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5 Goals to Set This Year for a Strong School Culture

January 11, 2018

By: Jillian Kuhlmann

If you want support for big ideas and transformational school change, you have to provide a forum for open communication. While inviting educators to the table may seem an easier reach, bringing student voice into the conversation from the very beginning is equally important. Asking for their thoughts on ideas and encouraging them to propose ideas of their own creates a sense of ownership over the learning experience that is critical to its success.

Consider the following areas key to building a strong school culture:

1. Create a culture of transparency

Implement mechanisms to make sure educators and learners are aware of policies and procedures. Work with teachers to create ways to help students set goals and understand why they’re learning what they’re learning.

In the Early Childhood Center of Kenowa Hills in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they use data walls to communicate and celebrate learning. When students demonstrate mastery of a learning standard, they post their accomplishment – in the form of a key to “unlock their future” – on the public data wall in the center’s halls. Driven by clear and transparent standards, the data wall invites everyone, including learners, educators and parents, to build their understanding of what students are learning and why.

2. Live your vision to support all learners

Don’t just put your vision in your email signature or on official documents, use it to inform every decision and communicate it clearly to all stakeholders. Empower educators to shape their practices around your vision to better support all learners.

“Keeping your vision alive and making sure everyone understands how the work you’re doing fits in the vision is the primary role of the superintendent,” insists Bill Zima, superintendent of RSU2 in Maine. “Whenever I meet with parents. Whenever I meet with stakeholders. When I meet with teachers. When I send out messages. Everything I do I tie back to our vision.”

3. Empower students and teachers as leaders and decision makers

Encourage cross-collaboration between subject areas to achieve learning targets. Empower teachers to co-develop classroom standard operating procedures with learners. Create opportunities for students and teachers to provide feedback, and use that feedback when implementing new processes.
Erin Morrison, a third grade teacher at Navin Elementary School in Marysville,
Ohio, feels empowered to better serve her students by the district’s recent move to personalized learning through competency-based education. She has the freedom to work with learners to uncover how they learn best, and provides them a variety of opportunities for demonstrating mastery of different learning targets.
“The thing I like best about teaching at Navin is the flexibility that we have here,” Morrison said. “I can take my students lead and do whatever I feel is best for them.”
Learners at Navin also determine standard operating procedures as a class, rather than a teacher simply sharing out classroom rules. Their sense of ownership leads to greater investment and a sense of responsibility to their peers, and to themselves.

4. Operate with a growth mindset  – for everyone

Provide educators time to collaborate with peers, time to examine student data to know where their learners are and permission to take risks without fear of failure. Empower students to demonstrate mastery in a variety of different ways, and extend their learning into the community.

In the Menomonee Falls School District in Wisconsin, educators played a critical role in shaping the district’s implementation of personalized learning. Corey Golla, the district’s director of curriculum and learning, explained that “while we came to the table with a clear framework, we did not accelerate the change process until we conveyed our trust in teachers to make this model work for their unique set of students in their unique learning environments. Teachers worked hard to adapt the framework to their needs and our staff also came to understand the importance of failing forward: our greatest learning likely came as a result of our biggest challenges.”

5. Celebrate growth

Do you have processes and procedures in place to effectively communicate and celebrate achievements through the learning community?

In Wake County Public School System in Cary, North Carolina, teachers and district leaders actively share what’s working for them on Twitter, regularly celebrating professional development and student achievements in fewer than 140 characters. In addition to raising awareness and support of their district’s goals, their activity online is creating a strong community of practice for powerful teaching and learning across their schools.


Jillian Kuhlmann
Senior Manager of Communications

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