by Courtney Belolan
The other week I sat in on a new teacher meeting at an elementary school. The group, which included teachers new and new-ish to teaching or the school as well as teachers further into their careers, discussed ideas from the Responsive Classroom book The First Six Weeks of School. One comment in particular stood out, and has been bouncing around in my head ever since. I've even mentioned it to other teachers and teams who are working through culture building.
".. it struck me this year that even with all the work I do in my room around building culture, the students still tend to see it as an adult-pleasing thing. When I am there everything runs well, but I often get notes from subs that sound like a completely different class."
I think this is super important for all of us to think about. How are we working to make sure the culture we are building in our classroom and teams is also part of a larger school-wide culture? I have some ideas:
1. How involved in the culture building are the kids, really? The more we expect the students to participate in setting our behavior expectations, the more it will belong to them. This looks like more than just talking about it; it looks like kids at any age being the ones making the expectations visible. They can make signs and posters, they can come up with the words to use. This kind of involvement also provides a truly authentic purpose and audience for writers!
2. How are learners engaging in reflecting on the culture? Discussing and publicizing culture is not enough. Our students need to be regularly comparing behavior to the expectations. Morning meetings, daily goal work, learning logs, journals, exit tickets, even larger team meetings are all great avenues for this work. It could be as simple as a turn-and-talk in response to a verbal "so, how are we doing with our class and school culture today" to a structured survey response.
3. How are learners engaging in sustaining the culture? Reflecting on the class and school culture is only half of the meaningful work needed to truly shift from adult-pleasing to owning the culture. Learners have to be actively involved in adjusting to sustain and grow the culture. Just like reflecting, this can be simple or more structured. The important part is that learner voices are heard and honored. Some classes and schools use parking lots to support this, some use goal setting as part of the reflection, some have focus groups or principal's councils.
4. How consistent are messages and language about culture in classrooms and across the school? One way to support learner ownership of culture throughout a school is to have some shared language. This is about the learners and making it easier for them to connect and engage, not about particular words and routines that we adults have connections to. The shared language needs to be used, seen, and heard everywhere and easily accessed by visitors (like subs) and new students.
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