I sat today as an audience member of Massapequa High School’s 10th grade assembly led by its principal, Mr. Pat DiClemente, @PatDiClemente. With my recent middle school leadership position following years at the high school level, I was excited to once again be present in a high school student assembly. In his first address as the school’s new principal, Pat first invited a student to lead the group in a collective clap. Pat engaged the students, “I want to hear ten claps. Not one more and not one less. Ten.” With the student’s lead, the group of five hundred or so students provided a thunderous succession of fourteen claps. Pause. In fact, there may have been sixteen. Pat revised the goal. “Okay, okay, let’s hear five claps.” Following the lead of the one student, we heard anywhere between six and ten claps. Pause. Pat then did the unthinkable with a clap: “Okay, okay, let’s get three and half claps.” A half clap? What is a half clap? I witnessed the students’ faces ask the same question. This round of claps was far off as some kids slowed down their hands to get what they thought was a half clap, others clapped harder on the third clap to maybe get a longer sound to make up the half, and others didn’t clap at all because a half clap didn’t make sense to them. Loved this approach. A great start to establishing the brand at Massapequa High School. This school is about the students. In his first assembly, Pat put the reins in the hands of a student leader. The students were able to speak first. Not the principal. Not the assistant principals. Not the Deans. The students. We all know the claps meant nothing. However, the message was clear: Students at Massapequa High School would lead the noise that comes from this building.
Following this opening activity, Pat shared the following quote from The Other Wes Moore: “When it is time for you to leave this school…you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were even here.” Wow. Students were silent after this quote was shared. While students were internalizing this message, Pat reminded students that each student in the auditorium had the potential to leave a mark on Massapequa High School. “Make it matter that you were even here.” Powerful. Similarly, the school’s Dean of Students, Ken Wing, invited the students to make a commitment to make this year the best year for them academically and personally. He asked, “Can you commit to making this year the best year of your life?” What if they do? What if each student works hard to make this the best year of his/her life? How would that show up and transfer to the Massapequa brand? Interesting concept that had me thinking about students driving the foundation of our brand.
I left today’s assembly totally inspired and interested to elevate my passion for school branding. We speak often about telling our students’ stories through digital tools such as Twitter. We ask teachers to brand their instruction. We share our success with our communities and professional learning networks. But, the most important brand is the one that students create for themselves. This brand tells our real story. Today was moving. I know the students felt empowered, engaged, and motivated to achieve their personal best. If we (they) can do that right, our brand will be the most powerful and secure yet. Pat knew over 500 students wouldn’t be able to clap in unison. It would be nearly impossible. But the message was anything but impossible to comprehend. Schools are about the kids. They have to be. And when they are, students are motivated to brand themselves. In that process, our collective brand is built.