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Turning Headaches of Homecoming into (Wayside) Teaching Moments


May the Odds be ever in your favor. This year’s theme is “the Homecoming Games.”

(this post was originally publish in October 2013.  It has been updated for current content for 2014)

If you are an administrator or teacher this time of year you might be rueing that homecoming is around the corner.  We celebrate ours this week and, of course, one wonders is there learning lost?  At Trinity, we have a rather robust full week of activities, while I know many other schools are trying to cut back to 2 or 3 days of endeavors.  As a principal now, I am trying to think a bit more globally about how homecoming might actually enhance student learning.  I know I’m thinking way out of the box there!

In talking to many of my fellow educators across the country at independent schools, I know that Homecoming looms in the next few weeks.  Ours is next week.  Images of lost content and atrophying skills have been dancing through your head as you plan for the coming week knowing full well that the atmosphere much of the time may be less than academic.

With this in mind, I’d love to re-frame the conversation a bit.  I’d like for us to consider the potential academic benefits of a homecoming week for the student and possibly highlight some opportunities for you to engage next week that you may intuitively know but might overlook.

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of the Wayside Teaching.  Sara Davis Powell wrote at book by that title in 2010.  Powell is a professor of Ed at Belmont Abbey College in NC and one of the leading experts in middle school education.  Powell writes in chapter 1 of the book “Wayside Teaching is all about relationships.”  Further she writes “Intuitively, we are certain that the extra attention, encouraging notes, pats on the back when things aren’t going well, interest shown in extracurricular activities, acknowledgment and development of the special talents, emphasis on collaboration…that all of this makes a positive difference to student well-being and learning.  And it does (Powell, 12).

As an old AP History teacher and even as a varsity coach, I hated homecoming.  It seemed to be such a distraction from the work at hand.  At times it seemed so silly.  But looking more globally, I am starting to see the Wayside teaching in it.  For instance, take the pep rally today — the appetizer to homecoming, if you will.  Peel back for a moment preparation that went into it by the cheerleaders, dance team, band and even a few football players.  No, none of these students got better in Latin, Chemistry, Civics, or Algebra specifically through their participation.  But several students received training in public relations and event planning.  A lot of choreography went into the elaborate dances.  Furthermore, the MC of the Pep Rally got significant public speaking practice.  If we peel back further we may see that there are several 21st Century Skills entwined in these activities.  Pat Bassett formerly of NAIS and Tony Wagner, a leading education researcher suggest the 6 skills needed for the 21st Century are Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Leadership, Creativity, and Character.  Most of these will be on display and will be at work by the students next week. The cheer captain will have to negotiate and cajole her squad to complete all the work involved with set up.  The SGA President and his team of student government leaders have spent the last several weeks hammering out a plan with the Director of Student Activities.   Alternatively pushing the limits of Creativity and Reason, our students will have to make decisions about what to wear to school weighing both the potential benefits of street cred and the consequences of the handbook.

As we re-frame the homecoming conversation, what will your approach be?  Resigned indignation?  It makes for a long week.  Perhaps take a page from Powell (I have a link to a chapter of the book below).  Make it a week of developing relationships with your hard to reach students by:

  1. commenting on their costume choice

  2. asking about their plans for the week

  3. getting their feedback about why homecoming is important to them

  4. recognizing the skills that go into such student centered endeavors: planning, negotiation, collaboration, creativity, design, interpretation of rules

  5. finding something appealing about each of them

Powell later writes that “Wayside teaching requires us to accept students for who they are.  It’s an attitude that says, “I care about you even when you mess up.  I don’t take less-than-your-best-achievement or poor behavior personally, nor will I ever write you off as incorrigible (18).  To me that sounds an awful lot like our heavenly Father.  Providently, just two verses down from our senior verse Paul writes: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5 NIV).  Let’s take the week of homecoming to further do so with our students.

Here’s the link: Wayside Teaching by Powell

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