5-Minute PD: How We Talk About School Culture
by Josh Parker | 11.13.17
5-Minute PD is a series in which educators share some of the revelations that have helped shape their practice – and the stories behind how they arrived at those revelations. Below is a reflection from educator Josh Parker, a high school instructional coach in Washington, D.C.
In our communities, we talk a lot about school culture, and for good reason. It isn’t just how we relate to one another, but it’s one of the ways we focus on our students’ futures. When we build a culture in which we care for kids, treat them with civility and show them they matter – that can take a seat in students’ hearts and stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Over 13 years as an educator, I’ve come to see schools as living organisms. For them to thrive, you have to put in the time to cultivate the values you want to grow.
We do just that throughout the school year at the high school I work in now. At weekly “town hall” meetings, students share their vision for the kind of space we want to be. When students demonstrate the values we set, they’re rewarded with field trips and things of that nature. From the beginning of the year to the end, we remind students who we set out to be and encourage them to take hold of it.
But culture’s also about how we, as educators, handle ourselves. I make a point to remind teachers that it’s a long year, but it’s a fast year. There will always be something else to do – teaching is one of the unique professions in which you can spend 24 hours on 24 different things – so I tell them: “Do what you can, get some rest, and then you’ll get to the rest of it.” We celebrate successes. When teachers are doing something awesome, I try to give them opportunities to share. Recently, I invited two colleagues from different departments to make a video together on some great work they’re doing – but even swapping notes or sharing birthday cards can help educators feel seen and celebrated as teachers and as people, too.
When we talk about culture, what we’re really talking about is how we live, strive and treat one another. I seek inspiration in sermons and TED Talks. And there’s a quote from Frederick Douglass I lean on: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” When I get into conversations about learning and school culture with other educators, I try to engage with the “why” – to keep us centered on the reasons we do what we do. We think about what’s at stake for the kids in front of us.