Home' Teacher : May 2010 Contents 8 TEACHER MAY 2010
A useful way of identifying the culture
of a school is to walk dow n the hallways.
Schools with a toxic culture will typically
have few symbols, artefacts or mottos in the
hallways. They'll most likely have no mas-
cot, motto or other imagery that represents
the school or expresses its vision.
Those with a positive culture will typi-
cally have lots of symbols, artefacts and
mottos that foster positive interactions
between teachers, students, parents and
the com munity. Positive interactions are
the foundation for high self- esteem and for
an environment intolerant of bullying and
other antisocial activities.
Healthy school cultures
There are at least six characteristics that
typify healthy school cultures. These obvi-
ously relate to everyone who is in a school
-- from the staff and students to parents,
school crossing supervisors and even a
casual subcontractor -- but I'll focus here
mostly on members of staff.
The first of these characteristics is col-
legiality. Teachers and other staff members
help each other; there's a healthy exchange
of ideas that goes beyond the curriculum.
People brainstorm and actively exchange
ideas, continuously bringing new concepts
and practices to the fore.
The second, and connected, characteris-
tic of a healthy school culture is that experi-
mentation and exploration is encouraged.
A third is that members of staff have high
expectations of themselves and each other,
and their successes are celebrated. The for-
mal and informal appreciation and recogni-
tion of good work has a huge effect on the
way people feel.
Celebration creates ties between dif-
ferent people in your school community,
makes links between your traditions and
new practices, and spreads the 'feel good'
factor. Public recognition of individuals
has a positive influence on the recipients
of that recognition, who feel motivated to
excel further. Carefully chosen, recognition
also indicates to the school community the
behaviours that are valued.
Recognising success should be an impor-
tant feature of school committee meetings,
but recognition addresses a fourth charac-
teristic, caring. Caring isn't simply about
success. A school with a healthy culture also
recognises people -- which you might do by
simply celebrating birthdays and other sig-
nificant events in the lives of staff.
A fifth is that members of staff are
trusted. When we know that others have
trust and confidence in us, we're more likely
to investigate, and invest in, new ways of
doing things: and when we have a certain
degree of freedom, within the budget, we're
more likely to introduce ways of doing
things that benefit our students.
A sixth is that members of staff constantly
challenge their existing knowledge base by
engaging in professional development, read-
ing and sharing journals and magazines like
this one, and visiting the classes, and schools,
of colleagues in their professional network.
Most teachers want to enjoy a sense of
dignity and pride in their profession. They
want to be treated with respect. They want
good collegial relationships. They want to
be organised and to have some degree of
control over their time and what happens
in their classroom. They want their talents
to be harnessed and developed. They want
to enjoy their life outside the classroom.
Teachers who positively shape their school
culture typically do so when there's a con-
sistent, indeed dogged, approach towards
improving the craft of teaching.
A simple audit
Okay, you've walked down the hallways and
found lots of symbols, artefacts and mot-
tos that foster positive interactions between
teachers, students, parents and the commu-
nity, but you want to see how go on those
six characteristics of healthy school cultures
I've just listed. How do you go about doing
that? There are three questions to ask, and
it's worth pointing out that these are ques-
tions you can ask yourself and ask of others,
from inside and outside your school.
Do you see professional collaboration
between teachers and other members of
Schools with a toxic
culture will typically have
few symbols, artefacts or
mottos in the hallways.
They'll most likely have
no mascot, motto or other
imagery that represents
the school or expresses
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