Building a ‘Scholar’ culture

As I read Facebook posts and Twitter feeds about the first day of school, I was baffled about what to do because my district was not back in session until after Labor Day. However, it gave me a lot of time to see photos of others bulletin boards, read blogs about opening day activities, and reflect on what my approach was going to be in my new school.

Like many educators, I steal ideas from other great minds.

This year’s steal came from one of my dynamic colleagues and friend, Dr. William Blake. Will and I earned out doctorate together while at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and I have been taking bits and pieces from him ever since. Both tangled in social media, we see a lot of value in utilizing technology to improve school culture and student engagement.

However, there was a phrase that caught my attention as I zipped through my Instagram feed and kept seeing this phrase scholar pop in all of these hashtags relating to his students. In an exchange of emails, I reached out to learn about his approach and was intrigued.

Not long after, I watched an amazing Ted Talk where the speaker shared an anecdote about a student getting a +2 instead of getting a -18. The manner in which she shared the message made the student feel as if he was one a role and told him he was going to better next time.

Simple, but powerful. What if I could make my students believe they were something greater than they ever imagined, a scholar.

Scholars are #GreatByChoice

My opening day. I’ll admit, I was nervous.

I didn’t know these students.

I didn’t teach their brother or sisters.

I didn’t have a reputation with students (as I did in my previous school).

But … it was showtime.

After our morning breakfast, I was charged with energy and a true believe each and everyone of my students can work at a scholarly level and be great. However, I used the analogy of Michael Jordan. Every day after practice he shot 100 foul shots because he wanted to become better. No one told him to shoot those free throws, but he wanted to be great, #GreatByChoice.

I instilled one of my most positive messages I have ever given to students about being great. I let them know it wasn’t by accident people are successful. Anyone can be a scholar of a certain profession. MJ is a scholar of basketball. My brother-in-law is a scholar home builder. My barber is a scholar of cutting hair.

It’s an attitude.

It’s displayed by one’s actions and words.

Then I showcased a pair of images (without the text overtop) and in groups discussed the differences. The group made dynamic inferences based on personal experiences to make general observations in the images. They were aware there was a difference in the two images, but then I shared the images with some definitions of student and scholar.

Students were beginning to see the difference. Then, like Ms. Marshall in the TED Talk, I built them up.

“I spent all summer battling the other ELA teacher to have you in my class. I don’t get classes off knuckleheads; I want the best. I want motivated scholars who are #GreatByChoice and that’s why I picked you.”


Building a Scholar community

I no longer use the phrase student in my class; it was has been replaced by scholar.

Many teachers post rules and consequences, my scholars created Scholar and Community Expectations in order to be #GreatByChoice like Michael Jordan. In groups, they discussed what makes them successful in the classroom and tracked it on a massive post-it pad in our classroom. The goal was not only to make rules, but an agreed upon understanding of manners which needed to be displayed daily throughout the school to keep in scholar mode.

  • Thinker 
  • Success = failure
  • Giving more than you did the day before
  • respect (one another and their ideas)
  • build up one another
  • never give up
  • dress for success

Here are only a few of the agreed upon norms for my classroom scholars.

Opportunity to display attributes of a scholar

Scholars must think critically and what better challenge to get their minds turning than the #MarshmallowChallenge. Similar to past challenges, scholars were given for marshmallows, one yard of tape, one year of string, scissors and 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti. The goal was to create a highest freestanding structure with one of the marshmallows on top.

Then … get ready for it … I sat back and watched the creativity fly.


Many accomplished the challenge, while others failed. However, no one gave up and everyone had to display many of the characteristics of a scholar. Also, many learned of new characteristics a scholar must display in a group setting (which we added to our list).

Shown are the winners of the Marshmallow Challenge with their structure of 21.5 inches high.

Believing to be a Scholar

Often times as young children we dream of greatness, and it is only a dream. This school year my scholars are no longer going to be only dreaming of greatness. They are going to be #GreatByChoice.


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2 Responses to Building a ‘Scholar’ culture

  1. Pingback: Tinkering in AS Programs | Classroom and Leadership Reflections

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