What's Your Mark?
Each year at GCA our teachers pray and discuss and consider what our theme of the year should be. Our theme guides our inquiry and our work for the year. It gives us a direction and a focus. It helps our students to continuously come back to one big idea and think deeply and critically about how it applies to them.
This year our students will be focusing their attention on asking and answering the question, “What’s Your Mark?”
We believe that each student is capable of powerful, deep, critical and creative thinking. This question requires our students to dig deep and consider what mark they can make on their world today, tomorrow and in their future. They will also be encouraged to look at the past and consider how those that came before them have left an indelible mark on our world and what we can learn from their journeys.
Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This verse echoes our mission, that God has already prepared in advance the mark our students will make on our world. Our students have been created in God’s image to do good works.
This theme also ties to a recent sermon by Pastor Greg Ford at One Church titled “Photosythesis.” I encourage you to listen to it! Pastor Greg talks about how we are all designed uniquely by God to bear fruit where are planted now.
We believe our job as educators and parents is to enable students to chase after what God has prepared for them and encourage them along the way and we are excited to welcome our students back next week and continue on this mission!
Shared Goals and Language
You may be wondering why we define a school-wide theme each year. It’s a great question!
We believe in the power and importance of community and working together toward one goal. Further to that belief, research also reinforces that integrating high expectations, aspirations and goals into every aspect of the educational environment are critical to student performance.
In addition to our theme, we also use our learning norms and our SOAR behavior expectations to create a common language at GCA. These characteristics which I will explain more in depth next represent the ideal mindset for a student at GCA. We don’t want students just to behave a certain way, we want them to have a growth mindset where they are open to learning and growing in every area.
We use this language so that students know they will have the same expectations of how to engage in a classroom and what is expected of them in every area of the school from humanities to physical education to art to the lunch room.
Our common language and a common goal creates a culture where our students can also support and encourage each other on their journey to discovering themselves, their passions and their purpose, which is ultimately what we are all about!
You will see this poster hanging around our schools and will hear our students talking about the characteristics and norms of a GCA learner throughout the day.
These norms were developed by teachers when we began our innovation school several years ago and they have stuck! Together, these 5 norms push us to keep learning and growing as adults and for our students. Let’s dive in and break them down!
Stoke the Fire.
This norm is all about inspiring curiosity in ourselves and in the people around us. It represents a commitment to fan into flame passions and questions that could lead us to big and impactful discoveries about ourselves and the world. It’s the fundamental building block to our school and to our students’ development.
Admittedly, we know this is Apple’s slogan, but it’s perfect for us too! Thinking Differently means we are open to new ideas and new ways of approaching a task, problem or question. When an entire class or community agrees to think differently it opens us up to a world of possibilities and encourages us to simply try something differently.
This comes after think differently for a reason! Because when you think differently and try something a new way, it may work or it may fail. We believe that failure is where growth happens so we encourage our students, teachers and staff to fail forward fast and often. The faster you fail, the faster you will learn how to do it better next time.
Enjoy the Journey.
Raise your hand if you love failing? Right, I didn’t think so! Enjoying the journey is one of our norms of learning and it comes after failing forward because we know we have to remind ourselves that there is joy in the journey of learning, even when it’s hard! We agree as a school to enjoy the journey to discovering new things about ourselves, the world and our community. We are committed to having fun along the way!
This acronym stands for Listen, Overlook, Value, and Encourage. This norm is all about our commitment to each other. We will listen to each other, overlook our differences or disagreements, value what each other has to say and encourage each other on our journey with Jesus.
Throughout the year these norms will become common language for our new students and our returning students will continue to grow and develop these qualities that will serve them far beyond the walls of our school.
In addition to our common theme for the year and our shared learning norms, we also have shared expectations of behavior. Again, by using the same terms and words throughout the school we set our students up for success.
Our shared behavior expectations are Safety, Ownership, Attitude and Respect. When our students are making safe choices, taking ownership for their actions and their work, have a positive attitude and are respecting themselves and others they are SOARing.
Teachers use these four terms to encourage positive behavior and redirect students toward making positive choices when needed.
Creating Positive Habits
One of the reasons we use common language throughout the school is to present students with clear and consistent goals and expectations. Another reason we do this is because repetition is the key to habit-formation.
We want our students to form the habit of learning with an open mindset, develop a willingness to try new things and treat others with kindness and respect. We want our students to consistently make safe choices and take ownership with positive attitudes.
Constant repetition of these values and phrases at school, in every classroom, and at home will enable students to turn these characteristics into habits. And there’s neuroscience (brain science) to prove it!
Duke University researchers Wood and Neal (2007) studied how goals are interwoven and connected to habit formation and argue that most habits form through the deliberate and consistent pursuit of goals. The brain’s prefrontal cortex pays primary attention to goals, rules and rewards but over time and through repetition, these behaviors that started because of a goal become habits that are triggered instead by cues and become controlled by a completely different part of the brain called the basal ganglia.
That means when we connect classroom expectations with our learning norms or our SOAR behavioral expectations with the larger goals of discovering “What’s Your Mark?” we are purposefully developing lasting habits through repetition in our students that will help them succeed today, tomorrow and far beyond our walls into their careers and life after GCA.
One of the most important ways to utilize the theme, norms and expectations is through positive reinforcement and meaningful feedback. Our teachers will use these terms to provide quick reminders of expectations throughout the day when students are getting off track but the most impactful way to instill these values in our students is through meaningful and personal feedback.
“Wow, that’s a great way to think differently about this problem!” “It’s ok that it didn’t work, you’re failing forward! How can you learn from this failed experiment?” “Thank you for taking ownership of your chromebook and putting it back in the cart.” All of these are examples of positive reinforcements teachers will use throughout the day in the classroom.
I encourage you to adopt this shared language at home throughout the year. There is tremendous value in having shared expectations and goals for students woven into every aspect of their lives.
So, when your student is struggling to complete a task at home and is starting to get frustrated that it’s not going exactly the way they planned you can encourage them to think differently about the problem in front of them and remind them that it’s ok to fail forward!
And when your student takes on new responsibilities at home you can thank them for taking ownership with a positive attitude!
Our students will grow and develop the habits that we positively reinforce and that are repeated throughout their day at home and at school. We are so excited to see how our students will grow this year as we continue to reinforce these learning norms and dive into the question, “What’s Your Mark?” We truly believe the possibilities are endless and that God will do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!