How the Khutweh Khutweh campaign is rekindling school spirit in a post-pandemic world
Inching closer to the end of the first semester of the 2021-2022 academic year, Senior Class Dean Maram Haddad took a good look around her. She saw a group of people, students and teachers alike, all of whom have experienced several tough transitions in recent times. Even as the pandemic eases, COVID-19 safety regulations continue to affect the way that King’s community members are able to interact with each other in order to be able to learn safely and in person.
Just before entering the auditorium to watch the first in-person school production of the year, Theory of Relativity, she turned to her colleague, Middle School Dean Laila Demashqieh, and said: “This is not King’s. This is not who we are. All I hear from kids is: I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m burnt out. I want to launch a campaign next semester. Do you want to help?”
Haddad left the auditorium with tears in her eyes. The powerfully emotive musical seemed to embody the spirit that she was looking for. “This is King’s. It felt like home. It felt like we’re not working just to pass days but towards a goal. These days we feel like we’re running and we’re tired and we don’t have a goal to reach. The play gave me hope. It was an inspiration.”
Around the same time, Chris Pultz, a faculty member in the Department of Communication, Rhetoric, and the Literary Arts (CRLA), was attending the Learning & the Brain conference on post-pandemic learning issues. Pultz wanted to understand how the pandemic was creating gaps for students in terms of their executive functioning skills, such as emotional awareness, time management and organizational planning.
After the conference, Pultz shared his newfound knowledge with fellow faculty. Upon hearing the details, Haddad knew that this was what King’s students needed to overcome some of the negative consequences of the pandemic on their learning. “The kids are missing time management skills and have no task initiation,” she says. “After hearing Chris' report, I said to Laila: This is it. We take this concept and we run with it.”
Haddad set to work with Demashqieh, Pultz and Middle School faculty member Gamze Pultz to develop the idea further, before bringing on board a further 14 faculty members who volunteered to help develop the initiative as a school-wide campaign.
Born from a shared desire to help the community become healthier, mentally and emotionally, both inside and outside of the classroom, the Khutweh Khutweh campaign was born. In Arabic, khutweh khutweh means ‘step by step.’ “We have to heal together. The healing process [from the pandemic] will take one step at a time, and maybe even two steps back,” Haddad says.
The six-week school-wide campaign aimed to raise awareness about 12 executive function skills that can help students manage their time, regulate their emotions, and organize their tasks. Each week the campaign focused on a couple of topics including: working memory and time management, task initiation and sustained attention; planning, prioritization and organization; stress tolerance and cognitive flexibility; and emotional control and metacognition.
Each week, advisors referred to specially curated content and resources to help guide conversations with students. Resources include games, videos, readings and discussion topics. As part of the campaign, each week an event took place on campus to increase school morale, in addition to a weekly guest speaker who was invited to expand on that week’s topic. The Khutweh Khutweh team organized events including a “when life gives you lemons” lemonade and cookies stand to share positive affirmations and treats, a communal mandala art activity as a tool to unwind, and Compliment Day where anonymous kind notes were written and delivered to community members.
Some of the guest speakers invited to share their experiences with the community included Sinamis Bayouq, a professional coach and leadership and transformation trainer to talk about planning and prioritization, and Dr. Eva Haddad, a professor in intercultural communication, who led a talk on stress tolerance and cognitive flexibility. In addition, self-awareness coach Serene Abu Maizar spoke to students about emotional control and metacognition, or "thinking about thinking," while professional scuba diving coach Sarah Yvonne Schenk shared how she uses executive functioning skills daily in her work.
At the start of each week, a thematic motto was introduced to help create a shared language between members of the community. “Name it to tame it,” “use your frontal lobe,” or “eat the frog” are some of the phrases that students have learned to wield.
“As a dean, having a shared language helps me with my conversations with students,” says Demashqieh about the new language students have been developing.
“I wish someone talked to me about these things when I was at school,” says Gamze Pultz. “I’m glad we offer these opportunities to our kids so they can use them in different aspects of life.”
Buoyed by the positive momentum the campaign has generated in six short weeks, the Khutweh Khutweh team is looking forward to seeing how it unfolds next year. “I’m excited to see how the seeds planted during this campaign grow,” says Demashqieh.
As the campaign helps students take those first steps towards healing, most importantly the effort of everyone involved in the campaign has helped remind a burnt-out and demotivated school community of their innate resiliency, and of the King’s spirit inside each one of them that has seen them through the challenges of the past couple of years and helped them come out the other side with a renewed sense of joy and motivation.