5 June 2019
A few years ago, Atholton wanted to reward students for their proficiency in school. Administration came up with the Raider Reach: a rudimentary system designed for elementary school students. Students who did well would receive tickets and be able to hand them in for rewards. The program did not last long, however, and failed in its mission to motivate students to do well in and outside of school.
Now, Atholton has a new plan to set school expectations, bring students, staff, and parents together, and create an entirely new high school identity. “One of the first questions I asked administration, staff, and even the few kids that I interacted with over the summer was ‘Tell me about the school,’” said Mr. Motley, principal of Atholton High School and founder of the initiative. “What does it stand for? What is it? [They said] ‘I don’t know, we’re just Atholton.’ Every place that I’ve been, there’s always been some sort of common understanding about the expectations, and what it means to be a part of the school community—which doesn’t seem to exist here.”
The series of shared values activities were created as a part of the school-wide search for the identity of Atholton. It started with Mr. Motley proposing his idea to the different Atholton departments. When the idea got the thumbs up from the departments, Mr. Motley set out to find which values resonated most with each department at school. From there, teachers were asked to choose a set of values from a list. These values would soon be sent to staff, students, and parents for the choosing. At the end of the year, the top values will be revealed and will become a part of Atholton’s school identity.
When asked what Atholton stands for, most students had trouble articulating the values and expectations that Atholton represented. “Atholton is a school that exists in Maryland, and I attend it,” said Atholton junior, Sarah Meyers. “Yeah, I don’t really know.”
Charlotte Lang, another student at Atholton said, “Atholton is a public high school in Howard County that children use to learn.”
According to Mr. Motley, the program is designed to identify the core values that stand for Atholton, such as honesty or compassion. “I am so tired of people saying like, ‘oh, Atholton’s just a quiet little school’—no, we stand for something and let’s let the world know what we stand for.”
When Mr. Motley first arrived at Atholton, there were a few changes to school policy. Particularly, there was a crackdown on students drinking coffee and wearing their earbuds in the hallways. Some students have expressed their dislike for the new implementation of school rules.
“I think Motley is a god and can do whatever he wants,” said Meyers with a laugh. “But in all honesty, I do have a problem with the earbuds.”
Junior Chloe Sullivan also had some thoughts on the new rules. “The coffee one was stupid, especially since teachers can still drink coffee. If teachers can drink coffee, we should be able to drink coffee.”
Fortunately, Mr. Motley has taken notice of the student’s body discontent.While he did not agree with everything the students had to say, he did provide some explanation for his thought process.
“It seems like these are Mr. Motley’s rules. You know? That’s tough for me because it’s kind of the antithesis of what I stand for,” Mr. Motley said. “But when you’re new someplace, you have nothing to go on. I like to operate as an administrator. It just feels arbitrary. Oh, he’s making this up and he’s coming in here and doing all of this and that kind of thing.”
Although Mr. Motley was the one who first proposed the idea and drove the initiative forward, he had help along the way. Several members of staff at Atholton helped to initiate the project and legitimize its presence at Atholton. “The great thing about this whole process is that we have what’s called a PLC,” said Mr. Motley. “It’s a Professional Learning Committee and it’s made up of teachers that actually are behind all of this.”
Mr. Clark, a member of the PLC team and science teacher at Atholton, said that the purpose of the initiative was to “give our school a more concrete identity.” He posed the important question, “How do we know where to go if we don’t know who we are?”
PLC team member and foreign language teacher Mrs. Grady said, “We use to do [Raider Reach] and have different initiatives for rewards. But in my nine years being at Atholton, I don’t really remember any words or values that support Atholton.”
The PLC members expressed their excitement and support for not only the program, but also the way Mr. Motley made the effort to collaborate with both teachers and students when trying to execute his idea.
“I think it’s easy to make a decision and have everybody follow it,” Mrs. Grady said. “But I think the way Mr. Motley and the PLC team have gone about it by presenting it to our group first, then presenting it to our departments, then presenting it to the whole staff, and then presenting it to the students was awesome. We now have feedback from all the different people that are a part of Atholton, and I think good can come out of it.”
Some of the students had a different view of the new values that will soon be associated with Atholton. Sullivan said, “I think values on a list are just kind of preformative. These values don’t actually reflect what’s going on at the school or what actually happens once you get in here.”
Teachers expressed their appreciation for the program: Mr. Clark added that he thought Mr. Motley was “one of the best leaders” he has ever worked for. “To improve a culture, we must unify by finding our common values. I thought that we had a lot of great mini cultures in the school but not a unified culture.” Mr. Clark believes that the initiative will help do exactly that. He continued, saying, “We want everybody to have a say and everybody to have an impact.”
“So as a leader, you question. That’s what you do,” said Mr. Motley. “Certainly you may have an idea of where you want things to go, but a good leader really doesn’t force that on anyone. People need to arrive at that destination on their own.”
At the end of this year, the values will be revealed and the data will be in. The school will have a new identity, and hopefully a fresh view of what Atholton really stands for. Mr. Motley added that, “By having these values, we’re really going to pull everyone together, put everyone on the same page, and I think it will really allow us to grow as a school community.”