ways from space and time structured differently than the academic classroom. In the co-curricular program, they extend their skills and enhance their interpersonal relationships. Students will learn effective communication and essential citizenship traits. They will gain an understanding of the value of managing time and resources while engaging in activities that create faith lessons and lasting memories. Many students will develop leadership potential that translates into the classroom and future endeavors.
Our best planning and preparation are as essential in the favored, familiar, and fun co-curricular programs as is given to classroom learning. To be purposeful in deploying effective student programs and activities, principals would be well-served to:
Regularly (annually or by semester), lead the staff in reflecting and annotating the goals for each co-curricular activity, identifying how it aligns with the school’s mission.
Systematically review the calendar of activities to ensure there are relevant, real-world experiences that develop faith, life skills, and enthusiasm for campus life.
Consistently survey students, parents, staff, and board members to gather valuable data on measuring goal attainment and quality of experiences.
Pray unceasingly for the new vision and God’s blessing on all student experiences in and out of the classroom.
Sponsorships NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt
Consideration of Assignments
Consistent with the responsibility to provide appropriate supervision for all student activities, principals must assign sponsorship roles to faculty and staff. When assigning sponsorships, keep the following in mind:
Orientation for Sponsors
The principal should ensure that each sponsor is orientated to the responsibilities and the expectations of the assigned sponsorship. Among the items that sponsors should be aware of are:
Expectations of Student Activity Sponsors/Coaches
To implement the goals of the student activity, the following standards and expectations should be established for all sponsors:
With so much potential for student learning, all co-curricular activities need our best attention. The principal's role is to provide clear guidance and support while coordinating the details that will lead to student engagement and enthusiasm. Like most complex organizational processes, there are a few key actions, the "know how," that will yield the best results. After starting with "why," the principal must: (a) articulate expectations and protocols for co-curricular student learning, then (b) assign staff as sponsors. The appointment of sponsors, the learning specialists that guide students in learning outside the classroom, is a critical and important administrative task.
Start With Why; But Know How!
Retired Educator, Union Director and Division Director of Secondary Education
Expectations and Protocol
Unclear expectations for student co-curricular activities or uncertainty about the sponsor's role is often the first cause of disarray or discontent. Fortunately, it is also the easiest problem to remedy. A list of traditional or expected chronological student activities each school year with annotated learning goals is simple, though time-consuming, to create. This list will identify goals that need more support by creating new or enhanced programs. Also, it will reveal what times are available for new and unique activities generated by students from year to year.
More often, what is missing beyond the calendar of activities is the publication of the sponsors' "handbook." The staff do not need another manual for the bookshelf, but simply a quick reference to the expectation and the processes established, and often unique, in each school. Memorable and effective student experiences require effective planning. The sponsors' "handbook" should concisely describe its protocols for deploying great co-curricular activities, which would include such topics as:
Ensuring Sponsor Success
Learning, in and out of the classroom, is a human endeavor that must be led and nurtured by professional educators. Therefore, sponsors of co-curricular organizations, programs, and activities should be as carefully selected and strategically assigned as they would be for any academic class. While the success of the co-curricular program is the responsibility of all school staff, the identified and assigned, sponsors have a singularly important and impactful role.
Experienced principals know that starting with "why" frames student activities and the work of sponsoring these programs as a priority to whole-student learning as much as coursework. Principals must fully support co-curricular programs' role in the school's mission. Otherwise, sponsorships are too often seen as "extra" work. Some have wondered if it was even punishment when the top-tier educators are assigned (or requested by students) to be the sponsors of large or active programs year after year.
The assignment of sponsorships is challenging work for principals. Education Code policies, as well as local conference and school policies and practices, may guide staff workloads. Balancing the co-curricular sponsorships with other priorities in an educator's work portfolio is still as much an art as science. It is, however, a task that can be well informed by a staff-developed profile of interests, skills, and experience. Personal interviews to confirm a staff member's perspective and dialogue about the intersection of school needs and staff capacity is necessary to reach a supportive and collaborative team approach to all assignments each school year.
The goal is to create the best opportunity for student learning beyond the structured classroom with staff sponsors who are equipped to do their best work.