by Sara Cowey, M.S.

Many years ago, at my first Jostens Renaissance National Conference (now Jostens Renaissance Global Conference), I watched and listened to several veteran administrators get teary-eyed as they shared stories of connection, love and gratitude – I was awestruck. I knew right away, these were unique educators; they were passionate about their work and created positive change in their school communities every day.

Years later, I am still fascinated when I watch educators attend their first Jostens Renaissance event. They often look shocked and amazed. They see, hear and feel the love. More often than not, the speaker, perhaps a student, Staffulty member or a community member speaks about how much they love their school and the people in their school community.

Getting Started with Renaissance

When you create a Jostens Renaissance program make sure your team includes people that love your school and the people in it. You also need to identify the things that you will Respect, Recognize, Reinforce, and Reward. Schools start out recognizing academic performance, attendance and character traits. At San Mateo High School, we recognize all of these things and we also recognize and celebrate service. We recognize students that have served several years with a service group or created a unique community service project. At our school, we strive to celebrate what we value; academics, positive character, community service and leadership.

Impactful leadership programs work to create connections, recognize, celebrate and appreciate the role models, heroes and leaders in the school community. We LOVE on the students when we celebrate and recognize them, and we LOVE on our Staffulty when we appreciate and celebrate them all year long!

Here are some things to consider:

1. Fuel a warm and welcoming community:

A character development trainer recently explained how important first interactions are for both students and Staffulty. At the beginning of class, they suggest standing at the door to welcome students to class each day. It will help you create a positive vibe.
● Engage in eye contact with every student
● Greet them with a fist bump, high five, pat on the back or simple head-nod
● Say their name
● Connect in a personal way, “How was your weekend?” Hopefully you already found out what they LOVE so you can ask them about it.

If you happen to be in an office instead of the classroom, try greeting students at the start or end of the day. A fun “High Five” day could be on Monday or Friday, whatever works best for your school community. Remember, every Monday matters!

2. Empower Others:

Share power with your team at the right time. For the first month to six weeks of the school year we train our team of Renaissance student leaders about habits, philosophy, service and character. After the student leaders have a good grasp of these important concepts, we start planning our year. At our school, the work that is done by the Renaissance student leaders is powerful because they create all of the events, from start to finish. This kind of ownership is key to our success; whether it’s a recognition rally for students or a Staffulty brunch hosted by students for the Staffulty. It’s full of love.

The Renaissance students really enjoy hosting Staffulty Brunches. We decorate the Staffulty lounge, serve brunch treats, coffee, tea, play music and stand in a long row clapping and cheering as they enter the lounge. Happy Staffulty, happy students; the magic of Renaissance. We are in the midst of planning a Staffulty brunch for Valentine’s Day. What will you do to spread #StaffultyLove this month and this year?

3. Embrace the Why:

Be serious about your mission and vision. Being a part of something much bigger than yourself is a noble and worthy goal. When we create large service projects or plan unique recognition events for others; the satisfaction we feel afterwards is hard to measure or explain. We all feel incredible after completing a selfless act of service. Giving students the opportunity to make a difference in the school community and the local community is invaluable.

4. Create belonging for everyone:

Prioritize your people, create a positive vibe at your school. The world and our schools are incredibly diverse. We all need to celebrate diversity, strive to create inclusion and provide all students a deep sense of belonging. Year after year I hear stories of “ghost students” and how their lives were transformed by a fellow classmate or Staffulty member who took the time to get to know them and find out what they were interested in. Someone created a way for the students to get connected and involved. The common elements in these stories were time and empathy; someone took the time to see, hear and love the student and created a place for them to belong.

5. Pause and reflect:

Each year our Renaissance student leaders pause, reflect and write a short testimonial about how much they learned about themselves, their fellow students and the entire Staffulty. Prior to being in the Renaissance Leadership class they were unaware of the amazing work (labor) that so many of our students and Staffulty do all year long. The Renaissance experience provides students and Staffulty the opportunity to be empowered, to learn about their school, to lead, to LOVE and serve. It’s awesome. We are so appreciative of the people in the Jostens Renaissance community who share their passion and inspire us. We are grateful for ALL of the Renaissance speakers, trainers, coaches, mentors, students and Staffulty members.

There is honor in all work, in all tasks, but take it one step further. Make what you do a labor of love. Then your work will truly touch and change the world in the way you desire. The work you do, whatever your chosen field, will be work that heals.
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