Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Creating Together: Lessons from our Original Generals

It has been an honor to serve our first four year graduating class at TNHS. As we look back at the amazing growth within our community we wanted to share some of the most important lessons we have taken from our Original Generals - the class of 2016. 

Culture is King: CARE Comes First 
While our class of 2016 was wildly successful academically (ranking TNHS in the top 10% in the state), their modeling of CARE for each other and our school far exceeds anything else they achieved. From the beginning we focused on building a culture with our students that would provide for authentic care and connection with each other. As adults, we referenced the often coined term "Culture is King" regularly and focused our energy there from day one. Our Original Generals proved this adage to be absolutely true! At the same time, we have learned that authentic culture isn't created overnight. It takes students, parents, and teachers working together over time to create a school. By the end of their four year tenure our Original Generals have initiated organizations, rituals, and traditions that we could not imagine prior to the opening of TNHS. They did this through sustained CARE and commitment over time. 

Growth = Change
Each of the past four years our Original Generals have embraced growth through change. While we have naturally grown in size (from 520 students to 720), we have also created additional responsibilities and opportunities for our students each year. This change came in the form of new courses, programs, and people to support their future story goals as we learned each year how to best support our students. Change also came in the form of increasingly higher expectations for academic achievement and behavioral non-negotiables. We work to "coolify" achievement at TNHS and we feel confident that we have made immense progress towards that goal. To this end, a remarkable bi-product of our growth came within our student's increased expectations for each other. As they found individual success, they expected more from each other. Achievement is contagious! In the end, creating a school is collective task. Growth demands small incremental changes over time. Over the past four years our students have experienced immense growth by continually embracing such change. 

The Answer to How is Yes
One of the primary TNHS mantras in the fall of 2012 was "The Answer to How is Yes." From T-shirts to signage, YES was the word that inspired our work. Take a look at our Facebook Page and you will find the word "Yes" used consistently to reinforce a sense of pride and community over the past four years. "The Answer to How is Yes" simply means that your belief is the most important aspect of your success. If you believe you can, then you can. Say "Yes" first, then you figure out how. If there is no yes, everything else is irrelevant.

To this end, our Original Generals continued to say "yes" with our team of teachers. They believed not only in their individual future story goals, but also in the future story of our school. They believed that anything was possible, if... they put their nose to the grind and worked together. They embraced a growth mindset that would allow them to be successful beyond what we could have imagined. Over 98% of our Original Generals graduated in four years, over 95% were college and/or career ready, and most importantly, we felt like 100% of our graduates walked across the stage proud of their school. 

Everyone LEADs
In schools and in education at large we can sometimes get caught up in this program or that program to solve your challenges. In contrast, our Original Generals have worked with our teachers to build from the ground up! We have not taken prescriptive programs, but rather created something that is uniquely ours. From curriculum design, to the TNHS Student Organization Council and the Athletic Legacy Core Teams we have created together to build living systems and connections that work for our community. We have observed that you cannot take most programs in one place and make them work in the same way for another community. It is essential that the community that will be utilizing the program, has its hands in creating it. Class of 2016 - thank you for being a courageous, remarkable, fearless group of world changers that make our world a better place! We are proud of you and want you to know that there is always a place for you at Thomas Nelson. Here's to continuing to LEAD together. Yes.