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Welcome students, parents, and colleagues. Thank you for visiting my blog. This blog I have designed to introduce myself and inform you about what is going on in my classes. Currently, I teach ELD inclusion for grades 6.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Developing School Culture Norms

C. Mae Waugh
Aspiring Leaders Academy
Framingham Public Schools

            In the first few weeks of school, I always do a brief word study on the word “advocate” with my ELL students. We dissect the word for meaning, by analyzing its word parts. We discuss the Latin root voc, meaning “voice” or “to call.” We identify the prefix ad, meaning “toward,” indicating direction, tendency or addition. And we recognize the suffix “-ate,” which makes the word both an adjective and a verb. I teach the students how to pronounce the word with an emphasis on the o to make it an adjective and an emphasis on the a to make it a verb. And then we come up with a class definition for it together (someone who speaks up for himself or others/ to speak up) and add it to the word wall. I do this lesson for two reasons—one, to model how to use word parts to learn new words and two, to begin our year-long journey to become advocates for ourselves and one another. For as Dewey discerned, schools are not only responsible for the intellectual learning, but also for helping students learn social and moral principles that allow them to become independent thinkers, lifelong learners and productive citizens capable of sustaining democratic life.
            So when Dr. Irwin Blumer asked us to reflect upon why we wanted to become a leader, to advocate was my initial response. I seek to advocate for my population—it is a group that cannot always speak for itself, but they are the backbone of our nation and its future. Immigrants are the living, thriving, continuation of what this country was built upon and as a leader I would like to build understanding and relationship that transcends language, culture and background.
In order to refine our definition of leader, we discussed the difference between a good leader and a great leader. According to Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu, “The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’” Immediately I connected the last line to the classroom and what makes a good teacher. A successful teacher releases responsibility so that ultimately the students succeed without him or her. In the same way, building personal investment and community among a staff makes them the constituents, working hard for its success. This idea is echoed in the article “Organizational Learning in Schools and School Systems: Improving Learning, Teaching and Leading” Theory into Practice 2006. It states, “When all members may lead and exert professional influence over school and work decisions, individuality and communality are enhanced” (Collins et al 111). In order to create investment among the staff, the leader must also develop a strong community and culture.
But what is culture? Dr. Blumer challenged us to define culture ourselves. To me, culture is a set of beliefs and commonalities shared by a group of people. Values are intricately woven with culture, so to determine and formulate a school culture, we must have clear values. Dr. Blumer posed the question, “How does one know if a value is really a value?” His answers: it permeates the organization, it drives the decisions and there’s a strong reaction when it is violated. The concept of values is not new, but how many people actually understand and internalize the values within their school building? Our school values are Respect, Responsibility, Results and staff and students can parrot the alliteration when prompted, but do they practice this triad everyday in every situation? I could list evidence for the affirmative and the negative.
Collinson et all list the vital components for cognitive change and dissemination of learning: principal involvement, regular dialogue, encouraging teachers, providing common planning time, encouraging collaborative work and “fostering positive norms of continuous improvement of teaching instead of blaming a lack of student learning on external factors such as society or parents” (110). In the article “Good Seeds Grow in Strong Cultures,” published in Educational Leadership, 1985, authors Jon Saphire and Matthew King present the vital components in a list form “The Cultural Norms that Affect School Improvement” and Dr. Blumer renames them as “12 Patterns of Behavior and what they get us…” Whatever their name, these 12 items are norms and values that when integrated into a school, can make a huge difference in the ability of school improvement activities to have a lasting effect. Through strong leadership, leaders instill them and teachers must also commit to them, but then culture can grow and endure.
1.      Collegiality
2.      Experimentation
3.      Reaching Out to the Knowledge Base
4.      Appreciation and Recognition
5.      Caring, Celebration and Humor
6.      Traditions
7.      High Expectations
8.      Protecting What’s Important
9.      Tangible Support
10.  Respect and Confidence
11.  Involvement in Decision-Making
12.  Honest, Open Communication
Due to time constraints, we focused on #1, collegiality, which makes sense because the adults in a building are the models for the students. Saphier and King cite Barth 1984, and explain “the nature of the relationships among the adults who inhabit a school has more to do with the school’s quality and character, and with the accomplishment of its pupils, than any other factor.” (69) Therefore fostering collegiality nurtures the values amongst the adults so that they can instill them in the youth. 
Collegiality pushes teachers to keep learning and energizes and accelerates their growth in insight and skillfulness, according to Dr. Blumer. It includes communication, collaboration, observation, feedback, preparation and teachers teaching each other. Ultimately, it entails and deepens the trust among a staff so that there is a culture of support and inquiry. In the research of Saphier and King, their teacher respondents said, “I wasn’t afraid to bring it up because I know people here are on my side” and “In this school we resist the notion that teaching is [a] private activity.” (68)
Saphier and King characterize an academically effective school by its “structure, process and climate of values and norms that channel staff and students in the direction of successful teaching and learning” (67) Both the readings and Dr. Blumer made it clear that the tenant of leadership is developing a strong culture and sense of values and norms. And “Good Seeds Grow in Strong Cultures” closes with the directive:  “If we are serious about school improvement and about attracting and retaining talented people to school careers, then our highest priority should be to maintain reward structures that nurture adult growth and sustain the school as an attractive workplace.” (74) Although the authors penned this advice nearly 30 years ago, more recently published, Collinson et al reiterates the idea of remaining current and revising norms and theories oftent, “Organizational learning involved changing the theories of action, either by refining them or by questioning shared assumptions and norms to reach new theories-in-use.” (109).
A strong sense of self and discernment of one’s own values is imperative. According to Dr. Blumer, as a leader, “If you don't know who you are or what you believe, you can't be effective.” So he challenged us to discern what are our core values, how do we know and how do others know. After much introspection, I’ve developed three draft values: growing is hard and that’s okay, everyone has potential for greatness and Listen, Reflect, Respond. I call these drafts because I am still thinking about what they mean to me as a leader, educator and citizen. I know these are ideals I value because I believe life is not easy, but the challenge can be rewarding. I believe that growing can be painful, but without it, people are stagnant and one-dimensional. I believe different is okay, diversity builds understanding and congeniality and that everyone should be bilingual. I seek to inspire others, ask questions and rephrase and reflect upon professional and personal experiences, not so that I don’t make mistakes, but so that I make no mistake twice. It is my hope that through my lessons, leadership and actions, I demonstrate my values to others. I set high expectations for my students by giving challenging yet attainable work. I listen to others and reflect on lessons and conversations and try to change my behavior or practice following reflection. I approach others deliberately and thoughtfully and choose my actions and words in a meaningful way. I also value revision, so as I progress as a leader, I want to hold fast to these values, but allow them also to be fluid and deepened through every learning experience I encounter.

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