Visiting teachers love coming to our school and say that our staffroom is a happy and welcoming place. What gives our school school its ‘feel’ as you walk in? Wilson (2016) defines this as the school culture or the ‘the beliefs and priorities that drive the thoughts and actions of the people in that place’. So what is it that we do and say that defines Springston School?
Wilson (2016) identifies the principal as the keeper of the beliefs, which are then echoed amongst the staff, pupils and wider community. He states that there must be unity and that staff feel empowered to collaboratively make their vision become reality. I believe this requires the building of strong learning relationships, which Stoll (1998) defines as one of the three dimensions of school culture.
Wilson (2016) lays out a simple process to clarify and focus our school culture…
Identify what I bring to the school because we are both influenced by and influence our community.
My belief system as a teacher has developed over 20 years and looks very different to when I started as at 19 years old. Honestly, my first priority was to survive and hopefully help kids learn.
After having taught in the UK for eight years, recently training in the Feuerstein Method and participating in the Mindlab Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice, I am beginning to clarify what is at the foundation of my pedagogy.
- Building relationships - with students and whānau that show value and understanding of culture.
- Modifiability: All students can succeed socially and academically because they are modifiable. We can identify the potential of students and use tools to build cognitive function. (Feuerstein 2010)
- Student independence: Focus on metacognition and strategies that grow a positive mindset and independence. (Dweck 2006)
As an individual I influence Springston School through my actions as I share resources, ideas, and ask challenging questions. I also blog frequently to share my learning journey, assignments and conference notes with my wider CoP. I bring a balance of experience and the benefit of eight years teaching in the UK as I also encourage colleagues to make wider connections through tools like Twitter.
Who we are as a school and what do we want to become?
This is the challenge facing Springston School. After having five years of huge change with a dynamic principal, we are now taking stock of what is working and what needs adjusting. We love some aspects with our Key Competencies being developed into the Springston A+ Learner but other aspects of ‘The Springston Way’ have fallen by the side.
A Springston Learner is
Adventurous: “Take a risk” ... because we value Curiosity and Challenge.
Accepting: “Respect and value others” … because we value Cooperation and Diversity.
Articulate: “Express yourself” … because we value Effective Communication.
Adaptable: “Willing to change” … because we value Flexibility and Innovation.
Accountable : “It’s up to me” … because we value Personal Responsibility.
A new vision is being developed that focuses on excellence and success which is balanced by the characteristics that will empower our students into the 21st Century. We are committed to develop are A+ students but want them to aspire to excellence as we support them to success.
Make a plan to help Springston School become what we want to be.
So how does this vision become “the beliefs and priorities that drive the thoughts and actions of the people’? We need to embed it and spread it from the principal, through into the community. What does it mean to be a Springston Kid? What does it mean to be part of Springston School? What do we value?
Our initial steps have included the gift of our cultural narrative by Te Taumutu Runanga. We are developing an image in which to layer the A+ characteristics using a Māori lense.
As a school we already celebrate the development of the Key Characteristics but our challenge now is to develop an expectation of excellence and celebrate that alongside the Springston A+ Characteristics. Here are some initial ways we are focussing on success and excellence:
- Set up progress boards and individual action plans or ‘focus students’.
- Trial a new initiative to develop the cognitive function of students - The Feuerstein Method.
Building a school culture and embedding beliefs and values in every heart takes time. This action is taking Springston School on the next step in our journey. We are aware of the areas we need to focus on and are taking action so that we can be described by Stoll (1969) as “Moving”. A school that works together to boost students achievement, knows where we are going and is developing a plan and the skills to get there.
Dweck, C. S, (2006). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd
Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, R. S., & Falik, L. H. (2010). Beyond smarter: Mediated learning and the brain's capacity for change. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hongboontri, C., & Keawkhong, N. 2014
Ministry of Education (2009). School Leadership and Student Outcomes: What Works and Why. Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/60180/BES-Leadership-Web-updated-foreword-2015.pdf
Stoll (1998). School Culture. http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture