Article published 1 September 2023

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The International School kicked off the autumn term with an inspiring lecture

As a kickoff and the start of the new school year, the International School was visited by Steven Bollar, also known as Stand Tall Steve. Steve has recently been named one of the "Top 30 Educational Gurus" in the USA, and he lectures on topics such as classroom leadership and school culture.

All the teachers at the school gathered on Friday and listened to, among other things, the difference between "climate and culture" and the importance of working with a common set of values, partly to create a school climate that remains more stable throughout the year and across the entire school. The teachers agreed that Creativity, Inclusion, and Engagement are three words that describe the International School and words that they want to guide their values work in the coming year.

Common Guidelines and a Positive Culture

Everyone laughed in recognition, and Steven entertained and shared a plethora of strategies and tips on how we can create common guidelines and a more positive culture. He demonstrated and instructed on methods for making clear instructions by describing, exemplifying, and guiding, says Maria Haglund, the school's principal.

Maria continues:

The teachers were encouraged to take part in a "7 weeks of school challenge" to make students feel seen and to build better relationships with more students, even those they don't teach themselves.

The method includes, for example:

  • In week 1, greet a few students you don't know and learn their names and ask about their favorite subjects.
  • In week 2, make eye contact with students in the corridor. When they ask what's going on, just say "nothing, I just happened to see you" or "nothing, but you made me smile," or something similar.
  • In week 3, start or end your lesson with the joke of the week, which can be a dry "dad joke." For seven days, different teachers have similar tasks to focus on.

In Steven's school, a small group of teachers had started this challenge, and soon most students noticed a significant change in the feeling of safety throughout the school. Several teachers at the International School expressed a strong interest in a similar challenge, she says.

Working with Different Voice Tones

One of Steven's messages regarding leadership is that good teachers don't get angry when students misbehave. Instead, they become curious and try to find out why students are misbehaving.

He suggested something he calls "night time DJ voice" and "day time DJ voice." The evening voice is calm and reassuring, and the daytime voice is slightly higher and more energetic. He said that what often happens in schools is that people often use their daytime DJ voice when addressing bad behavior. And when addressing positive behavior, it's often a quiet, encouraging whisper to the students. According to Steve, a much better classroom climate can be created by doing the opposite. When students do something good, you should make it noticeable and audible. But when students do something less appreciated, you should use the calm and slightly lower "night time DJ voice," says Maria.

One teacher mentioned that she had already tried this strategy after googling Stand Tall Steve. She told everyone that the students appreciated the change after just one lesson.

Daring to Have Fun

The idea of inviting Steven Bollar to Älmhult was born when our school leadership team saw his keynote speech at the IB's regional conference in The Hague. We felt that his entertaining personality could be a fun and positive start to the school year. The topics he lectures about align perfectly with the school's development plan, which focuses on developing leadership both inside and outside the classroom to create a safer and more peaceful working environment for everyone, Maria explains.

Steve also talks about how to build a positive and inclusive "school community," which is something very important to us. In our ISÄ community, students, parents, and everyone working at the school are included.

Why the Name "Stand Tall Steve"?

Steven began by explaining the background of why he calls himself Stand Tall Steve.

He is a tall man who often gets asked which basketball team he plays for. However, Steve has no interest in sports; the only thing he played when he was young was the trumpet. He described the difficult teenage years and how it feels to grow so much and become so tall. Besides the physical discomfort, it was also tough to become so tall that he started standing out from the crowd.

He began to hunch his back to make himself invisible. Until one day when his friend asked him to stand in front of her, and she put a fist between his shoulders and pushed. "Stand tall, Steve, accept who you are, you are a tall person." This became a turning point for Steve. A leader should stand out, is Steve's motto. All adults in a school are leaders, and it's important for students to feel this. It creates a sense of security when there is a clear leader and clear boundaries.