Developing a Culture of Growth & Excellence
School is a complex social system. Social system is a set of relationship between and among rules – social norms – and roles that define our behaviour within a group. An in-depth understanding of social system is essential in the process of developing a school culture of excellence and growth. This shapes behaviour and is directly related to the performance of schools. Schools operate on the interrelation of processes, procedures, programmes, and technologies for common purpose.
What is the culture of your school?
School culture is the set of beliefs, values, written and unwritten rules and shared commitments that become the norms in which a school conducts its business, treats its employees, stakeholders and the wider community. In schools, norms are organised in systematic ways and get denoted as cultural expressions. It is the basic assumptions and beliefs shared at a conscious and sub-conscious level based on which people act consciously – through a set of rules – and unconsciously.
How does school culture impact student achievement?
The quality of learning environment is closely inter-related with several aspects of school organisation. Schools need to share its vision with all its stakeholders. Research into what makes schools effective finds that learning requires an orderly, but not rigid, and co-operative environment for having deep-rooted learning both in and outside the classrooms.
School climate – teacher morale, teacher-student relations, disciplinary climate, student–related factors – and Student Truancy are two defining pillars of school culture. Virtually in all school systems, schools with more negative disciplinary climates tend to have a higher incidence of students arriving late, skipping classes or unauthorised non-attendance in school. Student truancy not only hurts the individual student, but when it is pervasive, it hurts the entire class. Students who arrive late or skip classes fall far behind in their classwork and require extra assistance, the flow of instruction is disrupted and all students in the class may suffer.
Conditions such as good quality of relationships and general orderly atmosphere – the result of school culture – are important characteristics of effective schools. Research indicates that whether students get along with their teachers, whether teachers are interested in their personal well-being, whether teachers take students seriously, whether teachers are a source of support if students need extra help, and whether teachers treat students fairly affect teaching and learning (Crosnoe, Johnson and Elder, 2004 cited in OECD, 2103). Most effective schools’ teachers value academic achievement and take pride in their schools, work with enthusiasm and have high morale.
The indicators described above are, to a greater extent, inter-related. A profound understanding on how and what are we doing will help school communities to work better towards achieving excellence and growth effectively.
To nurture and nourish school culture, schools should:
focus on improving the quality of teaching – In schools, the active force is teachers. Teachers have their own will and way of thinking. If teachers are not sufficiently encouraged to understand what works and what do not, there will simply be no learning and no development of understanding. Most effective schools have relentless focus on improving teaching. Teachers are observed in class. These observations may be on whole lesson or on a part of lesson for about one period/few minutes. Lesson observation is a formative way to improve and to support teaching. Arguably, teachers (some) are critical of lesson observation process as their style of teaching may not fit into somebody else’s model of a good lesson. It has been observed that ‘Skilfully done, classroom observation can be a valuable tool for improving the quality of teaching; badly handled, it can be a menace’ (Wragg, 2002 in OECD, 2013). Watkins’ research suggests that lesson observation that is about making judgements suppresses performance where as lesson observation that is about teacher development actually enhances performance. Mentoring (not coaching) builds capacity and a culture for learning – and one that is about independence and development rather than about building a dependence culture of teachers.
Total development of teachers is essential in terms of achieving the goal of excellence.
Explore and challenge teachers to grow through continuous professional development (CPD) with teacher-led approach – School leaders need to tap the potential of teachers’ sincere desire to serve the school, willpower, action with heart and the sub-conscious mind. People with high level of expertise are continually expanding their ability to create the result in life that they truly seek. Their quest for continual learning comes from the norms and learning culture of the organisation where they work. Thus it is essential that school leaders need to support teachers’ higher order need and strive for CPD. A layered based approach can produce better result. Teachers who take more initiative, have broader and deeper sense of responsibility in their work, and learn faster, may join in a collaborative project in whole school development priorities. This makes schools stronger. Teachers with intrinsic motivation help schools to take strong stand and foster the culture of organisational learning. In some cases it is found that there are resistance and they may ask – don’t we know already? Is it not a repetition of our workload? Many of those who are cynical, once-held high ideals about their own mastery, may find themselves disappointed, hurt and fall short of their own ideals. However, it may be counterproductive if leaders lack the capabilities of building shared vision and common understanding on practices and capabilities. School’s intent on building shared vision continually encourages teachers to develop their personal visions. In turn, schools earn commitment rather than compliance from their staff.
Focus on assessment policy based on developing deep-learning and setting target from each threshold – One of the fundamental elements of learner-assessment is assessment ‘of’ and ‘for’ learning. Assessment Reform Group (ARG) in 2002 defined the assessment process as “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers, to identify where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there”.
Teachers need to plan the learning environment and activities before taking a class. The definition of ARG indicates a complex web (inter-relationship) of activities/practices involving students in classroom through pedagogic style, student-teacher interaction, self-reflection (teacher and student). This engages students to assess classroom learning and supports students to rectify or to reach the current/next stage of learning. Assessment is not a simple process. It is related to the learning cycle and cognitive development of students in every lesson they attend in their school. It matters everyday for teachers and students.
Following principles attribute collectively to the need of assessment and the interrelation of students’ learning processes.
- Is central to classroom practice;
- Is a part of effective planning while taking lessons every day;
- Is mainly focussed on how students learn;
- Is constructive;
- Promotes understanding of goals;
- Helps learners know how to improve;
- Develop the capacity of self assessment;
- Help students take the onus of learning and therefore become self-motivated for learning.
However, we must consider the following implications in assessment. What need to be assessed? Is it on problem solving or social awareness? What is the purpose? Are we checking the learning processes or the learning progress? Richard Pring, in 1986, rightly said that, assessment is tied to guidance negotiation, and the assumption of responsibility for one’s own learning.
Follow unity of approach towards excellence in every sphere – thinking skills, physical skills, creativity and academics. By design and by talent teachers are a team of knowledge seekers and school is a learning organisation. Schools’ efficiency depends both on individual excellence and on how well teachers work together in every sphere – thinking skills, physical skills, creativity and academics. In essence, the interconnectedness of school as a system and teachers’ expertise as a part of that system must function well as a whole.
- There is a need to think insightfully about the goal of teaching and the embedded philosophy behind teaching each subject and aligning with others.
- Each team member remains conscious of other team members and they complement each other’s works and develop the same sort of relationship. A learning team continually fosters other learning teams and develop better practices and skills. Learning always involves understanding and new behaviour, ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’. School as a system must prepare learners to look for life beyond school gates.