The Power of the Network – Impacting Student Culture

August 31, 2016
Alan Veach

Alan Veach

School culture is the key to success. Anyone that has had an opportunity to visit a New Tech High School will agree that our schools “feel” different. Based on the ideas of trust, respect and responsibility we work closely with our students to create a professional environment. To create and maintain this environment requires hard work from staff and students alike.

In the spring of 2010, the Bloomington New Tech (BNT) had it going. We were wrapping up our first year as a demonstration site and hosting visiting schools weekly. The students were really growing and buying into the idea that school culture should be professional culture and then the budget crisis reached Monroe County. That spring over 70 teachers lost their jobs due to budget cuts. Among the 70 teachers were four of BNT’s most beloved teachers, two of which were founding members of the staff. In their place, five teachers from within the district were involuntarily transferred into BNT.

The students and remaining staff experienced a whirlwind of change, now referred to by the staff as “the perfect storm.” In hindsight, we did not create enough opportunities for the students to grieve the loss of their “family” members. We also underestimated the impact these drastic changes would have on our culture. As a result, the start of the 2011 school year was a disaster. As October arrived along with the first visit from our NTN coach Lee Fleming, we were all reeling and in need of some major changes. With Lee’s help, we put several strategies in place that made an immediate impact. In addition, the students started stepping up and asking, “how can we help?”

In Indiana we are fortunate to have 16 New Tech High schools, several of which are demonstration sites. With the support of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis, the directors meet regularly to discuss issues related to our schools. We have become a close group that relies on each other for support. As a group, we have often talked about allowing our students to visit the other New Techs in the state. Our culture crisis provided a perfect time and reason to facilitate a student shadowing opportunity for our students at BNT. A simple request for a shadowing partner resulted in an opportunity for students from eleven New Techs to experience what life is like at a sister school.

The school shadowing experience was organized around the New Tech principles of knows, need to knows, and next steps. Students at BNT had the opportunity to shadow students at ND21. This provided an additional benefit in that ND21 is a rural school in contrast to Bloomington’s college town atmosphere. Students began their day by meeting their shadow, getting a brief tour and creating a list of knows/need to knows. We then sent them off to experience the life as a ND21 student. At the end of the day, the students were brought back together to review their knows/NTK and create five next steps. These next steps were a critical piece as the students were then charged with taking them back to their school and with the help of their classmates implementing these ideas.

Our students found this experience extremely valuable. They both gained an understanding of the positive aspects at BNT and brought back several ideas of changes to be made. Since both students and staff found this experience to be valuable, I hope the school shadowing is an opportunity that we can provide our students each year.

As a next step for the Indiana directors, we have discussed the possibility of a New Tech Student Leadership Academy wherein students from all 16 schools would visit one site for a day of leadership activities.

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