There are MANY things to do to prepare for the start of the school year. Some I previously blogged about and so have some of my colleagues, like Kelly and George. One element I believe to be invaluable is the building of school culture, which has been an ongoing process for our school the last four years. Researchers like Lezotte and Fullan discuss how important school culture is in the learning process as well.
We started by redefining our vision and mission – with the vision being the dream and mission your specific work to accomplish – task oriented. This sets the framework for your building and your practices. Some may disagree with the way I look at vision and mission but I like to keep things as simple as possible and I have heard the terms interchanged waaaay too much.
The framework in our school is then set up like this:
1. Homeroom Huddles (HRH). From the first day, then as needed, our teachers have specific discussions with their homerooms on a variety of issues. On the first days of school, we will discuss our 5 primary values and then elaborate on what those values look like in our school. Eg. assemblies, the bus, etc. Posters are made up and posted in all rooms that state our beliefs.
The next activity is our code of conduct and what it looks like in our school. Again posters are made and put up in all classrooms. When I have to deal with a student in my office, I eventually ask them what part of the code of conduct they violated. Our code: Respect For Self, Others and Community is all-encompassing and works much better than a long rule book that not many would read. In most cases, a student can identify easily what part of the code was violated and we go from there.
Recognition assemblies are also held once a month, where we recognize all students for something they did. Could be an act of kindness or an achievement. Either way we try to show how we as a staff appreciate positive behaviour in our school. Slideshows on the screen in the gym are also great culture builders. Shots of students in the halls, classrooms and during activities are wonderful for school spirit. Add some music to the show and kids genuinely like it.
We will use HRH’s for a variety of topics throughout the year. We have used them to get student input on cellphone policies, major trips, and healthy food choices in our canteen. Students feel they have input on procedures and this hopefully, creates more acceptance of school policies.
Overall, this practice has created a very positive environment in our school. and is an effective communication tool. If I need something passed along to students, I can email our staff and get the word out quickly.
The key element to this practice is the homeroom teacher. I have felt for some time now that teachers should have a little PD on how to lead a homeroom. Who leads this? Take one or two of your better teachers and ask them to help the staff. If we can achieve consistency, that is optimal.
Less discipline referrals are good for all involved, not just the administrator. I believe these practices help develop strong citizens as well.
If you can develop strong school culture and maintain it, your school will be a great place.