Every person in your school community has their own personal experience of culture. These are the things that they identify with, gain comfort from and make them feel included. They include customs, traditions, food, music, beliefs and practices. For a school in the UK every student is likely to share and probably identify with UK culture but within this a student may identify with most with middle class culture, with youth culture, perhaps Goth etc.
From this rich diversity of cultures you need to create a strong school culture that builds a point of overlap from all of these subcultures. It must be able to draw upon and include cultures but add a layer of shared tradition, shared values and shared expectations. A school that achieves a ‘Culture of Reflective Learning’ would have put practices in place that celebrate a love of learning as being part of their own identity. A school could claim it has a ‘Culture of Learning’ if it promotes learning as a fundamental part of being a member of the community. If this results in an ethos of learning they will have been successful.
It takes a long time to change the culture of a school but it is through the culture that all change happens so you need to look in detail at all the traditions, paperwork, policies and practices to strengthen those that support your desired culture and modify those that don’t.
Your shared values are what knit together all of the subcultures of your school into one whole. Maintaining consistency and developing traditions are ways that you can build this common culture around your chosen values.
Cultures that are successful
Positive: Institutional cultures are either positive or negative overall. Clearly we want to set up a culture that takes every opportunity to build on the positive.
Values based: We also need every aspect of our shared culture to reinforce our shared values.
Consistent: If we are to make it ‘the way we do things around here’ then we need to make sure it is. This means having common customs, rules, procedures and expectations that everyone adheres to and it would seem strange if they didn’t. Most children only go to one primary and one secondary school so the customs and culture in your school is, for them, just how schools are because they have not experienced anything else.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” Tolstoy in Anna Karenina
Schools with excellent cultures share a great deal in common, not least of which is that they are positive. The following are aspects of positive school cultures described using the REORDER framework:
- characterized by trust.
- open to sharing,
- open to feedback,
- respectful and appreciative.
- Positive and healthy behaviours are modeled by all staff.
- High expectations of all students
Environments are Positive
- safe working environment
- regularly refreshed displays that celebrate student achievement
- regular monitoring, repair and renewal makes people feel valued
Opportunities are Positive
- learning opportunities are equitably and inclusively distributed
- the tone of assemblies and collective events are positive and praising
- the curriculum is interesting, engaging and empowering
Resources encourage equality and Positive engagement
- Educational resources are inclusively distributed to allow access for all
- Students that require additional support and additional services can call on these
Distribution of Leadership promotes Positive engagement
- Important leadership decisions are made collaboratively with input from staff, students, and parents.
- Students are involved in the running of services
- Working practices are collaborative and all are engaged in school improvement
Evaluation focuses on the Positive and is constructive
- There is no searching for blame but rather collective responsibility to voice constructive, well-intentioned criticism and see improvements through. Blame and antagonistic criticism are recognized as toxic
- Mistakes are accepted as part of the need for innovation and measured risk taking. They are seen by staff and students as opportunities to learn from.
Recognition is Positive
- successes of teachers and students are recognized and celebrated.
- Outcomes that help build the required culture are praised and publicized
About the REORDER model
The REORDER model can be used to analyse the culture in a wide range of contexts. A separate site provides further information and guidance on its use. The site can be accessed by clicking here.
In brief – for the vision and direction of your school to make sense to all of the community and especially the learners, it has to be consistent. A school whose central vision is around trust, respect and responsibility could not, for example, lock learners out of the building during lunchtime if it is raining. People pick up the vision of the school from the ‘everyday life’ of the school not from a vision document so great care must be taken to ensure that the vision is ‘lived’ in all aspects. The REORDER framework defines these aspects as follows
- Relationships – between all stakeholder groups
- Environments – classrooms, social areas, toilets, virtual spaces, clubs etc
- Opportunities – the curriculum, extra curricular and leisure time
- Resources – human, physical, virtual and electronic
- Distribution of Leadership – between teachers, managers and learners
- Evaluation – systems and processes to ensure progression is occurring
- Recognition – examinations, certificates, praise, earned opportunities etc
As an example, think about how you would introduce laptops to your school. You clearly need to plan the resourcing, prepare the learning environments and open up opportunities in the curriculum to make use of them but what about the other aspects?
Teachers are often expected to be the expert in the classroom yet most feel that the students know much more than they do about ICT. As the learning relationships change, how can you support teacher development? How can you distribute some of the leadership of the scheme to the learners so that they can take the responsibility of working in partnership with teachers and how can you recognize both the teacher and the learner for these achievements. Finally, how will you evaluate if the whole strategy is working?
The most critical step is to build a positive culture around the change.