Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Review: Transforming School Culture

For the last few weeks I've been spending a lot of time thinking about school culture. This was brought to my attention because there have been quite a few incidents where I've ducked out of rooms because I don't really want to get involved in the discussions going on.  They're usually about our site administration and they just don't make me feel uplifted and comfortable staying where I'm at.

While perusing my professional library (granted, it's a small one shelf library), I stumbled across Transforming School Culture: How to overcome staff division by Anthony Muhammad. It was a book handed to me in my last school while we were undergoing a huge shift in philosophy. We didn't spend much time with it, but I did read it at this time. Since I was spending time thinking about culture I popped it open and ended up reading every chapter.

The book details four kinds of teachers:

The Believer
These teachers are the ones you want to have to school. They have a sometimes illogical (but awesome) belief in kids and their ability to overcome anything at all. They will do whatever it takes and are often the risk takers of the school because they have this belief in kids. These are the ones you find frantically working all hours to research, plan, and implement new ideas.

At the same time, these aren't always the best teachers in the school. Some of them have the foundational skills of teaching (classroom management, planning, organization, etc) down pat and they then use their belief and risk taking to the advantage. Others have their belief, but aren't quite sure of the most effective ways to bring about the outcomes they know are possible.

Something interesting about Believers is their living situation. Most believers are settled. They're married, they own their home, and they aren't likely to move anywhere soon.

The Tweener
I know this group well! I feel like I spent quite a bit of time as a tweener. 

These teachers are those who are new to the teaching profession or have just recently changed jobs. Often they do not have a set identity for themselves yet, and can be easily swayed by other's opinions. One defining characteristic of Tweeners is that they lack the professional experience to really be able to make the most of themselves. Often these are the teachers within the building who need the most explicit support.

Outwardly Tweeners may seem like they have it. Since most of them are coming out of colleges they have the most recent exposure to the newest research and ideas in education. They are eager and want to throw themselves into the work.

Unlike Believers Tweeners are just that, between. They are more likely to be unmarried, and to be renting. Because they do not have strong ties to the community they can freely move from one school to another if something doesn't satisfy them. It behooves administrators to latch onto their Tweeners and get them engaged and involved in the school so that they want to put down roots and stay forever.

The Survivor
Oh, I know this teacher well. I think I spent about 50% of this last school year hanging out here.

Survivors are just that - they're trying to get through the year with their sanity more or less intact. Sometimes it's just getting to the end of the day. Outwardly these teachers look fine, but they lean back on those things which will get them through like student bargaining. It's really important for administrators to identify these teachers and help them ASAP, and if necessary to get them out of the classrooms.

I'm really lucky. When I showed up at my Administrator's doorway crying and at the end of my rope, she walked away from her administrative meeting (TWICE) and met with me. 

The Fundamentalist
The book describes fundamentalists this way, "an experienced educator who believes that there is one pure and indisputable way to practice: the traditional model of schooling." To fundamentalist, change is taboo.  

He goes further into describing how Fundamentalists try to influence change to not happen withing their schools, but what really caught my attention was the four reasons why someone might be a fundamentalist. I think this is the real power in this book, because it gives administrators (and others) ways to help turn these teachers from their fundamentalist roots and help them to become a stronger and healthier part of the school culture. 

1. They do not perceive clear reasons for change.
2. They distrust the leaders who are pushing for the change.
3. They wonder if the change will cause them more stress and may not ultimately improve how instruction is occurring over what they are already doing.
4. They think that if they give in to change it means admitting they have been wrong and they will lose face. 

With all of this laid out, I'm starting to understand some of the struggles of my present school. Honestly, I believe that we have many fundamentalists among our ranks, but they're not the died in blood individuals who will resist change because it means they were 'wrong' before. Instead, I think that our school lacks a great deal of trust in the administration because of the constant turnover. In addition, they're not sure that that changes which are introduced are actually going to improve student achievement.

Even though I'll be leaving this school after this year, I'm optimistic for the future and for those teachers who are staying. I know that my building administrator has read this particular book, and understands the underpinnings of the culture of the school. (Though, I'm not quite sure he's aware of the level of negativity floating through the hallways.) I hope he's able to provide reasons for the changes he's asking us to make, and at the same time is able to start building the trust he needs to with the individuals.

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