For twenty years we have had a single lunch for our 3000 plus students. It’s one hour long and they can eat anywhere on campus. As visitors enter the building during lunch they are often taken by surprise as the students walk, talk, play guitar, study for quizzes and just hang out with their buddies. Many walk with a bag of chips in their hand as they socialize with new friends. At the same time in classrooms on each floor there are tutorials happening, clubs meeting, and teachers simply connecting with kids. The single lunch period absolutely provides the structures needed for students to be supported in all sorts of ways. Additionally, it has also built a culture where the students completely feel like their school belongs to them. They are trusted, they have agency, and they value it. And for nearly 20 years we kept it just like that. Check out this 2 minute student-created video about our one lunch Click here for video
However this year we decided to bring a new element. You see, we were pioneers in this movement years ago. But other schools caught on, and, frankly, they were passing us in terms of maximizing the time for kids. So this summer we began to learn, again, how a single lunch period could work for kids. This time our goal was not to invent – rather to innovate. And thus Cardinal Hour was born.
What we began to understand was that most of our students understood what was being provided to them and took advantage. However our freshman, the most vulnerable, had not yet developed both the agency and organization needed to make the one lunch work for them. Also, we had a moment of clarity whereby we realized that so much more was happening during this hour then just lunch.
Cardinal Hour is the midday activities that occur from 12:20-1:20 each day. The first half is Red Block and the second half is White Block. A beeping bell denotes the midpoint where a meeting may be ending while a new opportunity is beginning. A student may go to the Problem Solvers Club for Red Block, hear the bell, and then head to Geometry for a scheduled tutorial. Or maybe they eat first, and then the slight beeps tell them that White Block is beginning, and thus they need to hustle to the Feminist Club meeting. The rebranding of our midday activities – which include lunch – allowed us to bring structure for students and teachers while also highlighting the fact that so much happens during this Hour.My learning from this is two-fold. First I learned that subtle structures within a larger piece can bring strong advantages for kids and adults. Second I learned that even your most successful and “tried & true” school routines need to consistently be re-examined so that as you learn more, they can be improved. We should never slow down when it comes to learning about how powerful our school can be for kids.
What’s the next aspect of your school that could use some innovation?
Before I attended my first EdCamp, I had been versed in Open Space Technology – an early version of an “unconference.” The premise is similar in that it is participant driven. There are four principles that guide the OST and I often find comfort in the first which is to say that whoever attends is exactly who needed to be there. I try to remember this and share it with others when there is a session held or meeting planned and we have less people show up then hoped. One could quickly view it as a disappointment. Or you can choose to see it as a reminder that those that did come are exactly who needed to and that, as long as they have a positive experience, then that is the measure of success.
During our two weeks of professional development with teachers this past August, my school was selected by Dr Brene Brown to pilot their new Daring Greatly Educator Program. Two full days of training with her team including the first day with Dr Brene Brown leading the work. What a coup, right?
Upon confirmation with her team in May 2018, we bought Daring Greatly and Rising Strong for each of our 225 team members that would participate. We could not believe our good fortune and, as others kept asking us how it happened, we kept focusing on how it would reshape our work with kids and each other in the coming school year. I asked them all to at least read Daring Greatly and be ready for the two days in August. Here’s the thing, not everyone is ready to dive in to the kind of work on themselves that Dr Brown requires. Shame & vulnerability are not easy to access no matter how willing you might be. And thus as the days approached for these two days of learning, we began to get nervous. While most had at least taken their books home for the summer, there were some that left them at school in their mailbox all summer. They didn’t even pretend!
Cut to the chase and overall the two days went very well. As a whole the faculty and staff were engaged and asked questions, shared with others at their tables, and had positive things to say. Yes, there were also many that went through the motions, may or may not have come back from breaks on time, and resented the two days not in their classrooms.
But this is when I got back to my OST experiences and remembered that everyone is at their own place. And that is okay. If those that were ready soaked up the learning then that was fantastic. Surely there were others that likely got more out of it than they expected and I’m excited for how their kids will benefit this year. And there were some that did not engage at all. And that’s where they are right now and that’s okay. Those that “showed up” were exactly those that needed to. Sometimes we wait for consensus. Or we poopoo an idea or initiative because some won’t engage or will be negative about it. The conclusion I draw from that is two fold: (1) If you wait then that’s really more of a reflection of you & your poor leadership than of them; (2) When you hesitate to move forward with something because you don’t have 100% on board then you are giving all the power to others. Don’t do that.
We are all at our best for students when we remember that leaders lead and managers manage. Figure our which one you are and be that.
What kind of learning have you done when faced with similar situations?