Monday, December 3, 2018

Where's Your School Culture? #EdChat

One of the things that stood out to me about my trip to Iceland was the culture of learning throughout the school. Everything was geared toward the learner. As I walked through the school, I didn't need to the examples of the learning culture pointed out to me. I could see it in the classrooms as students interacted with one another. I could see it in the hallways where student work was on display. I could see it in the way the teachers connected with others in the morning. Everywhere I turned, the culture was there and it was amazing.

As I talked to different teachers while in Iceland, I asked about culture and I wondered about how school mandates or new initiatives were rolled out or how teacher voice was part of the conversation. The one big thing I took away was that the culture of the school makes it easier to change whatever needs to be changed. The shared sense of community in the school is a culture that supports change for the good of everyone. Everyone feels like they have a voice in their school. Students feel like they are part of a large community supporting them in their studies. The culture supports the changes that need to be made and lifts everyone up when some are hesitant. They understand that changes are part of the evolving nature of any community. That is what is key. Change is part of any community.

As I talk to teacher across the country, the culture of their school shapes their teaching experience. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles of any school or district that is trying to make sweeping changes in their institutions. You can't expect complex changes to occur in teachers' thinking when a culture does not exist to support those changes. A culture of support needs to be in place before you can ask people to change what they do day to day. Without the established culture, resistance to any new ideas is going to be widespread.

Culture doesn't solve everything. You could have a great culture, but it could be destroyed by poorly thought out plans, ignoring teacher input, focusing on anything other than students, and much, much more. I've seen great school cultures killed. It is sad.

My school is a pretty progressive school and there is a concerted effort to build school culture for the teachers and for the students. In the Middle School, we instituted the House System to bring the sense of community across all three grades. We believe that we can bring everyone together with this system to help make any changes that might be needed over time. If everyone is on the same team, we can all support one another for the good of the school.

I was going to title the post, "What is your School Culture", but I wanted to ask where is it. You might think you have a particular school culture, but can you point to examples of it in your school? What does your school culture look like? Is it inclusive?  Can others outside of your school see these examples without have it pointed out or explained? Ask yourself these questions and think about how you can be a force of change.