Ever see somebody that has something and you want it? Not something tangible, but something brought out by the flash in a persons eyelids as they describe an experience they’ve had? When I talk with Steve Jones about his teaching practice, how it has evolved and how it has shifted, his answer always starts with the same sentence, “In my grad program…” and each topic is usually finished with how impressed he is with an individual kid.
I met Steve in the fall of 2007. He needed a part-time track coach to help blow the whistle in the weight room and film student-athletes as they triple jumped. I met the job qualifications and was brought on board to his track program. Steve was recently hired as the Head Football Coach at Kimberly High School. He was an Assistant Coach on the team that won two consecutive state championships and finished second while attempting a three-peat. He played college football at UW-Stevens Point. His track team won the Fox Valley Association Championship for the first time ever last spring. However, for all of the athletes that he has built relationships with and touched, his experience as a practitioner is why he is featured in this weeks spotlight series.
Steve is a high school health teacher. A few years ago, he was approached about teaching a leadership class at the high school. Steve was involved in a community learning cohort at the time. In the video below he talks about how his grad classes impacted his teaching. If you walked into Steve’s room in 2007, you would see rows of desks and chairs. Over the past two years, Mr. Jone’s classroom has been transformed into a circle of chairs, or as he likes to call it, “The circle of trust BABY!”
In Steve Jones’ classroom best practices flourish and they are not labeled. I went to a conference on Service-Learning last year. When I returned and tried to explain to my colleagues what I learned, I found myself saying, “You know it’s the stuff Mr. Jones is doing with his students all of the time.” Student voice and student choice are present. I have tried on several occasions to recruit Steve to come and teach with me at the new charter school I’m helping through start-up. He can’t go. There’s no way. His home is at Kimberly High School and he’s able to touch 1500 students lives.
I want to keep this post under a 1000 words so let me get to it…this guy has done things in the past two years in his classroom that no one else is doing. And in my opinion, his system works because he turns it all over to the students. Students write grants in his class. Right now, as I type this blog post on my MacBook Pro, I’m wearing a sleek gray-T that reads, “Spread the word to end the word.” One of Mr. Jones’ students had a big day today. This student heard about a nation wide project to replace the R word with respect. This student did what most empowered teens will do. This person did work. It’s a mantra heard in the halls of KHS for the past 3+ years, “DoWork!” Mr. Jones’ student wrote a grant to get professional posters made, t-shirts, stickers, and a banner. All of the high school teachers (100+) were given t-shirts to wear today. At lunch, students could write their name on the banner and pledge to ending the use of the R word. The student leading the project also premiered an interview with Green Bay Packers Linebacker AJ Hawk (probably the highlight of AJ’s day today since he got cut). Today was a big day for Mr. Jones’ student.
Here’s another example of a big day for Mr. Jones’ student. Want to see another example? If you live in the Fox Valley, drive 1 mile east of 441 on College Ave and see the billboard that will be up. View Larger Map. It was put up by a student at Kimberly High School. A group of students wanted to challenge the perception of teens as drinkers. They surveyed the students and found out that 87% of the high school doesn’t drink. When the staff was polled they were off by about 30%. Once again, students wrote a grant and charitable people in the community came through.
All of these examples follow my personal favorite. Kimberly High School is one of the few high schools in the State of Wisconsin to have random drug testing. A heated discussion in one of Mr. Jones’ class led to the following question, “Why don’t we have random drug testing during the summer?” Many of the students in the class were troubled by this. Several student-athletes voiced concern about their team being hurt by having a three month window when the harshest deterrent isn’t enforced. The students went to the school board and got the policy changed. Kimberly High School now has random drug testing year round. This is my favorite example because Jones did what most teachers (including me) are scared to do. He let students become involved in the democratic process. He let a heated classroom discussion carry over into multiple days. He let students voices be heard. He works very hard at developing meaningful relationships. He will probably someday write a book and go on Oprah.
I’m usually not too worried about haters. But since I know they’re out there, I’d like to take a moment to address them. All of these incidences are occurring in other parts of the country. Spread the word to end the word was started by two college students, the drinking thing was done in Stevens Point, kids go to the school board all the time. Hate on, hate on, hate on. Now watch this video and look for the eye flash that I talked about at the beginning of this post, and you’ll see what I want.
How many subjects is he actually teaching? What skills are his students actually learning? What kind of development is actually going on? And can any of it be measured on a standardized assessment?
You can follow Steve Jones on Twitter @CoachJonesKHS
If you ever play him in NCAA Football, watch out for the slant route