School Culture

Play- Passion-Purpose- Tony Wagner

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Making Good Choices

Children of middle school age are going through many changes.

They are reaching a stage of their life where they place increasing importance on being noticed and accepted by their peers and this is a time when peer pressure becomes a major influence in the many choices a child faces.

The school/parent relationship has a very important role to play in terms of helping children make good choices in terms of being healthy, safe and respectful to others.

What are ‘good choices”? They are choices which keep students safe and healthy and they are choices which give them opportunities for friendship and self confidence.They are also choices which show responsibiltiy towards the environment and each other. It is very important for us to help students take responsibility for the choices they make and take responsibility for the things they choose to involve themselves in.

When parents have the luxury of being able to choose a school, they do so for many reasons. I wonder how many ask to see the school’s mssion statement? The mission statement at the school I am principal at the moment, emphasizes respectful, caring and encouraging behavior within a diverse community as the backbone of who we say we want our community to be. But we can’t achieve this without parents help. There was a famous Rabbi who once said “Educating children without parental involvement is like heating a house with the windows open.

Families have a set of values which are defined through traditions and moral or sometimes religious beliefs, which are sometimes known as ‘family values’. Our school’s mission statement is a living document which declares what we value as a community. It is a statement of our ‘family values’. For the parent/school partnership to work most effectively we need to have shared values. Schools have an impossible task ahead of them in terms of helping students make ‘good’ choices if the values or definition of what good choices are differ.

An interesting activity each family reading this could try would be to sit down at home and come up with a family mission statement– A statement that defines the families’ values and goals. Once this statement is agreed upon and written down, the family could take out the school’s mission statement and compare.

What things are the same what are different?

The choices we make have an effect on others and it is important for us all to be able to reflect on these and move on. It’s also important for us to reflect on what we do to support the communities’ shared set of values at school and at home.

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What’s your name?

Teachers need to know the names of their students. Teachers also need to speak to students using their names. Sounds obvious, but some educators underestimate the immense power of addressing someone by name. There were times, when I taught at a large comprehensive school in London, when, after teaching a class for the best part of a year (two periods a week), I didn’t know all of their names. Children and adults notice when you don’t know them AND they notice when they do. I make it may business as a principal to get to know my students, how else can you build up a relationship? Walk down the corridors, smile, greet people by name, make comments like ‘good job with the basketball game at the weekend’ (sorry Alfie Kohn, I’m working on the praise thing!) and you’ll notice a huge difference. A parent probably knows their child the best. They can detect mood changes; they notice things which seem ‘out of the ordinary’. This can and is often put down to ‘hormones’, ‘teenagers’, etc, but if we as educators get to know students better, we can spot changes and we can respond to them. We can work in partnership with home to help the students. This can only be achieved when the teacher to student ratio is small. At our small international school we proudly state that our teacher to student ratio is low. This is usually interpreted as having small class sizes. This of course is educational more sound than large class sizes for obvious reasons, but I consider teacher to student ratio being ‘the number of students a teacher actually teaches’. It’s all very well having a maximum class size of 18. but if you teach 15 classes in a week, which some teachers do in a week that’s 270 students and if you only see them for 80 minutes a week, what chances have you of really knowing them? Going back to knowing their names, is it any wonder some teachers struggle with remembering names?

As a parent, when you go to look at a school or when you go to your next parent/teacher consultation day ask the teachers of your child; “How many kids do you teach a week?” and “How well do you know my son/daughter?”. Of course if they don’t know your son or daughter well it may not be their fault. Ask those questions to the people running the school!

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‘We’ The feeling of School Community

The ‘we’ factor is very important in schools. Students, staff and parents need to work together to create the best learning environment possible. Students need to be treated with respect and be given a say in the running of the school. Rules shouldn’t be called rules. This sounds too rigid. Why not call them Common Sense Actions (CSA’s?!) or Safety and Common Sense Actions (SACSA). I try to move away from the ‘DON’T’ to the SACSA. For example you could post a sign up and down a corridor saying ‘DON’T RUN’-that is a rule. Students see this and think; “I’m not allowed to run”, quite often without thinking about or knowing why. They only find out why when they are in the principals office! Why not put up signs saying ‘RUNNING in the corridor is dangerous!’ This isn’t a ‘don’t rule’ it’s a statement. Or why not put up a sign saying If you WALK in the corridor, you’ll make the school a safer place. Try to think of some rules at your school and try to turn them from a DON’T to a SACSA.

Students should understand why rules are in place. They pretty much always boil down to actions which may harm or upset others, and safety. When a student is brought to my office for ‘breaking a rule’ I always says to them “tell me one rule that exists in the middle school which isn’t there for either the protection of other’s feelings or safety and I’ll get rid of it.” Students need to have a say in the running of their school. It’s good to have some form of democratic structure in place, whether it be student council, house system etc. At our school, students are elected as house leaders and they meet with me every week to talk about issues and to plan events and competitions. They actually run meetings with their house on their own (there is a teacher advisor in the room, but they step back and let the students run the show), canvassing for student feedback and opinions and bringing them back to me to discuss. They also act as mentors and role models. Younger students should be able to go to them with a problem or concerns. As soon as we have a shared feeling of responsibility, the atmosphere or ethos will be better.

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