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How do you change school culture?



How can the culture of a school be changed? I was recently asked this question by Tyler Rice and  I responded with a letter (cross-posted here) to which I await his reply.

Dear Tyler (and educators at Coop Catalyst!)

It’s taken a few days of thinking to even begin to formulate a response to this huge question. I’m sure a quick search would uncover thousands of books and articles, whose authors have thoroughly researched the topic and whose ideas have been widely tested in a variety of educational settings. I’m certainly not an expert. I can, however, examine my own experience and context and share the factors which I think have influenced the culture of my school. Hopefully your responses will push my thinking further and we can explore some ideas together, with input from everyone else out there reading along…

One thing I believe is having a powerful impact on our school culture has been articulating our shared beliefs about learning. Can you be a successful teacher if you don’t know what you believe about how learning occurs? Can a school function effectively if the core beliefs about learning are not shared by key players? 

I  came across this diagram at a workshop presented by Jay McTighe on whole school change. At first I didn’t think we needed a statement of our learning principles. I thought we already knew what we believed. I thought we could work from there forward and not waste time spelling it out.  

Developing those principles turned out to be a valuable process, however. We can refer to them at any time and know we are speaking the same language. When people disagree on learning related issues, we have a documented statement of our school’s beliefs to which we can refer. We can try to ensure these beliefs underpin all important decisions. Our learning principles form the foundation on which we plan and build our teaching and learning experiences. We’re working hard at helping teachers apply them in our new open-plan learning environment. The principles have helped support the gradual implementation of technology in a meaningful way. 

I’ve blogged before about the process of establishing our learning principles. We are constantly unpacking what they look like in practice, during conversations, collaborative planning and teacher PD sessions.

Our learning principles: 

Can articulating shared learning principles help ensure a positive culture in a school? I look forward to hearing what you think.



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