What Exactly is Culture?

I was very lucky years ago when I attended my first symphony. I was taught beforehand not to applaud between movements. It’s just not done. During the performance, however, a few poor souls clapped in between movements. Rather than use that opportunity to teach them something I had only learned earlier that day, I swear a hundred heads shot backwards and fired daggers out of their eyes. The first time I went to a jazz club, I had no idea what the expected culture would be, but the people I was with encouraged me to participate and interact where appropriate. There are many different cultures in this world. Many whose manners would seem opposite to what we were taught. I’ve noticed that there are cultures that are inclusive and those, usually originating from societies with class-systems built in, that are exclusive. What then, is the culture of your school?

Cover of the summer issue of Independent School

In the summer issue of Independent School, Hugh Jebson and Carlo Delito write in an article titled ‘Trust, Accountability, Autonomy: Building a Teacher Driven Professional Development Model’

“We believe the strongest and most effective models — those that promote professional growth and outstanding teaching and learning — are found in schools where there is a shared sense of ownership for student outcomes. The culture in these schools is one of trust among the various constituents, where accountability is embraced and autonomy supported.”

Another article from the same issue discusses the culture of collaboration. Alexis Wiggins writes,

“I think we can — and must — do better. Independent schools pride themselves on providing a top-notch education, but the dirty secret is that they often produce smart, interesting, capable students because they admit smart, interesting, capable students. It isn’t enough to be a passionate, knowledgeable teacher. There are very knowledgeable and passionate teachers who aren’t actually effective at helping students learn. We need to constantly think about the quality of education we’re providing overall, not just what we are each doing in our classrooms.”

So what’s the culture in my school? Is it an inclusive or exclusive one? Is it one that fosters collaboration? Our constituents include students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and the greater community. Can we define that culture and make everyone feel included? Do we teach someone how to eat rice with chopsticks or laugh at them trying?



The current Fall 2010 issue of Independent School is titled, The Next Generation: New Leaders, New Thinking. There are some great pieces about developing new leadership in administration. Article, by Reveta Bowers talks about “passing the baton to a new generation of leaders who will lead with skill, knowledge, and heart.”

There are many more articles like that in that vain or ones that offer advice for people seeking leadership roles.

Unfortunately, I love the classroom too much to leave it. Will this change in a few years? Who knows? The traditional options for academic advancement while remaining a classroom teacher are few and far between. There’s the Ph.D route, but I’m not interested in teaching teachers or doing the research, though I’m fascinated by ed. research and love reading about it. There’s also the Ed.D route, but most of those programs are designed for people who want to take on administrative roles. What’s left for teachers is often “trainings” or “workshops” in various programs. As mentioned in the Reeves book, Transforming Professional Development into Student Results, the focus should be on people and practices rather than the programs.

So what’s a classroom teacher, who wants to remain a classroom teacher to do? I’m not sure what the answer to that is yet. One can only sit on so many committees without taking away from their primary role of  being a classroom teacher.

Trying to influence policy changes when you’re not the one who makes those decisions can be  difficult. The subheading of the title to the issue of Independent School contains the words “New Thinking.” Ed. reform or change is hard, especially if you’re one of those people who are comfortable with the saying, “If it aint broke….” Issues in education continue to evolve. We learn more about how kids’ brains work – how memory works. We learn more about certain practices. The world is changing rapidly. I wasn’t taught about sustainability and gardening, but they’re both important things to learn about.

All I know is many of us just want to become better at what we do, and we have to keep learning and practicing in order to do that. Thats purpose and mastery. According to Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, one also needs a certain amount of autonomy to remain motivated and passionate.

There’s another great article in the Independent School issue about Innovation, titled “Creating a Culture of Innovation Now.” One of the principles listed is: “Innovation, not instant perfection.”

Learning is messy, involves taking risks, and includes failures and successes. This is true whether you’re a second grader, or a classroom teacher trying to grow.