For about 7 years I worked for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Working in guest-facing as well as “backstage” roles for the company, I learned countless lessons. While those lessons ranged from frivolous to profound, most of those tales belong on a different blog.
One thing the mouse really ingrained in me was the power of synergy. Briefly: ‘synergy’ is the concept of multiple groups focused on an idea or project that, in the end, betters both entities.
As the Disney brand is omnipresent, you undoubtedly have come across Disney’s external synergy strategies. For instance, Aladdin-branded yogurt which A) sells more yogurt, and B) advertises the film to kids, or Little Mermaid soccer balls which theoretically (and optimistically) gets musically inclined children to kick a ball more often, and gets sporty kids to watch a movie. (The irony of a creature with no… what do you call them? Feet… being portrayed on a ball primarily designed to be used with feet is probably lost during this capitalist frenzy.)
Disney also focuses heavily on internal synergy. This means their theme parks support their films, and their films support their theme parks – this, of course, is a insane oversimplification.
I happened to work at a Walt Disney World restaurant around the time Frozen came out. As was the case with nearly all films, we were asked to promote the upcoming film by creating a specialty cupcake. No problem – we created decadent cupcakes that emulated Elsa’s dress with a touch of mint flavoring. After the movie debuted, and people lost their minds, the cupcakes became quite lucrative for our location. Suddenly, we were quadrupling our daily cupcake sales. All we had to do to raise sales, and justify paying several people overtime, was keep making Elsa cupcakes. It was a big win for simply leaning in to our company’s focus.
This notion of synergy has made its way into my classroom in a number of ways. I am so happy to be part of a school with a strong sense of community, and I am thrilled to support that in my classroom. Teachers know that prior connection and relevance can help pique student interest and keep them invested. So, by incorporating and supporting my campus life in my lessons, I am able to tap into a deeper connection for my students.
I do not mean that I mention school activities inside my classroom before or after lessons; I mean: they are the lesson. A few instances where I have taken the energy of synergy into my classroom include Homecoming Week, the canned food drive, and our school’s fine and performing arts assembly.
As the school features a spirit week, and countless traditions that take time away from classroom instruction, I choose to lean-in to this by creating a lesson based on the history of our school and community. We begin the week talking about why we celebrate Homecoming, and why alumni would or should care to come back or check in on our school. From that discussion we bridge into three activities that deepen their ties to our school as well as support my English curriculum. The students take notes on a video that discusses the change in population of our neighborhood ranging as far back as 540 AD. They read and annotate articles about the local businesses, the mountains, and the canals that border our school. At the end of the week, they have a writing prompt about the history of the school’s neighborhood. You can imagine that even a cynical teenager gets a smile on their face when the activity they just took part in (Painting a giant “S” on a small, nearby, mountain) is documented in a text book.
Every year, my school holds a massive celebration for our fine and performing arts and it slashes class periods to twenty five minutes. I notice two common approaches to this truncated lesson time. Some teachers embrace the short day, replacing their lessons with silly games. Others try to shoehorn a larger lesson into the small time period. I relish in this day to proclaim that we too study art in English, and we consume Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” through a variety of visual and auditory channels. While the words are swirling around them in a multitudes of mediums, the students color pictures of sunrises. More often than you’d expect from jaded teenagers, many earnestly scribble words and phrases of things they want to rise above in and around their drawings. The fine and performing arts assembly gave me a profound and touching activity in my classroom that I otherwise would have never done without the prompting.
I do not sacrifice any curriculum time because the school’s focus is my curriculum. The school-wide events are not a distraction to my learning; rather, they are a part of my learning.
I’m sure so many of you have found similar ways to infuse school spirit and focus into your room! How have you created relevance through synergy?
I wonder what lessons any of the rest of have learned in previous jobs that we brought to our teachings. Comment below with some of the great and innovative things you all do!