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Establishing a School Culture of Academic Legacy

Jordan Catapano


What does it look like in your gymnasium or hallways? If you’re like most schools in the nation, the gym is full of banners that extend back several decades honoring the championships, victories, and successes of past athletic teams. The hallways feature a myriad of trophy cases showcasing the photographs and medals of historic school wins. This is quite interesting (and rather ironic) because by sharp contrast, students who excel in academia rarely see similar adornment as proof of their academic worth.

One way you can improve your school’s culture is to set academia on equal footing with its athletic “rival” and make a long-lasting impact to establish a school culture of academic legacy.

Ways to Establish Your School Culture of Academic Legacy

Get creative. There’s no single method of establishing a culture of legacy at your school. Find what works for your school community and run with it. What you want to remember, though, is that you are creating something that will hopefully endure long after your last day teaching there. The legacy will become a part of school tradition, and future students and teachers will look forward to being a part of it. So whatever you establish cannot be centered around you—rather, it needs to be something simple, tangible, and public that will last for a very long time.

Here are a few ideas to get your wheels turning:

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Annual Awards. Create a few consistent, but prestigious award categories for students. Assign a personalized award (like a pin, certificate or medal) that goes along with each one. You can do the same thing for teacher awards too!

Honors Society. Bring the National Honors Society down to a local scale. Create a specific organization that targets valued attributes from students, like academics, volunteering, participation in academic clubs or competitions and so on. Include an application process, induction ceremony and other prestigious perks.

READ Posters. Ever see those posters featuring a celebrity reading, with the word READ emblazoned at the bottom? Make it an annual tradition to have your school’s prominent figures featured on your own READ posters. Teachers, administrators, librarians, students and community members can all be featured in these personalized reading encouragements.

For a Cause. Students love to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Organize a big fundraiser the whole body can rally behind—if it goes well enough, then it may become an event everyone will look forward to each year. Although not strictly “academic,” it is a beneficial experience that establishes a school tradition outside of athletics.

Annual Publication. Many schools already have an annual student submission journal, but can you make it something more? Most of the time, the people most interested in viewing it are the student contributors themselves, but encourage other instructors to recognize this as a more formal opportunity to get involved and curate the submissions. Accept only the best student works, and disperse the publication far and wide for the public to see.

Photos and Handprints. Just like children like to find their own pictures on their parents’ desks at work, so too do former students like to find their own impressions – even just pictures or handprints – at some memorable spot in their school. This also creates a unique yearbook of sorts for incoming and current students—something to remind them that their school is built upon decades of tradition.

Code of Conduct. Let’s be honest—no one actually reads the rules and regulations manuals. Revitalize your school’s commitment to shaping student conduct and academics by basing a simple set of rules off of your mascot or school name. “Live by the Code of the PIRATE,” says one banner I’ve seen. Each letter in the school mascot “Pirate” stands for a character quality the school promotes.

Win an Award Every Year. This is idealistic, I admit. But if your students enter an academic competition of some kind, winning it every year can become engrained in the culture. Writing contests, mathletes, Science Olympaid, Spelling Bee—carve out an academic competition niche to build pride for your school!

These are just an opening set of ideas. There are limitless opportunities for your school to establish its own legacy that helps students further commit to achievement in academics. Remember, just like athletes have a connection to your school’s sporting tradition via banners, trophies and awards, let all of your students equally thrive off of a longstanding tradition of success in the classroom.

What does your school already do to establish a culture of academic legacy? Share your ideas and learn from others in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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