There’s a phrase in education “learning can’t be a happy accident” that gets passed around. Its often used to make the point that we need to plan learning opportunities and anticipate where students might struggle. Planning becomes key in ensuring that each student has learning opportunities and that just by putting a bunch of kids in a room with an adult learning isn’t necessary going to occur.
I believe school culture is the same. If we think that we can build a strong classroom or school culture just by the sake of being there and smiling, we’re waiting for an accident to occur that may never happen. If we think that just by presenting a vision and mission that promotes positive culture that we will obtain it then we are fooling ourselves. We need to plan it, model it and live it. And then return to it often.
Many of us have been part of teams that craft school a vision and mission only to forget about it once the day to day begins. These lofty goals get stuck on some district document, web site or sign only to vaguely be referred to. Rather than driving the decisions of the school they become slogans in the rear-view mirror.
Culture needs to be crafted and revisited in a purposeful manner and not just at the beginning of the year but throughout. One of my favorite sayings is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” (often attributed to leadership guru Peter Drucker). Often in education we spend more time worrying about the strategies to increase student achievement and hope that those will build the culture we crave. I’m beginning to think we need to be flipping that idea. By first creating a strong culture first staff, students and families will more likely work to find the instructional strategies that meet the needs of each student and go beyond just the grade book or test score.
For the 2016/17 school year my school has adopted the phrase “attitude = altitude” and to me this is the essence of any school culture. The attitude of staff, students and families determines much more than just high test scores or graduation rates. It determines success in life. How this will play out in student learning is something I’m excited to see.
Over the next few blog posts I hope to explore these ideas a little further. Starting with the work at my own school around building staff culture as well as some ideas that our teachers have for connecting that positive culture to student learning.
Remember the climb to the top might be hard but the views are well worth it