Some schools just seem to beckon to you as you enter. Providing a sense of belonging and acceptance, they offer a warm atmosphere that is at once comforting and vibrant. Genuine learning occurs in those schools along with a spirit of support and camaraderie that you can feel throughout the building. Most important, both students and teachers enjoy being there.
That’s my kind of school. Its culture encompasses all the qualities I most value in a school: respect for teacher input and student voice; emphasis on teaching the whole child, including empathy for students’ struggles coupled with celebration of their progress; and multiple opportunities for everyone to thrive. Even though no school is perfect, schools like this—whose cultures reflect the values of their faculty, and not just that of the administrators—are more unified and a better place for those teachers to work. They’re usually a pretty great place for students to learn as well.
Conversely, schools that are misaligned with the values of their faculty tend to create an us-against-them work environment. This pits teachers and administrators against each other while also turning teachers and students into adversaries. The result is a seemingly endless war. Of course, students often are caught in the crossfire between teachers and administrators, quickly becoming casualties of the war. No one wins in that educational environment.
So here are the real questions: Does your school culture match your values? Does it line up with your educational philosophy? Does it correspond to your perspective on the best way to interact with students? How about your view of teachers’ professional autonomy and input — does your school’s culture run parallel to that?
All educators need to assess how much their school culture corresponds to their own educational values. To the extent that it does, that school’s culture becomes the foundation for educators’ professional excellence. It also undergirds students’ academic and individual success.
Likewise, when that school culture is contrary to educators’ values, that culture tends to undermine everything the teachers attempt to do. It also erodes students’ ambitions and even their confidence in their ability to accomplish them. Such cultures are centered around compliance, without regard for what really matters in education.
Now is a good time to reflect on your school’s culture, to make that assessment. In fact, even without asking yourself, you already know your level of satisfaction with the way your school is run, the atmosphere in which you work and students learn, the interactions among educators as well as between educators and students. If your satisfaction is high, congratulations on finding such a great work environment.
On the other hand, if your school’s culture is out of step with your values, unless the administration is revamped, you’re not likely to see an overhaul of that culture. You’re also not likely to thrive there. In that case, the only element left for you to determine is whether you belong there. Either way, your professional satisfaction depends on it.