Choice and School Culture

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“Universal achievement remains a pipe dream until we take an honest look at our beliefs, practices, behaviors, and norms of our organization. These elements make up a very sensitive system known as a school’s culture. This is where many school officials and reformers fear to tread, but it is this place that holds the biggest keys to unlocking the potential of our public schools.”

Anthony Muhammad, Transforming School Culture

   

      This months #blogamonth topic was ‘Creating a Culture’ and as it is the last week of February, I’m just getting to writing this now. I have been thinking about how to approach such a large multifaceted and illusive topic. Questions in my head that I tried to answer were…what is culture, can we see evidence of it or is it something we feel, is it meant to be diverse or the same, how can one thing have such impact and hold on a school community?   

     What I have noticed is simple…one important component of creating a healthy school culture is Choice. Choice as defined by  Merriam-Webster is “the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities: the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities : the opportunity or power to make a decision”. Although choice is a verb, an act, in relation to its impact on culture it is the perception it gives of the ‘opportunity’ to have control over your environment. What I have observed and witnessed first hand, like so many of you, it is that the choices we make define our experiences, motivation, and success. Choice is one way we empower a powerful shift in our culture. Here are some examples of conscious choices leaders make that model the type of school culture they seek to attain:

  • choosing to make phone calls or face-to-face communication instead of email or mass mailing to inform people on sensitive school related issues

  • choosing to explicitly seek input using questionnaires/surveys/ focus groups to investigate and learn what the concerns are of the community; identifying common direction

  • choosing to be responsive and open to making changes in routine

  • choosing to share/ promote/ celebrate leadership from within and provide opportunities to communicate

  • choosing to trust professional judgment and support skills/tools necessary for continued growth and learning

  • choosing to be innovative in the ways we deliver professional learning that encompasses all learners preferences

    

       When a school explicitly makes choices that positively create a culture best fit for learning,  it manifests and translates “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group” which is Websters definition of culture. Something so simple as providing the opportunity or power to choose is a step toward creating a school culture in which we all learn and grow together. The answers to some of my questions, and please add your own; culture can be seen and felt; it should be diverse and the same; it does have the greatest impact and hold on the school environment and because it does we have no choice other than to create healthy cultures in which our students and community can flourish and learn.

Don’t just be on a PLC team…BE THE PLC TRIBE!

the element“Finding your tribe can have transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose. This is because of three powerful tribal dynamics: validation, inspiration, and what we’ll call here the “alchemy of synergy.” Sir Ken Robinson, The Element

 I’m in the process of reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element, and find his common sense, straight forward, logical thinking a breath of fresh air. The book is primarily about how to find your “Element”, the place in which you are your best self and feel passion and purpose in what you are naturally meant to do. The book outlines several ways in which people have gone about fining their element. Of particular interest to me, was this notion Robinson calls ‘finding your tribe.’ I immediately started to think about the connection a ‘tribe’ has with a ‘PLC’. He says that a crucial component to finding your element, is finding your tribe. What I find so interesting is that he says that it’s not essential for members of a tribe to share the same vision and can either be collaborative or competitive. He explains that what connects a tribe is the ‘common commitment’ they have to doing what they feel they were born to do. Like in the quote above, what a tribe does is validates your belonging to that commitment, inspires you to “raise the bar” of that commitment, and synergy to elevate that commitment together as a tribe to attain what is not otherwise possible alone.

I would absolutely say that finding your PLC ‘tribe’ would have “transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose” both as an individual and as an educational system, if that is what you come looking for. If you find this tribe, Robinson assures us we will also more likely find our “element” where we are creative, dynamic, passionate, and do our most brilliant work. We need to stop looking at a PLC as simply a team we belong to but rather a place we come to be in our “Element’; a tribe where we validate and inspire each other and bring our individual passions and abilities to create a collaborative synergy that elevates the whole tribes work, and each individuals passion, higher then could be achieved alone. This is the type of PLC tribe that impacts student achievement and promotes quality teachers who continually grow and learn out of a desire and drive they feel…because they have found their “Element”!

Observe a PLC team next time through the lens of whether they are a tribe or just a team? If your wondering what to look for, here’s a start…they drive their own agendas, push themselves, always question to learn, and put words and thoughts into action to see students growing and learning. They look like a beehive at the height of the honey season…all a buzz, each working seamlessly for the good of the hive and their future potential to be great!

If you are part of a PLC team, ask yourself why you are there? Like in the quote above, are you there to validate your belonging to your common commitment? Are you there to inspire each other to “raise the bar” of that commitment? Are you there to be part of the synergy to elevate that commitment together as a tribe to attain what is not otherwise possible alone?

My wish for all of you is to find your tribe, be a part of a tribe, and allow your identity and purpose to be transformed. Don’t just be on a PLC team…BE THE PLC TRIBE!