Culture & Climate
School culture and school climate, while not synonymous, are inextricably intertwined with one another and with the ability of a school or district to transform itself into an entity that:
- is responsive to the needs of all students;
- creates an environment of shared values and high academic and behavioral expecations for students and staff; and
- fosters excellence in its students, teachers, parents, and administrators.
The twin pillars of climate and culture are what create a sense of community among all individuals, a community built around the values of respect, creativity, caring, rigor and the shared expectations that all students can and will succeed.
The articles and videos in this category will explore topics around school culture and climate.
In a previous article, I charged educators with spending time self-reflecting on their successes and failures at enacting critical multiculturalism in schools and classrooms. As part of this process I suggested administrators and teachers create an Action Plan that identifies short-term and long-term goals for growing their critical consciousness for better leadership and practice in schools. This type of work is primarily for individual growth as an educator. It is necessary work as a first step in having a larger conversation as a content-area team, school staff, administrative team, or even district staff as to how educators can create and maintain anti-oppressive teaching and learning climates for all children. This is necessary if we are going to be most effective in educating all children. The disheartening statistics regarding low literacy and math skills of many poor children and children of color throughout this country (particularly in urban and rural contexts) present educators and the larger society with a moral obligation to "do right" by each child that is served in the public school system. However, educators cannot be effective in the work they are doing in culturally diverse learning spaces without ongoing professional support that engages them in personal and collective reflection, goal-setting and action that supports high academic and life success for our neediest children.
When participants leave Coaching 101 Foundations Training, they leave with a series of reflection questions to help them to guide their work. Questions might include: What might support look like? When do I transition to an expert and support the content,? How do I coach within the structures of the building? How do I network with the other coaches in the building? What will success look like for me? How do I foster continuous improvement of my skills? How does my coaching increase student achievement? How do I build a relationship with the teacher so that we see each other as partners in the work? The goal is to move from reflection to action to provide professional support.
As a former high school math teacher I remember all too well the week following the last day of school. I always returned to the building to gather some of my things, and I could recall the voices of rowdy teenage girls and boys, the clutter left by scattered homework assignments that had not been retained in the proper file folders or personal backpacks, and the student work artifacts that were still posted on walls and tabletops around my room that I would collect in my keepsake file box. I was looking forward to having the summer all to myself to spend time at the beach, enjoy family and friends, play with my dog, or just do nothing! However, the thoughts of such joys were clouded by my continued concern for students who had barely passed my algebra or geometry classes or miserably failed one of them. I wondered what would happen to these students next year and if they would be engaged in any activities over the summer that would help them strengthen their mathematics skills. I also wondered what I could have done differently, if anything, to help them have a more positive experience in my classroom.
Cultivating a focused and collaborative learning environment requires healthy and collegial relationships among teachers and administrators. These relationships are built upon trust, and enable school personnel to stay focused on fostering a dynamic learning environment for their students (Parrett & Budge, 2012). As a result, “trust building is a necessary component of school improvement” (Parrett & Budge, 2012, p. 102).
Assumptions are made in the educational community about how students learn in the academic domain. Many educators make the assumption that all students learn the same way and that student perceived misbehavior is intentional and problematic. Additional assumptions include: