Activity Two, Week 26, NZ Mind Lab, PRACTICE paper
In the last 18 months or so I have integrated myself into 3 new schools. No mean feat. For various reasons I have found myself moving on to a new job 3 times. This has put me under a huge amount of pressure. When you begin a new job, you are immediately hit with the climate of the school over the head. The feel of a school truly is “like the temperature” as explained in this video from the Academy for SELinSchools (2015).
Over my lifetime, I have seen dozens of schools. I worked as a Theatre in Education practitioner for years, going into different schools on a daily basis, and now a teacher for 10 years. I have been in schools where I have felt welcomed and at home straight away, and others that have felt a little off as soon as I walked through the door. In both types of situations, I have tried to make the best of it, tried to become part of the school and its culture. The culture in all of my new positions has taken some time to cotton on to, and then to adjust to.
The strange thing about my current position is that, in a way, I am part of several schools. As the Resource Teacher of Literacy, I am working alongside 16 different schools in my cluster. A bizarre concept indeed, and one which could easily mean I am left on the outside of things. I am coming to realise that this can be a lonely job, and forging relationships with staff in all schools is vital to its success. In some cases, this may be easier said than done. Currently, I have referrals from 3 different schools and am trying to establish connections with teachers, working relationships with them and with students, as well as trying to grab onto the “unspoken rules” which live in schools. The elephants in the playground…
Looking at the socioeconomic status of my schools, I have a high proportion of low decile schools on my radar. Two-thirds of my schools are decile 1 – 3 schools. I don’t like to use decile as a definition of what a school is about, but it is an undeniable truth that these schools will potentially have students who are coping with high levels of hardship in their home lives. It is known that students attending schools in poor communities are more likely to have low achievement (Jesson, McNaughton & Wilson, 2015). I found this interactive map from the NZ Herald that shows NZ’s most deprived areas. The information came from the 2013 census, and all areas that my schools are part of are considered to be 9 or 10 on the deprivation scale – 10 being most deprived.
The school where I am based is the lowest dark patch. Basically, all the dark patches are my areas. This is a hard pill to swallow, as the preconceptions these schools and students must be dealing with are huge. While it is true that they may have a history of low achievement statistically, I don’t believe that will always be for lack of effort. And having the stigma of low decile status can be damaging to a school’s self-esteem. One must learn to rise above it I believe, and that is where a school’s culture comes into play.
The culture of a school is the day to day reality, the support one gets in a school, and its identity (Stoll, 1998). If the climate is like taking the temperature as you go in, then I would say culture is diving down deeper into the way things are done in a school. That is not to say I agree with “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking, but being fluid, adaptable and responding to the environment; growing with your students and community can be a “way we do it” that is not detrimental to teaching and learning. The former TTWWADI (they even made an acronym for it) can be.
While you cannot decide upon the socioeconomic status of where your school is, the school culture happens mostly with intention. Staff have a big part to play. (Academy for SEL in schools, 2015). I have been noticing that the schools I am involved with have a great deal of pride. They are proud of who they are and where they are in the world. They are attacking stereotypes head on, a fact I admire greatly.
From my outsider’s perspective at the moment, I am seeing an effort to be collaborative in my schools. Teachers are collegial with one another and seem to be working towards taking on collaborative modern learning pedagogy more, albeit in small steps. There is will there. It is difficult for me to go further in depth around professional environments at the moment, as I am only 7 weeks into my new job (the first 2 of which were spent cleaning out my office!).
Looking at the norms identified by Stoll and Fink (as cited in Stoll, 1998), I can only assume that many of these are occurring from my brief foray into the schools I work with. It will take longer for me to truly experience them, or a lack of them. As I am trying to introduce a relatively different way of working as the RT:Lit, I must tread carefully and take the time to establish relationships and a repartee with teachers and other relevant parties. As Stoll says, understanding the school culture is the starting point towards leading change for a school’s improvement (1998).
Jesson, R., McNaughton, S., & Wilson, A. (2015). Raising literacy levels using digital learning: a design-based approach in New Zealand. Curriculum Journal, 26(2), 198-223.
Singh, H. (2014) Where are New Zealand’s Most Deprived Areas (+interactive). New Zealand Herald. Retrived from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11254032
Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture