We need schools where “everybody knows your name.”

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same, you wanna be where everybody knows your name. You wanna go where people know, people are all the same, you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

…Original and full length lyrics for “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” the theme song from the 1980s television sitcom “Cheers,” written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo.

My former colleague, Dan McDonald, master teacher and kid-magnet extraordinaire, came up with a damn good concept one day. He said we need “Norm schools”… the kind where “everybody knows your name,” and not just during regular school hours. Dan is the kind of teacher who knows the value of making a meaningful connection with a kid first, and then as a student. He knew that without that connection, scholastic success was but a dream, especially for the kids from at-risk environments that he typically supported.

Dan wondered out loud what our educational environment would look, sound and feel like if every person that worked in a school, metaphorically speaking, knew the name of every kid who attended that school… and of course he didn’t mean that they should memorize the yearbook… he meant knowing their name in the sense that the characters from ‘Cheers’ knew Norm’s name and everyone else’s in the bar… that ‘Cheers’ was like home for many of them, and the patrons like family.

He wondered further why schools shut their doors for all intent and purposes at 4:00 PM, and don’t effectively open up again until 7:00 AM the next day. There are many reasons to leave school buildings open after regular school hours, but Dan was interested really in just one. He figured that if the connection to school was meaningful and positive for kids during the day, why couldn’t that element carry on into the evening? He had brilliant ideas about school partnerships with social service and helping agencies whereby programming and services for youth would be carried on right where school left off every day. He understood that for many, school is the only safe and nurturing environment kids know… why not allow them the privilege of being in that safe place as much as possible?

Next time you go to work at your school, or next time you walk into your child’s school, take some time to think about what kind of school it really  is. Is it the kind where kids feel a sense of belonging, safety and care… like family, or is it some other kind of school? If it is some other kind of school, and you’re wondering why you aren’t that excited to go there, ask yourself also what you can do to change that feeling.


  1. David said:

    Exactly. I’ve really been frustrating at how so many experts run around in circles with all kinds of fixes. The only fix is to CARE. (I’m a big fan of Nel Noddings and too ReEducation).

    Part of this is putting purpose back into education. The true purpose of education is the development of the individual. NOT get a job, training, facts, passing tests, babysitting etc….. The individual prospers in a warm, personal environment. Nothing else works unless this is in place. It’s all all all about relationships, the right relationships.

    Thanks for this cry in the dark. We have to keep trying…. or we’ll drown in all the tweaks and fixes that rise daily.


    July 4, 2011
    • Hear, hear David.
      I’m rejuvenated every time I hear another speak as you do about what the real purpose of education is; at least the way I see it. Enough of those “cries in the dark” just may tip the scales and ground others who would be jumping on the latest ed reform bandwagon.
      As you say, nothing else works unless the right relationships are in place.

      July 4, 2011
  2. Ryan said:

    An interesting notion, and one that I find myself constantly considering here in the states. Would it work?

    I taught in a school that could have been described as a “Norm” school. It was an international private school that had a high school population of 300 students, (700 students from K to 12). I agree that there was great value in having such a rich community. Our facilities and spaces were strained to keep up with our extra-curricular activities, and teachers would regularly stay after school to play sports with students — not just extra-curricular activities either: they would often stay for recreation and exercise.

    Was this valuable?

    Yes, from what I observed. Students quickly developed a sense of confidence in such a strong community. This translated into classroom success as well, particularly because students were willing to take risks in front of their peers, and they were willing to work in groups because they were always working with members of their community. In a previous post called “B.S.,” one of your contributors actually explained that relationships have been shown to be very important in helping students to learn, citing the text “Visible Learning” as evidence.

    What needs to happen in American schools for this to happen?

    First, I think schools would have to reduce in size, a significant challenge for public schools in this economic and political climate, though perhaps less so for charters and private schools. I think you could also make the argument that regional schools would need to be de-prioritized in favor of neighborhood schools.

    Second, I do not think schools could get away with leaving their doors open without providing supervision and guarantees of safety. Because the school is a public institution, parents would expect the school to take on a burden of ensuring safety, which I think would pose serious hurdles for administrators that are already strapped for cash (again, especially in this economic and political climate). However, this is primarily a legal burden.

    Is this possible?

    Although I think “community” and “Norm communities” are easier to build in smaller schools, there are drawbacks as well. It is difficult to provide electives in smaller schools. We could argue that students could take online courses to meet that need, but I think this undercuts the “Norm” community. It is also more difficult to provide facilities, ranging from tech to labs to grounds, in a smaller school, which again means that students are provided with fewer options. Finally, I think it would be very easy to increase class sizes to save money, but you’d again undercut the notion of community once class sizes rise above 20-25.

    What can we do now?

    As it stands today, I think most schools strive to create community as much as they can. I think administrators often see assemblies as a way of creating community, though in my opinion they are not the best tool. Instead, I think administrators need to focus on their team to help create this community. Most teachers that I know lead extra-curricular activities, often for free, which means that students are staying after school already. What can administrators do now? I think many teachers are less inclined to stay in their schools right now because they feel like they are “under attack” from their administration, their state, or their board. So they, quite understandably, hide in their classroom or work at home to avoid all of that negativity. That is a hurdle for administrators and boards to respond to. Additionally, in this age of test-score accountability, administrators have to make the case that it is worth a teacher’s time to divert attention from their courses to engage in the larger community.

    There also needs to be more done to get parents actively engaged in the community beyond “parent-teacher” night. As for students, I found that once students began to explore extra-curricular activities, they were more likely to stay in the school. So provide them.

    I think it is worth noting that America has many alternatives to the school for offering safe public spaces, ranging from parks to community centers to libraries. So it might be a difficult sell to a public that is already resentful of the amount of money spent on education and children.

    Ultimately, I for one applaud the idea of a “Norm” school and am always striving to emphasize the importance of “community” in my own community.

    PS – Good luck making the case to your board that your school should be more like a pub. ; )

    July 4, 2011
    • LOL Ryan!
      In all seriousness, thank you for your thoughtful response.
      I think many of your questions can be answered at least in part by this post http://bit.ly/hTMGk7. EduKare schools are grounded in the belief that it isn’t the school that should be doing more, (perhaps the school should be doing less and focusing more on the academic side of learning,) but that the school as a building should be the hub of a multi-disciplined source of support for all kids. I’d appreciate your POV at the EduKare post.

      The simplest example I can provide is relative to the “community center and libraries” comment you made. In my community there are two schools within walking distance from my house. The two libraries in my small city are downtown and across town, at least a 15 minute drive from our house. I submit that if school libraries were open after hours, and librarians were employed by the city (providing job creation,) we would be at the library weekly, if not daily. We seldom go to the public library now.

      Community centers are the same issue… if schools were designed to act as these centers, the building would never go out of style as community centers are always in need no matter the demographic. In Alberta they are beginning to attach relocatable classrooms to beautiful multi-use facilities that can be moved as the population shifts, and moved back again if necessary.

      The point IMO is that schools offer the best center for services required by kids and their families, but that teachers are not always the best people to provide all of these services (as it is so often the case in lieu of easy access to outside agency support,) so why not move these helping professionals to the school?


      July 4, 2011
  3. Haidi Appel said:

    I work very diligently to know every child by name. We say know them by name, know them by need.

    Also, I write every student at least one personal postcard each year and mail it to their homes. They feel so special when they get some handwritten mail sent specifically to their home. Many students have told me that they collect them over the years. We also have a handwritten birthday card for each student during the year and all birthdays are annouced. Summer birthdays fill the days when we have no other names to announce. If a student invites me to an event, I do all that I can to be there. I have been to birthday parties, sporting events, ballet/dance recitals, and more. You have to show them that you care about them as people. Unfortunately budget cuts cut into the opening of school too early and staying open to late but we are trying to take care of that.
    All the best to all of us that care about our students.

    July 4, 2011
    • Haidi Appel said:

      Forgot to say that I have over 600 students and for a few years had around 900 but I still wrote the cards and attended the events.

      July 4, 2011
  4. David said:


    Yes, it is good to see that we aren’t like Diogenes, wandering the streets, lantern in hand and never to find an honest man. There are many honest men out there but I think there are big social forces , many we aren’t even aware of – that prevent “community” from coming to a school.

    Let’s face it. We do know that the most important factor to student success isn’t poverty, isn’t genetics, isn’t teachers – it is the school culture. I have a list of research the length of Wilt Chamberlain’s arms. What we need to know are the legalistic, cultural and institutional factors that don’t allow that to happen.

    Size is one that Ryan mentions.

    Legalities thwarting integration with the community are another. I once taught in a school that wouldn’t allow elderly to visit – god forbid one died in the school! Yes, that was actually a whole staff meeting, omg.

    Also, teacher workload. the “busy” culture of school. To paraphrase Eric Fromm – we are a culture of education that “does” and “isn’t” Meaning, we don’t focus on being but on constant occupying of time. It is farcical really in most schools. Almost psychotic this “busyness”. When I was a teacher, I participated in this mad house, constantly fearful that students wouldn’t have anything to do and might just disappear.

    Another factor is of course leadership. Too much flywheel and not enough sparkplug, once said a great Canadian pastor.

    Then families. Too busy to be at school – to afraid if they were allowed.

    Then we have my biggest issue – schooling by age. Students should not be taught by age and corralled by age into a classroom. There are much more important factors. Students should be grouped with teachers that match their needs. Also, they should stay with one teacher for a longer period of time, much longer. Even half the day and for years. This is what builds “knowing your name” and relationship. Our school culture is very anti relationships – sociopathic with its emphasis away from the person and onto achievement (this is Carl Rogers talking).

    But most of all – it is the underlying ethos that drives education that must change. People feel they are in the room to get and not to be….

    But let’s keep this issue alive and find more honest men.


    July 5, 2011
    • Linda Allen said:

      Hello, Sean,
      I enjoyed reading your comments about configuring the teaching levels in school. I had the privilege of teaching in a multi-age setting for several years, and I must admit that it was the most fun and learning-filled experience of my career. My classes were a mixture of 6, 7, and 8 year old students (and later 8 and 9 year olds) who learned together based on their needs. We developed an incredible community within our classroom and with other multi-aged classes in the school. I had the privilege of working with the same students for three and four years as they moved through the primary classes and into the 4th grade. Even now when I bump into students who were part of that primary program, I find that our bond is still there. It never fails that they express to me that it was the best part of their school lives.

      Inherent in this type of class configuration though is the fact that teachers must have excellent professional development to restructure their own teaching to accomodate this type of situation. Our school also had the forethought to reorganize the curriculum so that students were taught the same topics on a three year cycle so that each year was a new layer of learning on large concepts that were carried on smaller topics. We did not teach separate content to each age level, but expanded the concepts within the topics as students needed.

      It was the best experience ever and I treasure the lessons I learned from those experiences.

      July 8, 2011
  5. Haidi, David… thanks for continuing the conversation.

    To be sure, there are always detractors. This is the major reason I focus on what can be done despite them. Budgets are what they are… but they certainly don’t prevent teachers from caring. Leadership is what it is… but it doesn’t prevent teachers from caring. Curriculum is curriculum… but it doesn’t prevent teachers from caring either.

    At the fundamental core, (as we’ve said,) a caring, safe and mindful teaching and learning environment doesn’t cost much at all over and above the requisite funding required to provide a classroom with a teacher in it. It’s the culture and tone of that classroom that makes the difference… it’s about people and relationships.

    There are infinite ways that teachers can foster the sort of caring and mindful learning environments that we say we value, but it will take an authentic will to see challenges as possibilities as opposed to detractors. Using authentic care as the currency, economy of scale dictates that the more teachers and wrap-a-round helping professionals we can get involved to share resources and expertise centered in the school, the better off kids will be.

    July 5, 2011
  6. An aspect of this topic that hasn’t been discussed is public support for education, i.e., money.

    In their own self-interest, educators need to bring their community into the schools. It is not enough to simply engage students and parents. Those groups don’t have enough political clout to matter.

    Schools that close out the public, except for carefully orchestrated events, should not be suprised if that public is disinclined to pass school budgets. People vote for what they perceive to be in their self-interest. Having a student art show or sending kids out to pick up trash as community service is not enough to make people who have no children in the schools think the schools are important to them.

    A few years ago I was invited to bring my dog to visit at a nursing home. Two years of being in and out of the facility every couple weeks made me an enthusiastic supporter of an organization of which I was previously only vaguely aware. I saw the impact the nursing home was having on residents and their families. The same kind of transformation can occur among the electorate if schools reach out to involve them.

    July 5, 2011
    • Linda, you have touched on the major point of EduKare school philosophy… bring the community to the school; better yet, bring the world to the school! Please check out this for background- http://www.seangrainger.com/2011/01/edukare-new-paradigm-for-struggling.html

      With keyboard touch technology, it’s entirely possible to involve global players in our schools who would be advocates for our local causes… see Sugata Mitra’s “Granny Cloud” http://bit.ly/eLMu7A. We must bring community into our schools so schools can shape society as opposed to being the omnipresent mirror that reflects it..

      I don’t like to hide behind the funding fallacy (that every improvement needs massive injections of cash to go forward,) but you are right, education does cost money (much more perhaps than it needs to, but that’s another issue.) Educators need to understand that democracy does not represent the majority, it represents the majority of those who show up to vote, so why don’t we pursue relationships with those who do that? Great question, that. Interestingly enough, the same folks who would be inclined to spend time in schools are likely the type who would be responsible enough to cast their ballot during elections… hmm.

      The other cost-shaving element of EduKare is made possible through the collaborative and interdependent sharing of human capital. In EduKare schools, helping professionals use the school as a base of operation targeting the captive audience of kids and their families that are either there everyday, or very close as parents drop their kids off, volunteer at lunch or whatever. Parents would often in my past prefer to meed their social worker in the school than at the govt. office because it was a less intimidating, more welcoming environment for them to be in… why not make that commonplace by integrating children’s services right inside the school building? Whether regional or neighborhood schools, they are generally more accessible to parents than other social service office locations… and I do believe that education is a social service.

      Perhaps through effective advocacy (smarter, not harder politics) and coordinating children’s services in the schools we’d be getting somewhere?

      Thanks for commenting!

      July 5, 2011
      • I have a somewhat different perspective (as I am frequently reminded, I am not a normal person). I think schools need to go outside their buildings more to reach parents of school children, but do far more to bring non-parents into their buildings.

        Many of the serious problems children have in school are the result of their home situations: poverty, lack of reading in the home, parents with anger management problems, etc. I’ve seen wonderful results at changing the home settings for the better when schools went into homes and worked with families. For example, one program I knew was an informal arrangement in which a trained teacher and a trained social worker went into homes on a volunteer basis and did such things as going grocery shopping with families to help them figure out the best ways to spend their money and taking young mothers with young children to the library for story hour.

        From my observation, schools tend to regard nonparents as sources only of financial donations or as audiences for students. I was recently on a panel of community people interviewing school superintendents. We asked candidates how they would use community people in the schools. The typical response was about students doing something in the community: showing their art or picking up trash, for example.The people on the committee included, besides me, a human resources director, a chemist, an aerospace worker, and a health care worker. By the end of the interviews, the committee was getting pretty annoyed at the arogance of educators who act as if all knowledge is contained within the walls of the school—and these were people who are strong supporters of schools. Imagine the attitude of people who don’t already support their local schools.

        July 8, 2011
  7. Mark said:

    I would add to “Everybody knows my name.” How about, “and somebody knows my problems?” If we really had additional professionals at school sites maybe we wouldn’t have Columbines. If students were able to seek help at a place where they were already comfortable rather than having to go outside to places where you don’t want others to know you went–maybe more kids would get help, maybe more families would get help, before the breaking point. If every school had expertise available for conflict resolution, family crisis counseling, and some basic mental health counseling and support, many problems both in the school and the community would be met better than they are now.

    July 5, 2011
    • Amen Mark! I COMPLETELY agree… please check out http://www.seangrainger.com/2011/01/edukare-new-paradigm-for-struggling.html for my EduKare premise which represents your point exactly.

      The school is the most natural and accessible physical space where coordinated children’s services can be provided by those professionals that know how to provide them… social, emotional, psychological, probation, counseling…even health services- all possible with small amounts of effort to bring the service to the child in the school.

      I go a step further to say that the student’s families could be served in the same manner, as it is often the case that the individual student’s problems have some family context. As I said in the previous comment, in my experience, so many parents preferred to meet their social worker, therapist etc. in my school as opposed to at their buildings citing they felt more comfortable and natural in their kid’s school.

      Please check out the EduKare link above and let me know your thoughts.

      July 5, 2011
      • Mark… I forgot to mention that “knowing every student’s name” is a metaphor for exactly what you say… knowing the whole child as a concept. The conceptual metaphor of knowing kid’s names really means knowing each one as a person, unconditionally supporting and teaching every single on of them. I call this process helping kids write their PLS- personal learning story… another key ingredient of an Edukare school.
        Check out, http://www.seangrainger.com/2011/02/edukare-part-2-starting-with-story.html for background on “personal learning stories” which, for the record could, and perhaps should replace IEP’s and cumulative files in their current forms… the critical difference being that kids are the primary authors of their own stories, an element not evident in other forms of student tracking currently in place.

        July 5, 2011
  8. Linda, I agree that collaborative partnerships with community folks should be established. In my EduKare context I call people who have something to contribute, and want to contribute to the teaching and learning environment and the enjoyment of learning for kids, “significant others.” Bring them on.

    Regarding the outreach concept you describe, I also agree this is a good thing, but not always as initiated by teachers. Bottom line, teachers don’t have the training and background in outreach that other helping professionals do. If, as EduKare suggests, other helping professionals were based in the schools, coordinating children’s services (and services for their families,) would be streamlined and effective, as opposed to the disjointed and ineffective lack of coordination that takes place in far too many cases currently.

    Essentially, in EduKare schools teachers do the teaching and leave the other service provision responsibilities to the helping professionals they work alongside in the building, or extending outside the building. This is the “wrap-a-round” element EduKare strives to provide… whatever it takes to support kids at school and in the home/community by providing a myriad of service options and supports based in the school.

    July 8, 2011
  9. Great post, Sean. I completely agree with the concept that school leaders need to know each child, and family. Yes, we need to know each child’s name, and how to pronounce it correctly, which means more broadly understanding that family’s culture. Culture goes beyond race and ethnicity to where the child or parents grew up, religions, family structure etc. When we are all open to learning from that child and family, and education becomes two-way, then the entire school community thrives.

    I also agree it is time to bring community resources and the school together. As you note, many families feel most comfortable at the school (IF the school is indeed welcoming). Resources provided there are more accessible. We can’t operate in individual silos anymore. This point is clear in an Issue Brief I wrote on helping immigrant students with their unique mental health challenges (from the immigrant experience which includes leaving behind all that is familiar and through a journey that is often violent) for The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (http://www.embracediverseschools.com/images/Issue_Brief.pdf) When mental health services are provided at the school, both the student and the family are more apt to trust and take advantage of them.

    I’m so glad that you are a contributor to my new book coming out in November, “Innovative Voices in Education: What It Takes to Engage Diverse Communities.” As you know, lots of these issues are discussed by pioneering educators around the globe.

    July 11, 2011
    • Sean said:

      Hi Eileen! So you found me here… an impressive group of administrators I’m humbled to collaborate with and contribute to.
      I’m thrilled to be a contributing author to “Innovative Voices in Education: What It Takes to Engage Diverse Communities…” been talking with many about the book- super excited to see it in print (and sorry to still be waiting for my testimonial for ATA.) I will send my version of a testimonial to you as we discussed as soon as I’m back home on Thursday. Things are just starting to slow down for the Grainger’s after a week of decompressing following school’s end;o)
      Thanks so much for the link as well… I will check that out. I totally agree that silos have to go, and schools provide a perfect opportunity and context to kick-start the process.
      Talk to you soon!

      July 11, 2011
  10. Sean said:

    Linda, I agree there are many opportunities to mix it up in schools and classrooms… as many as there are people with ideas regarding how. Cross curriculum, multi-age, same age class but multi-class large groups… almost infinite possibilities.
    You are correct that the will has to be there on behalf of teachers, and the support from educational leaders in the school for creative mixing of teaching and learning contexts to work.
    Thanks for your comments!

    July 11, 2011
  11. […] recently read a blog post by Sean Granger called, We need schools where “everybody knows your name”. It points out facts about schools closing their doors right at the end of the day and students not […]

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