This blog is a bit of a follow on from the previous blog and is a bold statement that - yes - schools are like a Paralympic Team. Perhaps you are giving a blank look at the screen right now, but that’s okay - “Dream, struggle, create, prevail. Be Daring. Be brave.” so says Caterina Fake - and so I am going to be brave in putting forward an idea that may be understood and embraced, or may fall flat on its face. But you know, I have to try.
See that diagram above? Well I am going to explain it for you… in the context of the Paralympics.
YOU (the athlete) - you the individual, the role model, the role model emulator, the hurdler, the thrower, the cyclist, and swimmer. You who is the teacher, the pupil…. or the athlete, striving constantly to bring out the best in yourself and others.
CLASS (the relay team) - your first (or second, or third) team. Small and close, you bond, build close friendships, learn how you compromise, learn conflict resolution on an intimate level. You learn how to trust and grow within a “family” full of siblings and potential role models. You might only be a team for a short time, a year in a school, a race in the Paralympics, but you have a bond that will last unconsciously for a lifetime. This is your core group each year.
YEAR (Paralympic swim team) - This is the bigger, intermediate team, that you also see every day, and gives you a sense of wider identity and support. This team is like the cousins coming together to have fun and learn with the siblings. It is an opportunity to make friendships outside of your core group and to grow and develop because of the opportunity to be social outside of your brothers and sisters. It is your introduction to citizenship and community. This is the group that may change as each year passes in subtle and not so subtle way, but ultimately it is who you feel defined by - I was the graduating year of 1997 in school AND I was part of the 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Swim team.
SCHOOL (Paralympic team) - This bigger team provides you with a variety of role models and supportive figures that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. The school is like the Paralympic team (the whole team, inclusive of all sports and athletes involved), you are an integral part of the bigger picture, but you don’t necessarily develop deep, lasting relationships with all of these people. It comes down to identity again though, for a number of years you are part of a community that will define your present and define your future. This bigger community provides a deeper scope for support and inspiration… and again, widens your potential for finding that role model that you might be the one that understands you the most and provides you with the best opportunity to emulate strengths that person has.
... and finally, COMMUNITY (Paralympic movement) - This is the broader community that exists as part of the school, but extends outside of the schools walls. Parents, Governors, community leaders and exemplars are this wider community and they can have a positive impact on the class, year, and school. The community for the Paralympics is that global community of Paralympian’s that inspire me, inspire upcoming Paralympians, and that keep the Paralympic movement alive and growing. This community, that encompasses all the other circles, is the ultimate opportunity for individuals to show citizenship and character growth, it widens horizons, and can help model the best intrinsic culture for the school.
These ripples, these waves of community, role modelling, and emulation, are what create a culture of character. All of these ripples are what support the development of character and good wellbeing, and cross the ripple barriers it is not only the pupils that benefit from this idea of team, but also the teachers, staff, parents, governors, and wider community. So what impact can development of team, relationship building, and making of a community have on the school (and what impact did it have on me as a Paralympic team member)?
The VIA Institute on Character has teamwork as one of their 24 character strengths. As a character strength the key concepts are: Citizenship, Loyalty, and Patriotism. Three key elements that were developed as a team in the Paralympics, and three key elements that can be developed in schools (perhaps patriotism from the sense of being proud of being connected to the school and local community and being able to talk joyfully about its culture). And what happens when you increase the values of teamwork (and by extension responsibility)? Research shows that self esteem can increase, as well as self-respect and group cohesiveness, when you bring development of teamwork into a school. This is because we humans are inherently social creatures, and thus purposeful teamwork will enhance prosocial behaviours and cooperation. On the Paralympic team developing these prosocial skills under the guise of teamwork meant that we had group cohesiveness and support - perhaps shown most aptly through the empathy and compassion shared between athletes when we had losses as well as the cheering and celebration when we had wins. Support became a natural behaviour.
How can you develop more teamwork in your school? Develop a class battlecry, class colours, whole class group activities that encourage the pupils to help each other out to achieve a challenge. Develop a competition between classes in year groups, cross classes when it comes to some activities and assignments so that relationships can develop between “competing” classes. As a school choose a charity or community group that the school will spend the year raising money for, have a fundraising amount aim and encourage the pupils to support each other to raise money - perhaps have older pupils help younger pupils raise money, etc. As a wider community have parent/caregiver/family challenge evenings, where pupils and parents/caregivers have to work together to achieve different challenges in the hall or playground.
You can get more ideas by checking out my book, co-authored with Frederika Roberts, Character Toolkit for Teachers.