‘Swagga’ – Excision & Datsik

(see swagger)

noun

a very confident and typically arrogant or aggressive gait or manner.

I went to the Upstate Technology Conference (UTC) this week put on by Greenville County Schools. I am always fascinated by the ever growing myriad of tools that are available to help reach our students. Since I became an administrator, I’ve been torn about the types of sessions to attend at conferences, seeing how I am not directly in the classroom anymore. I still believe that I have the ability to trickle the knowledge I gain down to teachers and empower them to put these tools in place for the sake of their students.

I found myself, however, in two sessions specifically for administrators and coaches in what was called The Leader’s Lounge. Both of these sessions centered a lot around using social media to tell the story of a school.

I’ll stop here for a moment because this is where swagger is important.

My role as an instructional coach (IC) was at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering (AJ). It opened in 2010 as South Carolina’s only elementary school for with a curriculum designed around teaching engineering principals 4K-5th grade. When it opened, parents in the upstate went bonkers. With a teeny tiny attendance area in the low-wealth area of West Greenville, the rest of the school’s enrollment was first come first served to students around the district. There were literally parents lined up camping out to get their kids into the school a whole week before they started accepting enrollment for the next school year. Take a look at a news article I’ve provided here.

The demand for the school (and the kids having to walk through tent city to get to the front door) was so insane that the school district put in place a policy that prospective parents couldn’t step foot on school grounds until a certain time on the day they started accepting new enrollments. Then this happened:

Needless to say, the school had something that the people wanted. And when I left my role as IC in the spring of 2017, it had just been named a Palmetto’s Finest Finalist school. The school had something the current principal, Dr. Susan Stevens, calls swagger.

I had the privilege of sitting with Dr. Stevens and some of AJ’s stakeholders when the district was looking to fill the principal vacancy. When asked why she was so interested in leading the school she said, “AJ kind of has this sort of… swagger.”

That stuck with me–mainly because I worked so hard to coach and support teachers in creating a remarkable, incomparable learning experience for the kids whose parents literally weathered the elements or fought to get them enrolled. When people heard the two letters, “AJ”, they knew what was up.

That brings me back to using social media to tell the story of a school. Let me lay out 3 certainties:

  1. No one wants to go to a school with a bad rep.
  2. A school’s reputation is created by the people in the community with ties to the school.
  3. “If you don’t share your story, they’ll create it.” –P. Sloan Joseph

If we are going to use social media to give people the inside scoop on our schools, we’ve got to be expecting swagger in our schools. All the stops have got to be pulled out on a daily basis. It’s not enough to do something cute and exciting every now and then–the school has got to be full of overwhelming engagement every single day. That means kids need to be doing more than seat work–more than worksheets, and dare I say more than Google Forms. Creating a school that kids want to go to begins with creating engaging opportunities in every classroom and on every hall. Every day. The reason AJ caused a riot? The promise of something incredible.

Once the school is cranking out the swag, everyone in the school is responsible for getting the word out. Why are we so humble when it comes to talking about how awesome we are at educating kids? It’s something that not everyone can do! And if we do it with swagger, we need to be telling everyone about it! This type of reputation is not exclusive to A.J. Whittenberg, it’s merely a benchmark to which everyone should strive. We created hashtags that articulated our mission statement there, and one of them was #WeOwnWow. I remember thinking how brazen it was when we came up with it, but it was something that every student, parent, teacher, and staff member proudly spoke into the universe when they boasted about their school. Was it bold? Absolutely! But you can’t argue with the truth. Kids went flying down hallways in homemade hover boards, models of entire cities were created out of legos, the first grade hall was transformed into a food court with classrooms that were transformed into restaurants, second graders created an entire carnival where they engineered their own games, and fifth graders created roller coasters and turned their classrooms into amusement parks. The hype was definitely there, as one of our t-shirts proudly boasted. I recounted all of that to say, if the swag is in the building and everyone is witness to it, let the people know! We can’t be modest for the sake of “doing too much.” Please…

This brings me to the quote so eloquently shared by my friend Sloan in her session for administrators at UTC.

If you don’t share your story, they’ll create it.

There are too many things stacked against public schools for us to sit silently and not share how awesome we are. People need to understand that we pave the way for every career there is: every doctor was once in kindergarten, every lawyer was once a third grader, every senator once sat in the fifth grade. The child of every parent in our schools was once in school themselves–their experience and their knowledge as students is all that they have about school. Who knows what kind of story they had that might be painting their picture of school? It’s up to us as educators to let them know school has changed, and we’re in the business of student achievement through rocking kids’ socks off. We’ve got to be taking pictures and videos of all those swaggalicious things going on in our schools and posting them to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and every other social media outlet we can. We’ve got to call the news and let them know about the good stuff that is continuously happening (because they will surely find their way to the bad stuff).

Our schools have got to have swagger; it’s as mandatory as the essential questions on the whiteboards. It’s time that teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators alike understand that the time for humility has come and gone. We’re doing big things and we’ve got to say it loud.

Worried you’re low on the swag?…

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