Traditions. Those markers in time that hold special significance and memories that we cherish. There are many meaningful traditions at South Medford High School. However, the Senior Tunnel is my very favorite. It marks the passage of time; the end of an era and a relaunching of another. It is a time of reflection, gratitude, hugs, and tears.....lots and lots of tears.
To truly understand the impact of the Senior Tunnel, you have to step back four years to the Freshman Tunnel. When students begin their first year of high school they make a special entrance onto our campus by walking through a tunnel of staff members that reach from one end of our gym to the other. As students make the reluctant walk through, there is loud cheering, high fiving, and clapping to celebrate their arrival. Student leaders are in the surrounding area holding welcome signs eager to be introduced to their student teams. The gym is filled with electricity and excitement as Freshman enter this new big world we call high school with trepidation of all the unknown adventures ahead.
Now fast forward four years and this tradition comes full circle. On our Senior's last day of high school, we hold a special assembly called the Senior Tunnel. It begins with the Freshman Tunnel video. As our seniors watch the video of themselves and their peers entering high school as nervous Freshman, all of the memories created over their high school experience come flooding back. The gym is filled with laughter and tears as they see how much they've grown, changed, and matured over their time at South Medford.
What happens next is the part the most poignant of all. As the video ends, staff members move onto the gym floor and form a tunnel just like the one formed four years prior. However, this time the students aren't walking into the gym, they are walking out. Seniors come flooding out of their section in the gym and start filing through the tunnel. However, there is a stark contrast to how students approach the tunnel this time around. Instead of the fearful sprint through the tunnel they made as Freshman, there is hesitation as they approach. This walk is a symbol of the ending of an era. The tears don't take long to flow as Seniors begin slowly making their way through the tunnel making eye contact with those staff members who have made a significant impact on their high school experience. Instead of the high fives and cheers of their entrance into high school, there are hugs and lots of tears. It is a moment to look back on the journey that has brought them to this point; a chance to acknowledge all of the hard work and to show appreciation and gratitude to the adults that have shaped and helped them to this point. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of relationships and how each connection we make holds lasting value in the lives of our kids.
Every year I bring a box of tissue. Every year I cry crocodile tears. These kids have made an imprint on my heart. I hope that I have made a difference in their lives, but I know they have made a difference in mine. They have taught me that I never stop learning, growing, and refining to be the best teacher I can be.
This year the tunnel brought a whole new level of poignancy and emotion as this class held special meaning to me. It is my daughter's class. These are the kids that I watched her grow up with. The tears flow in full force as I not only reminisce about the high school memories, but I also remember kinder soccer, field trips, class celebrations, and slumber parties.
Then the moment comes that I have anticipated and dreaded. My daughter makes her way through the tunnel towards me. She embraces me and the tears become a sob. This tradition now holds a whole new level of significance. This tunnel may end an era, but also the promise of all that is to follow.
Milli Vanilli is my favorite day of the year. It is the final culmination of a year's worth of activities for classes to earn spirit points in hopes to win the highly coveted spirit trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Each class spends hours in the months prior to the competition choreographing dances all based around our school year's theme. This year's theme was Back in Blue. Classes were given different decades and songs chosen had to fit into that theme. They had to mash a variety of songs together under 4 minutes and come up choreography that could incorporate as many students within the class as possible. The school holds a special assembly and each class performs in the gymnasium. Local celebrity judges come in to judge the event and determine the overall score.
The collaboration, creativity, and dedication that takes place to pull this off is pretty remarkable. Not to mention, this experience unifies the class in a way that wouldn't happen otherwise. They are coming together around a common goal and having a blast doing it... a fantastic way to build a positive school culture!
This is all fantastic, but let me tell you what I love about these days. The staff dances too! Staff members sign up for different choreographed dances to participate in and they dance their hearts out for the students. It's crazy, hilarious, and kids LOVE it! To see the students faces and hear the cheers when their favorite staff members walk out onto stage is priceless. The excitement and energy that fills the gym is palpable. Students love to see their favorite teachers and staff members willing to risk looking silly for them. It is a a bit of a time commitment to come together and practice, but it also a chance to meet and collaborate with teachers that you may not normally get a chance to. At the end of the school year and all the craziness that comes with testing, special events, and lack of sleep it is refreshing to have a reason to be silly and carefree and come together as a school.
Creating opportunities to be collaborative, creative, and just plain silly is incredibly important in building a positive school culture. Milli Vanilli is the perfect example of a tradition that does just that. Nothing quite compares to the electricity that fills the gym when 2000 students and 100 staff members risk silliness to come together and dance their hearts out! Girl....you know it's true! (sorry, couldn't resist!)
Life is busy and in the Spring, the busy gets busier. Most days I am able to juggle it all, but this last Friday was not one of those days. It was a busy week and a crazy morning and all it took was one question from someone video recording my response to completely paralyze me. The question was “Why is education important?” A straight-forward question; one that I could talk for hours about. Yet, in that moment I was completely flustered and had no idea how to articulate my answer. I finally was able to blurt something out, and I still have no idea if what I said made any sense at all.
Then it happened…. As I proceeded to teach my next period class the flood gates opened. Yep, I started crying. And crying. And crying. I couldn’t stop. My students were concerned and trying to figure out what was wrong and to be completely honest, I had no idea. The video answer wasn’t a big deal. It certainly wasn’t the first time I blundered my way through an answer. It was just the last straw. It was the breaking point.
My student's responses were truly precious. They offered encouraging words, hugs, and the comfort food they were preparing for their Midwestern Regional Challenge. They said the sweetest things to help me feel better. Then one student said something that really impacted me. She said, “Mrs. Richmond, I love that you can cry in front of us. It shows you are real. That’s why we love you.” That statement will stay with me for a long time. I want to be real. My kids need to know that I have bad days too and hit my breaking point just like they do. If I am going to model taking risks, learning, and growing I need to be willing to model a good cry too.
The same day my friend, Tara Martin, posted an awesome blog post, Dear Highly Reflective One, that really resonated with me. As I read through the benefits and flaws of someone who is self-reflective, I realized that I could relate to each one:
Benefits of being self-reflective: Me...
Always learning ...I can’t get enough
Always tweaking your practice ...never stop
Seeking feedback to do/be better ...always looking for feedback!
Gives very real feedback to others ...very important to me!
Never reaching a plateau ...always reaching higher
Usually has a vivid imagination ...yep!
Big dreamer ...I dream in vivid color, always!
Viewed as Creative ...but, don’t always see it in myself
Everything is seen as a learning opportunity ...take on too many opportunities!
Flaws of being self-reflective:
Self-doubt ...um yes, so much!
Doesn’t get a lot of critical feedback, but craves it ...Always!
Over analyzes lack of feedback ...Constantly
Rarely celebrates success ...so hard for me!
Struggles to accept compliments ...so awkward!
As soon as project ends, on to something new ...mind never stops spinning
Feels there is always room for growth ...never stop fine-tuning
Must master the task, even if it about kills you ...and sometimes it almost does.
Making time to rest is not a priority ...sadly true.
When I read through these I realized my mind rarely rests. I am passionate about learning and growing and thankfully, I have a career doing what I love. However, here lies the problem. I wear out. I reach my limit. When that happens, I get flustered, I become paralyzed, and….I cry.
So as I reflect on this flustered Friday. Here are my take-aways….
I need to give myself grace.
I need to find time to rest.
I need to accept support and encouragement.
I need to continue being real.
I need to keep learning and growing.
I need to keep dreaming.
And….sometimes I just need a good cry!
*Shout out to Tara Martin for her honest and real writing. It gives me courage to be honest and real in mine.
. There is something wonderful about the element of mystery. It builds anticipation and excitement for what is to come. Up to this point, the badges I've awarded in my class have all had experience points attached with varying amounts that is visible to them when they earn them. This mechanic has worked really well in my class as students collect badges to reach apprentice, sous chef, and ultimately MasterChef status. However, as I watch my students interact with the game I realized for the first time this past unit that what we were missing was a little mystery.
The magic of a gamified classroom is in adding twists and turns and a little mystery whenever you want. So when this unit started, I threw them a curve ball. I told them that I would be awarding Mystery badges throughout the unit that would each hold an XP amount behind a scratch off sticker. Students would not be able to reveal the scratch off amount until the end of the unit when all the badges are turned in. This little bit of anticipation adds a new excitement to the game! They only can strategize so much, because there is an element of chance that won't be revealed until the end. I knew by my students responses when I revealed this new mechanic, that this was going to bring a whole new dimension to our classroom dynamic. They were excited!
So here is how I made the Mystery badges. I create my badges using Pages on ios. I make each badge the size of a baseball card so students can keep them in a plastic Baseball Card Sleeve. (shout out to @mrmatera for this idea!) I then laminate the page and cut out the badges. Once the badges are laminated and cut, I apply a scratch off sticker to each one. Adding the sticker to a laminated surface allows the badges to be reused by removing remainder of scratch off and applying a new sticker. However, you could apply the sticker directly to a badge printed on cardstock and left unlaminated, it would just prevent them from being reused. Either way works!
The Mystery Badges are kept in a box and when students earn one, they reach in and pick one randomly. The badges hold various amounts of experience points behind the sticker: 250, 500, 1000, and 1500. To make the higher XP a little harder to get, I populate the box with more of the lower numbers incrementally with the fewest badges holding 1500. This balances out the XP and makes it a big deal when the higher amount is revealed. Again, they can't scratch off the amount till the end of the unit, so it adds another layer of suspense!
The beauty of gamification is you don't have to have everything figured out from the get-go! You can add game mechanics to your game as you observe how your students interact with the game. If things get a little predictable, add a new element to mix things up. If certain player types aren't buying in, find a mechanic to bring them on board. YOU are the game designer! Adding twists and turns and a bit of Mystery keeps the game exciting! Who doesn't love a good mystery?!
Culinary teacher & Discovery School Lead. Passionate about finding innovative ways to make learning come alive for Ss. Love to gamify! Host #XPLAP chat WED 5 PST