The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development defines school culture as:
"The sum of the values, cultures, safety practices, and organizational structures within a school that causes it to function and react in particular ways; the way teachers and other staff members work together." -from a Lexicon of Learning
School culture is constantly being constructed and shaped by the students, the way staff members interact with each other, and by the community. This is true of my school. Our demographics have changed since we opened our doors 50 years ago, creating the diverse environment we have embraced as an asset instead of a hardship.
Our direction has also changed. After becoming the first public Pre-K to 5th grade elementary school in Georgia to become STEM certified, our focus has shifted to include additional rigor in the STEM subjects. Even though I'm so proud of our accomplishments, I believe in constantly improving and growing. I would still like to see the culture of my school evolve to include the encouragement of more student choice as well as student and teacher innovation.
After some reflecting, I feel there are three important ways to improve school culture.
School culture improves as staff members interact with each other, the students, and the community. I'm thankful to have a principal who believes in collaboration to make decisions for the school. This is necessary for staff to feel they are on a team and also because we all have a vested interest in student learning. Teachers and administrators should work together to create and improve the school's vision, systems, and goals. When teachers are not in the loop because of a lack of communication, the school is at risk of becoming a place where teachers are unwilling to change and the school culture becomes negative and oppositional. This is certainly not the tone we want to set for students.
2. Professional Learning
Have you ever walked into a faculty meeting for a professional development session on a topic you had no input on and led by someone you are not familiar with? The presenter may have wonderful teaching strategies and have expertise in a particular field, but you and some of your fellow teachers may not need development in that area. I have learned so much from some of the presenters my administrators have brought in. I'm not against bringing strong, engaging experts and educators into the school for professional development, but I still wonder something. What about ulizing the talents within our school buildings? YOU are highly educated with awesome ideas and skills. And so are the other teachers in your building. We all know the areas in which we have extensive knowledge as well as the areas we could use development. We should have input on the professional development we receive. We should also have the opportunity to share our knowledge with each other! Professional Learning tailored to teachers' needs will impact school culture in a positive way. Teachers who receive training in areas they are genuinely interested in are more likely to bring this excitement for teaching and learning into their classrooms.
Teachers have relationships with administrators, students, parents, as well as other teachers. Trust is the glue that holds these relationships together, therefore fostering a positive school culture. To make change happen, teachers need to be trusted to take chances in the classroom and try new innovative ideas. Allow them to think for themselves and value this. Autonomy is the greatest gift a teacher could receive. Students should be trusted as well. They are our #1 most untapped resource. Trust their ability to think, create, and persevere. Teacher and student voices should be heard and and respected.
School culture will continue to evolve and it's up to us as teachers and administrators to create the best working and learning environment for our students and ourselves We have the power to change our school culture. Step by step, bell by bell, and year by year. How can your school's culture improve?