Creating a Culture of Connectedness from the Top Down

Photo Credit: gfpeck

In my post yesterday Teaching in a Participatory Digital World, I wrote about our need to change as a whole. That easily draws back to the questions of how and where do we start. There is a great blog post by John Robinson titled “5 Principles That Make Outdated Educational Practice Impossible.” In it, he deals with the #edchat topic, “How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century and punitive measures for non-compliant students?” He states that we are asking the wrong question:

At first glance, I would agree that the administrator does have the responsibility to address the issue of teachers using outdated practices. However, I think the real solution is a bit more complicated and can be captured with another question: How can a teacher engaged in outdated pedagogy and practice possibly exist in a true 21st century school? Should the school environment not be so innovative and challenging that such teaching is impossible? Perhaps the real problem is that we have been fooling ourselves into thinking our school is a “21st Century School” when it’s not. Just maybe our school systemically allows teachers to continue do what they’ve always done and avoid growing personally and professionally

He then goes on to discuss what a school or school district with that culture may look like. Here are his top 5 things with my commentary listed after each:

1. A strong expectation of personal and professional growth permeates the school and school district environment.Everyone, beginning with leadership, are lifelong learners, and their every action is focused to that end. There’s an attitude of perpetual learning and professional development surrounding everything that is done.

Me: Agreed. Obviously it will be more difficult to change those who are not knew to the campus/district because they have a practiced method they are comfortable with. Start working on them a little at a time with the goal of having made that shift inside of two years. Above all else, make the culture evident in ALL new hires. Let them know what they are getting into and what the expectations are. The cream will rise to the top.

2. The school and school district culture values risk-taking more than playing it safe. Valuing risk-taking takes courage from leadership and everyone else. It means accepting failure as part of learning. Leadership that values risk-taking can’t ask others to take risks if they themselves aren’t willing to do so.

Me: Not only value the risk-taking, but make it a part of the teaming process and campus meetings. Give purpose to those meetings. Have an open dialogue with staff on these things. let them know they are safe to discuss the failures with the larger group. Everyone needs support to grow. Who better than the folks who are near and dear to them?

3. Leadership in the school includes more than the principal. When the leadership includes strong teacher leadership, it is difficult for those not growing professionally to exist. Teacher leadership means there are peers pushing those teachers to develop professionally.

Me: I completely agree with this statement. One of the hardest things to get teachers to do is mentor other teachers unrequested. Teaching is a professional career. Until we start doing all of the things that professionals do, it will be difficult to get the community to accept us as such. Doctors and lawyers wouldn’t stand by as others in their profession did things against their code or in a less than professional manner. I’m not sure why teachers do not feel compelled to help those around them become the best they can be in their careers. Sometimes it only takes a short email or conversation in the hall. Or, maybe a few minutes of PD added to grade level or department meetings can do the trick. Admins should make that a global expectation and then find and mentor those special teachers on campus who have a knack for leadership and are respected. Nurture and grow that talent so that it can spread. 

4. Collaboration among staff is the norm. When issues and problems and challenges are viewed as “our issues/problems/challenges” then everyone is expected to be a part of the solution. This means those who are hanging on to outdated practice find it more difficult to do so. Their colleagues are pushing them to take ownership of the school’s future and they can’t continue to exist in their tiny isolated compartment within the school. 

Me: This is where being the academic leader of the campus comes in. Jumping in and being a part of the process of learning instead of just being the leader of the campus. Joining in on the planning, implementation, and resolution of good work in the classroom shows support and encouragement for both staff and students. Parents will appreciate the knowledge the campus leader has of what is going on in the classroom. This helps grow great practices much quicker. Like the teacher who handles classroom management issues by the proximity they are in the room, campus admins can do the same. 


5. There’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship among staff regarding the school. They feel that it is “their school.” Staff who feel this aren’t just provided a token opportunity to give feedback on School Improvement Plans. They have a say in the direction and focus of the school because it is genuinely their school too. Teachers engaged in obsolete practice can’t continue to operate in an obsolete manner because colleagues push them to do better.

Me: This really ties into the last two, but I would add that it is imperative that educators have time during the school day to grow together. Teaming, PD, and PLCs are all important things that should occur each school day. Teachers are so overwhelmed with the testing culture that has been created. They know that routine well. Grade homework, cover new topic, review new topic, assign homework over new topic…rinse, repeat. It is going to take some time and effort to get them out of that cycle. They will find it tough going to begin with, but they will appreciate the pushing and urging in the end. More than that, the students will benefit from that in the end. 

Just like we expect our teachers to plan their weeks out in their classrooms, admins must do the same if they expect the culture/paradigm shift we so desperately need in our classes. Target high needs areas and staff. Do some mental RTI work to plan out the best way to grow the skills of those in need. Find that time to allow staff to work together to grow each other and be a part of that process. Showcase the positives more than spotlighting the negatives during group meetings. Create a culture where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Create a culture where connecting is the expectation and not the exception. 

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