Growing up in the Midwest, I had rare glimpses at sneaker culture. Most of my friends, including myself, just had one pair of sneakers that we wore until they fell apart. Maybe, if you were lucky, you had a second pair for gym class. My first introduction to sneaker culture came later when I moved east and joined a recreational basketball team. Two of my teammates had more than 100 pairs…each! They loved showing off their shoes in all their glory. Some pairs were just for display. Fast forward forty years and sneaker culture is everywhere. Middle schoolers will arrive at school with a nice pair of kicks in their hands while wearing slides and then make a quick change of footwear at their locker. I’ve heard kids complain about a fire drill because their kicks might get grass stained. Wipes are frequently borrowed to clean off scuff marks. For me it still seems foreign.
While scrolling Twitter recently, I came across a fellow educator embracing sneaker culture at his school. Justin Hauser, Principal at L’Anse Creuse Middle School East in Macomb County, Michigan, says his passion for sneakers, “has been the greatest relationship builder with my students in my entire career!” Justin’s social media accounts are filled with pictures celebrating footwear. You’d get the impression he is a sneaker influencer sponsored by Nike or Adidas.
Justin’s footwear fascination started during his first year of teaching in Chicago. “I noticed shoe culture was a way to connect with students, especially when I was wearing the same kicks,” he says. Justin quickly learned the positive impact possible when using this connection to promote classroom culture. He makes a point of commenting when he notices students wearing “special” sneakers at school. It’s a way of letting kids know that he notices them and their interests.
When Justin moved to his new position as Principal at East Middle School at the start of this year, his shoe head passion helped him make connections from day 1. Justin now has an ever-growing collection of more than 250 pairs. When there’s alignment with what’s going on at school, he’ll match his footwear to the weekly celebration of school culture on his social media accounts. “It’s an East Thing sneaker check,” as his students have come to say.
It’s no surprise that Justin’s sneaker sense has helped him build positive relationships with students. Research shows that students benefit when their educators think positively about them and appreciate the dynamics of ever-changing youth culture. We’re more effective in our roles as teachers when we seek to understand, rather than trivialize, the worlds. Taking note of what interests kids today can help us support, accept, and meet students where they are currently while also encouraging their continuous identity development.
The bottom line, even if sneakers aren’t your thing, educators need to look for ways to connect with their students. It can’t all just be about curriculum and instruction. Justin noticed that his passion for shoes was something he shared with many of his students. Now students look forward to seeing his daily kicks. When students get new shoes, they rush into school to show them off. “Students love to share their best kicks in hopes of being featured on the sneaker checks.”
Todd Bloch is a science teacher at Warren Woods Public Schools and Past-President of the Michigan Association of Middle School Educators. Connect with Todd on Twitter @blocht574.
You can follow Justin @jmdHAUSER and on LinkedIn.