For so many, you are about to get started on a fresh new year. The summer reset is more than a break. It is a time to reflect on the past, sharpen your saw, and plan for the future. I remember keeping a notebook of ideas nearby to jot down to think about as they new year started. Often times, it consisted of bulletin board ideas and catchy ways to get everyone excited. Those are all fine and good, but we must reflect on the things that go beyond the beauty of colorful room sets and carefully planned bulletin boards. What are we going to do to improve the culture of our classrooms, school, and community? Here are a few things I have allowed to marinate over the summer.
What are we doing to foster a culture of family?
Transitions are so important. A strong culture of family can really help those transitions go smoothly. This year you may have students who have never graced your campus before. What are you doing to create a welcoming atmosphere for them? Do they feel well informed. Do they have a sense of excitement? If your families can visit your school and leave a little more excited than when they arrived you have done your job. I’ve been there, I have left buildings with a lump in my mama stomach. It is so hard to get your children excited about transitions if you aren’t yourself. Consider this with your registration, meet and greet, and open house activities. As much as we like to point fingers, if a family leaves the building less excited, it is our fault, not parents. Break down the walls of your campus. Social media can be a powerful tool when ramping up the school year.
What are we doing to foster a culture of creativity?
This is huge. It has taken time for me to really wrap my head around what that truly means. I have always been a fan of project based learning and incorporating the arts into my classroom day, but this demands more. A culture of creativity requires voice and choice. There have been numerous articles floating around twitter about rethinking the first day of school and daily morning work. Should the first day of school include you speaking most of the day? I surely hope not. The first day of school is your big chance to ignite your students’ love of learning. Another interesting topic is rethinking morning work. It used to be, the first fifteen to twenty minutes included students quietly in their seats working on a worksheet or journaling. I have been guilty of this myself. What if students could prime their brains with choice activities that encouraged discussion and creating with their peers? Give the copy machine a break and get out the Legos. Instead of quiet, there will be a healthy buzz of problem solving and sweet conversation.
What are we doing to foster a culture of collaboration?
No longer can we shut our doors and just teach. There is so much out there and you will work yourself to death if you try to do it alone. Besides, there are so many awesome experts just down the hall. If we want students to learn together, we must model it as adults. A culture of collaboration requires honesty. We must be honest with ourselves and others about our strengths and weaknesses. It is okay to not be awesome at everything, but it is not okay to do nothing about it. Are we using our time wisely together? Are PLC meetings sounding boards for complaints or are you looking at each others’ data and planning together? A room of we is much more productive than a room of me. This year, I stepped out of my comfort zone into the world of twitter and blogging. That collaboration piece has opened so many windows of thought to help me really understand and value a culture of collaboration.
What are we doing to foster a culture of excellence?
I’ve been in education for fifteen years. That isn’t long compared to many. If I relied solely on my college degree to teach, I would be a terrible teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely honored to be an alumni of Appalachian State. My degree does carry value, but that was just the beginning. When we recite our precious mission statements that always include the phrase, “lifelong learners,” we can not limit that requirement to just students. The questions remain the same, “What is best for children?” As we learn more and more about the brain and how children learn, the answer to that very question changes. We must know our stuff. That means we must continually be seeking the truth. What are you reading and discussing with your colleagues? What are you changing in your school or classroom to better meet the needs of the students we teach? Are we preparing them for the unknown future? If our idea of that is a packet of worksheets, we are sadly mistaken. As leaders, we must lead the way we want teachers to teach. How can we shift our professional development to model this?
There are a ton of weight with each of these questions. One thing is for sure, we can’t do this alone. When we work on relationships with families, colleagues, and students we are not wasting time. That time is a major deposit towards a culture that can not be faked. By fostering these cultures, we are moving beyond the superficial surface of bulletin boards, landscaping, and welcome packets. You will surely feel a difference, and it is absolutely worth it!
What can we do to improve the culture of our classrooms and schools?
What have you done that you are really proud of?
What advice would you give others?