It’s been a very long time since I sat down to write in this little space of mine. I’ve been wanting to for a while now, but just couldn’t find the inspiration. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just get started, let’s see where this takes me.
So here I sit about to start another school year. It’s usually about this time of year I start to feel ready to be on a schedule again, to feel productive and get back to work but this year it’s different, maybe because we had such a short summer after a long winter of snow days, or maybe because last year was a really tough one with a lot of new initiatives and challenges. Whatever the reason I’m not feeling quite ready. However, ready or not …here they come!
I’ve been thinking a lot about school culture. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject, mostly articles written by other teachers and administrators. I’ve talked about it with my colleagues, and as I write I'm talking about it with my best friend too. I've even gone so far as to do a little informal research by polling parents but more about that a little later.
Let me start by saying my school is a special place. Most school’s are, but to know Horace Mann is to love Horace Mann. It has a feeling. It’s not the most beautiful of school buildings, it’s old, it's in serious need of updating and it has its limitations but people walk in and it reminds them of the elementary schools they attended as children. We have no gym and our cafeteria is tiny. Despite the limitations, learning happens here. We are a dedicated bunch, working tirelessly to educate children and we know it's not the physical building that's important but the people in it.
It’s not easy to be a teacher these days, “work smarter, not harder” is something we hear often. We have curriculum maps to follow, trajectories and lesson plans to write, the word “rigor” is becoming a regular buzzword in the halls of public schools everywhere. As a teacher I know it’s important to challenge the students in my class, to teach them to think for themselves, ask questions, and be inquisitive. I know it’s important for them to achieve academically but I also know if a child is not enjoying school, learning isn’t going to happen. This is where culture comes in.
My fear is that with all the pressures from politicians, the business world and administrators who are concerned with test scores and keeping up with the rest of the world, the culture of community in my little school and others across the country will be disregarded as unimportant.
Of course the primary purpose of a school is to foster a culture of learning and student achievement, but as educators it’s equally important to foster a culture of community where administrators, teachers, parents and students work together.
Parents first and foremost want their children to achieve academically, but they want something more from their school. Parents want to know their children are learning, that they are being challenged, they want them to succeed both academically and socially. They want their children to feel safe, happy and loved. They want school to be a place where their children want to be. I know this because I’m not only a teacher but a parent too. It’s what I want for my own kids.
I know this because I asked parents what they thought of our school. I heard words like, “respect”, “family” “home away from home”. They said things like “dedication” “perseverance” “warm” and “friendly”.
I know those are all feel good words, but it’s what makes school a special place. Those teachers, parents and students who are or have ever been part of our community know it. It’s important that in these days of high stakes testing, data, and assessment that we don’t lose sight of what makes our community special.
The people, traditions and ideals that make kids want to come to school.