PCN Reflections from a High School Principal


Today's post comes to us from Tim Schellhammer, the Principal of Sibley East Senior High School in Arlington, Minnesota. He started at East Sibley when the school was halfway through a five-year Positive Community Norms project focused on reducing underage alcohol use. Below, he shares his reflections on the transformation that occurred in his community through the PCN process.

There is nothing like coalition work.  It is exhausting, frustrating, rewarding, and effective.  It forges bonds and changes communities. The culture of our community has transformed over the past few years – as have I.

I remember driving to my interview at Sibley East Senior High School and passing billboards that said, “3 out of 4 students do not use alcohol in a typical month.”  My initial response was: “What are they doing about the 25% of students who do use alcohol?”  Little did I know that the billboard itself was the answer to my question. In the Positive Community Norms process, accurate information is used to correct people’s misperceptions, their corrected perceptions influence their decision-making, and the result is increased positive attitudes and behaviors in our communities.

I field questions about the campaign quite often in my role as senior high principal.  I hear conversations about how “this is the way it has always been” and “we did it when we were kids.”  The best part about PCN, Science of the Positive, and the professional development I’ve received in just two years is I can fearlessly engage in these conversations, knowing there are so many talking points to share.  Not to fiercely debate and defeat someone else in a drawn-out argument, but to engage them with some really compelling information. 

I ask them, “Do you realize how many students choose not to do this?  Do you realize how many households choose not to allow this?  Do you realize how less likely you are to use substances 2, 3, or 4 if you never use the first one?  Do you realize how less likely your student is to use substances if they know you strongly disagree with it?” I explain that every time we get a student or household to make a good decision, we move from the 75% non-use statistic I saw on my first drive to this community to 80%, then to the 82% we measured at our last survey, and so on. We’re growing the positive!