Inspiring Stories: How to Inspire Your Students
Michael Del Sordo, president of the Michigan-based private boarding school St. John’s College Preparatory School (SJPPS), shares the story of his school’s transformation and what it takes to instill motivation in students.
At SJPPS, students must be taught to be goal-oriented and motivated to believe in their goals and aspirations. That school motto comes from the students themselves. They built it themselves to help their leaders communicate with them.
“We call it ‘action.’ Students at SJPPS need to be so driven to be accountable, so goal-oriented, and so motivated that they can do things with the school in mind—and to succeed—that even if there are months and years of hard work that are required for the goal to be realized, they will still be motivated. Action requires more than thinking about something; it requires doing it and believing in it,” Del Sordo said.
Throughout the day, a full-time student is “behaving” in school and in the community; on average, they will go above and beyond what’s expected of them.
Del Sordo came to SJPPS to create what he calls “an organization that everyone can be proud of.” He wanted students who were passionate about it to follow their dreams.
“When students start focusing on the goals they set out to achieve, they will help build a culture in the school, one where people really believe in each other, that there are no little kids playing this role, no small players. Every student has a purpose, and they each have a driving force to help get the job done,” he said.
On a typical day, many students in the St. John’s Preparatory School community are engaged in various sports and other extracurricular activities, such as choir, orchestra, debate, and theater, as well as active learning. Students will participate in school and community fundraising activities. Some work at a business in the school village, and many others assist with fundraising.
Often, Del Sordo said, students will use these diverse talents to support an organization or mission that needs support.
“The message I’ve put forth is: Be a leader, but also be a partner. Be part of the team. Work with others and people who you care about, be team players,” he said.
To enhance the student experience, the school aims to support students in reaching their goals and aspirations—whether that’s attending college or coming up with an innovative solution to problems in the community.
At the same time, the school works to keep class sizes small and to offer students access to a variety of electives, including science, art, and history.
“We want all students to understand the importance of independent study, of being part of a classroom that they can call their own. We want students to understand that there is a right and a wrong answer to a question, that the answer depends on the circumstances, and that an idea is more important than someone’s talent or appearance,” Del Sordo said.
When students build confidence in school leadership, they learn how to lead others. They can do things on their own, but the day will come when they need to ask for help. “I believe that ultimately if students can stand up in front of their peers and say ‘I need help, I think I’m headed down a wrong path,’ a lot of kids are willing to help a friend,” he said.
As a result, students learn leadership skills that will prepare them for life after high school, he said.
“I learned how to get the job done in spite of obstacles, how to get over challenges, and how to use perseverance to get the job done. Teaching those skills to our students changes lives,” he said.
Have an inspiring story to share? Contact Katrina at [email protected]