Bringing School Culture to the Surface

Schools often show their curriculum to the outside world, but their underlying culture holds their true identity.

Photo of James Saito
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Professional Development opportunities in schools typically target curriculum, content, assessment, etc.  These topics are understood to be important, but often are not received with enthusiasm.  A school's academics are often the measure of their successes, but the school's culture is what truly affects everyone in the school.  Professional Development that seeks to explore aspects of a school's culture has grounded us in looking at our practices.  At Kamehameha Schools, we have a faculty/staff PD day called, "Kula Hawaii."  On this day every teacher, administrator, assistant, custodian etc. signs up for an all day breakout session that explores an aspect our institution's culture.  For example, there have been workshops that explore Native Hawaiian cultural practices of massage, cooking, medicinal plants etc.  There are also workshops that explore the communities that we affect i.e. walking tours of neighborhoods, community centers, geography of our campus.  This day provides choices based on interest, learning from colleagues that facilitate the sessions, and a broadened perspective that often inspires us.


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Photo of John Faig

PD becomes more challenging when your culture is not clearly defined and it is obvious which practices are valued. It also makes hiring people who will flourish more difficult.

Photo of James Saito

When I visited KIPP Academy in NYC they said that they have had a faculty meeting at the start of the year to sit in the park in the middle of the housing projects to remind everyone where their students come from.

Photo of Sarah Lundy

I am really struck by the idea of teachers leaving their school campus to explore the community that they affect together!

Photo of James Saito

Thanks Chris. I've thought a lot about culture of a school. We spend a ton of time on so many things that build teaching practices, but we need to take time to reflect on what kind of culture we are creating in our schools for our students. Is it punch in punch out place where we simply coexist? Is it a community? Professional development can enhance our school culture by harnessing every faculty member's unique strengths to make our schools dynamic.

Photo of Chris Good

So very true. Culture plays such a huge role in how we identify with not only what we do but who we are. I would assume for many teachers this is a dissonant link. Imagine how powerful it could be to use PD to align these forces! Great analogy!