“Culture is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing.” – Jim Sinegal, Co-founder and former CEO, Costco
Is this true for schools and school districts? Having worked with districts across Canada, Dean Shareski has discovered some important ideas about building community and creating cultures where students, teachers and leaders feel empowered and work together for a better learning environment for students. This session will provide an opportunity for participants to share, gain insight and develop plans to create a powerful learning culture.
In preparation for this, I sent out an informal survey on Twitter to get a sense of people’s perception of their own district. I was pleasantly surprised. I defined culture as, “the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions.”
I received 146 responses and here are the results:
(these were the top answers)
I also ask for any additional thoughts, here are a few:
Empowered in my classroom, but not so much outside my classroom.
Should schools prepare students for college and careers or to be good citizens?
Do we want students to get good grades or love learning?
When it comes to teaching Math, should we focus on procedures or problem solving?
Should learning be fun or hard?
Do we want students to consume content or create content?
Should we be using ebooks or printed books?
All of these questions and dozens more are discussed pretty regularly and by many different folks. Our default answer to these is “both”. Often we add “it’s about balance”.
It’s hard to argue that and generally, I agree. But for me, it’s not so much about balance as it is about emphasis and what we lead with.
When Arnold Palmer was learning to play golf, his father told him “Learn to hit the ball as hard as you can and worry about accuracy later” If you know anything about golf you know you want to hit it long AND straight. But in this case, it was about what to focus on and in what order.
The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz remains one of my favorite TED talks.
The insight and wisdom from Schwartz come through in his latest book Why We Work. Of course, we all seek work that is satisfying and fulfilling but Schwartz provides an interesting historical background that in my mind parallel the way in which public schools were created. The default perception of school tends to be something students have to endure. Much of this was borne out of its history. Schools were designed to address the needs of the industrial revolution and were developed from a factory model. Educating the masses required a system built on efficiency. The needs of the child were not considered nearly as much as the needs of society. And while this is changing, its impact and structures remain.
Schwartz points out the industrial revolution and mass production of goods created a need to convince people to do menial tasks. Previously, most people earned a living by doing things they were good at and were self-sufficient. Getting someone to do repetitive tasks was difficult and thus the way to convince people to do these tasks was through monetary incentives. Before this, working was … Read the rest
I was asked to sit down and share something I was passionate about in education during ISTE 2015. The use of language is something I’ve been noticing for a while and in my estimation doesn’t get enough attention. It’s a one-take video full of ums and stutters, but take hopefully there are some ideas in here with exploring and discussing.
People listen to leaders. Whether we’re talking about true leaders or people considered leaders because of status or authority, their words impact culture. Over the last several years of the “reform” movement, words like “accountability” “data driven” “student achievement” “rigorous curriculum” and “college and career ready” are used frequently in many districts. By themselves these words and phrases may not be particularly offensive but over time, combined with countless new initiatives send a sometime subtle and sometimes overt message to teachers and students.
Working in districts where these terms are embedded into the culture, I’ve often had leaders defend these terms by saying they aren’t meant to oppress anyone but can be seen as empowering. I don’t usually buy that. Here’s why.
Accountability is what’s used when relationships and trust haven’t been fostered. I realize in many large organizations, this is challenging and being accountable to someone isn’t necessarily negative but it’s a word that’s very authoritarian and suggests there’s a problem. As Sahlsberg suggests, we should replace “accountability” with “responsibility”. It makes a big difference. You can read more about my thoughts on accountability if you wish.