My best times teaching have not been at fancy schools or schools with “good” or “advanced” students or even schools with super involved parents. My most memorable times in education have been the ones when the cultural cogs of the building clicked into place. When we talk about educating kids, so many things must work in tandem: parental involvement, high expectations, quality content, rigorous standards, good teachers, consistent leadership, learner motivation and student driven instruction all play an important role in guaranteeing academic gains. But the NUMBER ONE thing that produces stagnation is the climate of the school.
A school functions like a family. The principal becomes the matriarch or patriarch, each teacher the parent of the students in their classes. When the ELA teacher and math teacher do not work together, you find kids playing in one class but performing in the other. When administration does not support the decisions of its staff members, students take notice and learn how to “game the system”. The rules imposed by one team of teachers conflicts with other teams ,and the students become confused about what is acceptable and what is not.
The same behaviors you see in a disintegrating family teetering on divorce are exactly what we see in schools where negative culture exists. The fragmented pieces cause division, cliques, and stunted growth in students who sense the weakness in a united front and exploit it–or worse, are left to fall through the cracks of instability.
There are so many things that we cannot immediately control: high-stakes testing, district initiatives, changes in law. But what we can always control is how we work together as a unit. Whether you are a veteran educator traditionally trained or a alternatively certified teacher (and all iterations in between), we have a duty to create a collective vision of what kind of student we want to produce and live that vision every day we walk through the doors of our schools.
The success of our students depends on us having a unified front no matter what the outside world demands or what kind of obstacles our students face. The vision we have will determine every other thing that we complain about: achievement gaps, discipline, engagement…the whole nine yards.