Friday, February 28, 2014

Culture That Comes From Rivalry

February's #blogamonth topic is Culture - school culture, classroom culture, community of growth and learning, culture shifts in school districts, etc. After a crazy month, I'm glad I can sneak this post in before February is officially up! Here's my take on one aspect of school culture:

The recent Olympics turned our classrooms into stadiums, arenas and slope-side bleachers. Regardless of the event on the webcast (though hockey was by far, the favourite), students were transfixed by the athleticism of the participants, the drama of the close calls, but mostly, the Canadian pride.

For a few short weeks, everyone in the school - regardless of background or grade, interest or age - had a common wish: for the Canadian individual or team to win a medal.

I would have been hard-pressed to identify the culture of my school any other time of the year, but from February 7-23, the culture was strictly Canadian.

This brought to mind another aspect of culture which I've experienced in other schools, but have rarely seen at my current school... the culture brought about by rivalry.

I think it is safe to say that most schools have a rival: a school that is similar in terms of sports teams, or Reach for the Top competitors, or school size, or even just geographic area. Any time the rival schools compete, students come out in droves, dressed in school colour chanting school cheers. It brings the school together, with everyone hoping for the same outcome.

I grew up with this. I had more orange-and-black clothing than I care to admit. The cheers still come to me readily 20 years after graduating, I remember full-school spirit days, giant spray-painted banners hanging from walls in the cafeteria, even travelling to rival schools simply as part of a cheer squad to support our school. Every teacher and student got geared up for these meetings, it seemed. It made up part of who were we.

Why was our school better than our rival? It wasn't, necessarily, but we found reasons to be the better school, and we rallied around those reasons.

The school at which I teach now, however, doesn't have a rival.

Geographically, the nearest high school is about 45 minutes away, but it is a much smaller, on-reserve school with which we have very little interaction. The next closest school is a full hour away, and the next one another 40 minutes past that.

Athletically, we play in a league which does not include schools in our own Board, with the furthest "rival" almost four hours away from our school. There are only five schools in the league, and games between any two schools are few and far between.

The rural-ness of our school also plays into the number of opportunities we can offer our students to interact with other schools. With 95% of our students bussed to and from the school, it makes it harder to organize extra-curricular, competitive activities. Not ideal for creating THE RIVAL.

Don't get me wrong - we have school spirit, and we all have copious amounts of gold-and-black clothing and face paint, but we lack those regular interactions with a similar school to really get that rivalry going. We cheer on our teams, and celebrate the successes of our students much like any school would, but we're missing that fire - the fire that came through so clearly with the Olympics - that really rallies everyone together in common cause.

Can a good old-fashioned rivalry (and a healthy one, at that) be created? I believe so, but it has to come from the students of both schools. I'm not sure it can be manufactured "in the name of school spirit," but instead has to happen organically. Is there a way we as teachers can encourage and foster friendly competition, with a hint of "can't wait until we face off against you again?"

I realize that this isn't the only thing necessary to bring an entire school together in an over-arching demonstration of its culture. It seems few things, though, get the whole body of students cheering for the same cause, like a good win over an old rival.

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