Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Culture Club

Culture is such a large piece of a school.  Visitors can feel the culture of a school as soon as they step foot into the building.  School culture is no doubt such a large part because it encompasses the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and rules within the school.  These influence every aspect of how our schools function, lead to the social and emotional well being of our students, and our embrace of differences among our community.  With school culture influencing all of the above, it's obvious why it's a topic that comes up often.  

With culture being so crucial to our schools, what is our role?  It may not always be easy, but each day we have a choice in attitude.  We can approach the day being thankful of our blessings and enjoying the time we get to spend with one another....or we can let the external influence our day.  One of the most powerful ways I've found to put things into perspective has been the "circle of control".  
I have a tendency to worry about things that I can't control.  This is a great visual for me, and I use it in my classroom daily, as well.  It's important for us to model this for our students, too.  This also circles back to what my current principal said to our staff this year, "You are in control of the culture in our school".  Now, honestly, I must say this gave me pause.  As a teacher I always thought that admin was in charge of that...and I must say that as an aspiring admin I felt that weight on my shoulders.  However, this gave the power of control back to the staff.  I mean, wasn't she right?  Aren't we in control of the culture we cultivate each day?  Absolutely!  Each word we speak to our students, parents, and fellow staff members has power...has meaning...has influence.  We must not forget that we shape our own culture each day.  We can either enhance it or negatively influence it.  No matter what we do, you can be assured that it will be noticed.  

So what can teachers do each day to enhance the school culture?  
1.  Check your language - How are you framing your language?  Are you looking for opportunities of growth or are you stagnant?  Are you negative when speaking with parents, students, and colleagues?  Look for small, positives throughout the day.  Reframe your thinking....  
2.  Find your "tribe" - Look for those that support you, positively influence you, and are truly interested in your professional and personal well being.  Cultivate those relationships.  Spend time discussing your goals, their goals, and laughing together.  I truly believe in the power of laughter....it's one of my favorites.
3.  Celebrate everything - Celebrate small accomplishments with your students and friends.  A student came in on time, but he is usually tardy?  Do a 30 second "happy dance" with the kid!  Changing subjects and having trouble during transitions?  Start cheering out the subject's name: "Give me an M", "Give me an A", "Give me a T", "Give me an H"...."What do you have?" FUN!  Engage others in celebrating together.  This winter, our school had a lip-sync battle between grade levels.  It was a fun event that got us laughing together and enjoying one another's company.  Why not spend 30 min. of investment time to gain a positive culture?  Believe me...it's worth it!
4.  Invest in your students - Yes...I'm going to say it....You should try to attend at least one outside event for your students during the year.  I know, I know...you have a family...a life....and you just can't do that.  I challenge you to find a way.  Take your own kids to a student's baseball game.  Enjoy some popcorn and soda together and cheer on a student.  Why not?  These are great ways to get your family out of the house and deepen the relationships with your families & students.  It doesn't just have to be games, either.  It might be a recital, choir concert, band, or another UIL event.  Any of these are opportunities for you and could be a special time for your family.  Talk to your own kids about the opportunities they could have to join in on these events.  My own son and daughter came with me just this year to some student's volleyball matches.  We got up, had some What-a-Burger breakfast, and cheered on some of my students.  I loved it, and my kids enjoyed it, too.  If you just can't make it outside of school, take an interest in your student's passions or hobbies.  Ask them about the scouts, a camping trip, or buy those Girl Scout Cookies!  Be present in their lives....your classroom culture will come alive!

So what can parents do to enhance the school culture?
1.  Be present - Are you a member of the PTA?  Do you volunteer when you can?  How about sending in those supplies when asked?  Have you offered to cut out laminated things at home?  Do you make sure your child's homework is completed?  Becoming involved, even in little amounts, truly helps build a bridge to the school and helps the culture of the school.  When teachers and students feel they have a partner in education, their likely to have less stress during the day.  Partnerships are important.  
2.  Be positive - Let's face it, gossip can hurt any culture.  While at the ball game, at a neighbor's house, or dinner it's likely that the conversation will turn toward school.  Whether it's the new program, new teacher, or new letter that was just sent home, you can bet school comes up.  That's okay!  Just remember, as you talk, that we are all human.  Mistakes may happen.  Errors in spelling on that letter sent home may occur.  Small ears are always listening...and children will take on your attitude or perception about schooling.  I can guarantee, though, that not one administrator, teacher, or teaching assistant went in to this profession to offend you or hurt a child's education.  We are there, every day, to partner with you in creating a bright future and positive education for your child.  Your child is a precious gift you share with us each day.  We value that....
3.  Ask - Simple right?  Ask questions.  Seek clarification.  Seek understanding.  It's okay to ask about your child's education, grades, or behavior.  As educational professionals, we strive to provide the best education experience.  Ask your teacher about anything that is bothering you.  Just remember that we are people too, and have 22+ students with 22+ parents who may be emailing and calling.  Give us grace as we are on this journey together.  Empathy goes a long way....

So what can administrators do to enhance the school culture?
1.  Share - Share with your faculty where your heart lies.  What drives your decision making process?  Share your vision, expectations, and enthusiasm for education.  You're the first point of contact for the teachers at the beginning of the school year, for the hiring process, and (hopefully) the first smile people encounter when coming into the school building.  Share your smile, share your love of education, and share your heart with us!  We need that!
2.  Build trust - Easier said than done?  Maybe, but I believe that trust must be extended.  I mean, the staff trusted you to accept the job offer, right?  They trusted you during that interview that you had a good heart, would be an exceptional leader, and would build that positive culture.  If not, they wouldn't have accepted the job!  So trust was extended to you....trust, now, that the person you offered the job to can do the job.  Set your expectations and trust that they will be met.  Now, of course, we all know that doesn't mean you'll never be in our rooms.  You must be in our rooms to see the great things happening, the wonderful empowerment of students, and to build relationships with the students and teachers. We know that....but trust is often a feeling that we get.  A feeling that you're there (in our rooms) to enjoy the happenings, to see the teaching, and to build upon the capacity you have...not to "catch" a problem.  Oh, and speaking of that, if there is ever a problem, we teachers like it when you come directly to us to talk about it.  Sending those "mass" emails never seems to work.  Frankly, the person you are intending the mass email for probably doesn't even know you're talking to them.  As my principal this year says, "It's about the action or behavior, not the person".  It's not personal...we are all here for the kids.
3.  Model - That's right...work it!  Model what you want to see in your school.  Smile, acknowledge other's as they walk by, give people your time, be available, commit to having positive interactions with others....model, model, model!  

Whew...if you've read all of this, I want to personally thank you.  I know it was a longer post than I normally do, but I feel culture is an extremely important issue.  Thank you for giving me your time!  Now, go forth and culturize!  

*Speaking of which, I'm currently reading, "Culturize" by Jimmy Casas.  Have you read it?  My principal swears it will change your life!  :)