I Dare You To Make Your Schools G.R.E.A.T.!
The three words I Dare You are familiar vocabulary to most. For kids of all ages, the phrase either elicits a sense of apprehension or even dread if the phrase is being spoken to them or a sense of power if they are the one issuing the challenge.
When I was a high school principal, I discovered that organizing my school year around themes like I Dare You is a proven way to motivate students and teachers to achieve the things they think are impossible.
After spending the spring finalizing the theme for the next school year with my student and leadership advisors, I tasked our graphic arts teacher and her class to create our visuals that would be posted throughout our school. This image of my assistant principal below is one of the graphics we used throughout the common areas of the school to remind students in a positive way of our daily expectations of them.
We also used this template for classrooms to include messages like,
I Dare You to…
- Be Kind and Appreciate Others
- Do Your Best Every Minute
- Be Tenacious When the Work is Hard.
We also posted signs in the restrooms and cafeteria that read,
I Dare You…
- To do the right thing.
- To be respectful of everyone.
- Clean up after yourself and your friends.
What was the Impact of I Dare You?
At each school-wide assembly throughout the year – First Day of School, Quarterly Data Reviews and Celebrations, Positive Behavior Incentive System Celebrations, and any recitals – we would use the graphics and tie the phrase I Dare You into our presentations. We’d even ask students to share positive dares to their friends on an open mic. For example, one student dared her best friend to raise her ACT by the two points she needed to get a full scholarship. One Dance team member dared the dance team to secure their third consecutive state championship in the April competition. I dared students to use their words instead of their hands in an effort to prevent physical altercations.
What happened? Not only did that student make the mark on her ACT, she scored 4 points higher by the end of her junior year. That dance team went on to secure their third, fourth, and fifth consecutive state championships, and my challenge to use words instead of hands led to two consecutive years of zero, yes zero, physical altercations in a high school of over 500 students.
I Dare You also worked for my staff. One afternoon in a faculty meeting, we had a district-sponsored wellness training. During the training, I thought about one of my fabulous teachers whom I knew smoked cigarettes, much to my disdain. During our meeting closing, I issued my teachers who taught our school’s classes that had an exit test assigned to them as a graduation requirement a dare to increase their number of students scoring proficient and advanced on the state tests. They met that dare with confidence and innovation, and when the data came back that summer, the scores reflected a range of improvement in the results ranging from a 4% increase in one subject to a 13.5% increase in another!
What happened next? Before the meeting ended, I flippantly dared that teacher I had been thinking about in the wellness training to quit smoking for the next two months. Shocked at my nerve, she reluctantly accepted my public dare, and at the end of the two months in another faculty meeting, she reported that she had not had a cigarette since that afternoon I issued her the dare. She also reported that she and her husband were happily expecting their first baby, something they had been trying unsuccessfully at since they had been married.
I Dare You served as an instrumental tool that provided motivation around a common theme that was woven into every fiber of the school year and was visible and audible in everything we did. It was accompanied by thoughtful planning, focused instruction, weekly tutoring, individual student conferences, and constant follow up by teachers and leaders.
What are the steps to make the school-year theme come alive?
Start by enlisting students, teachers, and leaders to submit ideas. Have a committee or your leadership team and student council sift through the ideas and submit the top three. It is really important to include students in the birth of the theme.
Enlist your leadership team and student council or representatives from each to think about ways the theme will come to life in the school. As the principal, you should also be involved in this step.
Engage your school artists in creating the graphics for your theme. You may also find pre-made graphics and themes to use. I started out using Sam Parker’s (no relation) materials from www.inspireyourpeople.com. The materials are high quality and create the framework for unbounded opportunities for infusing enthusiasm in your school days.
Create a Budge for printing materials. This is a fun, enticing project for PTAs, booster clubs, or other parent groups to fund if your school budget is tight. Examples of materials to consider:
- Vinyl Banners to post in large, common areas or outside on buildings.
- Indoor motivational signs for hallways, restrooms, cafeteria lines, hallways, and classrooms.
- Door placards for teacher’s rooms that includes their names, subjects taught, and room numbers.
- Bumper stickers, magnetic car signs, or other promotional items.
- T-Shirts! You have to have t-shirts!
Create ownership of the school theme by:
- Enlisting teachers and students to help in posting the themed signage.
- Messaging the theme at registration, on the first day of school, at parent assemblies, and in community settings.
- Tying the theme to your operational and instructional work. Ask receptionists to create themed greetings to use when answering phones; ask teachers to integrate the theme into their class routines, and have extra-curricular groups tie the theme into their spirit signs and recitals.
These 5 steps to help your school year’s theme come alive is guaranteed to bring enthusiasm to every school day, while providing you a tool for encouraging tenacity, cultivating respect and acceptance through a common language, and driving achievement in all areas.