Sunday, July 17, 2016

Don't be Afraid to Commit to Culture

My son and I built a skate ramp. It is really a mini-quarter-pipe; it only stands 3 feet high and 4 feet across. The idea is to learn the “Drop-in,” the “Kick Turn” and the “50/50 Rock n' Roll,” all in the comfort of our own front yard. The challenge with learning any skateboard trick at my age is a fear of failure. I know, we all talk about failure as a learning opportunity, but in this case, less is sometimes more. Today I must have hit that ramp 50 times trying the same trick over and over. Each time I'd make a run at it, and each time I would come up just a hair short of pulling it off. My 12 year old said, "It’s scary huh? You just have to commit." It floors me when the boy who can never remember to pick up his towel off the bathroom floor drops some Yoda-style wisdom that shifts my paradigm. He was right, and I did, and everything worked out, without any broken bones!


This past week, many of our staff attended a 4 day Responsive Classroom training. Our school is committed to building a high quality and supportive culture both in the classroom and throughout the common areas of our school - Responsive Classroom is one important piece of that puzzle. We could spend our time, energy and financial resources on any number of commitments. In fact, many of us on the leadership team find ourselves saying, "We can afford to do anything we want, we can't afford to do everything we want." So, deciding what to commit to is probably the number one function of our leadership team. It is scary: we are all afraid to fail when it comes to high stakes testing, serving special populations, ensuring the 21st Century soft skills, and the list goes on. The truth is, each is a thread that woven together makes the tapestry of our industry. So, with so much to work on, why are we so committed to culture?

Our commitment to building culture is not a program, it is not about a purchase, nor an adoption, for us it was about a commitment to our students as students first. There is fantastic research that demonstrates our most at risk students do not respond to academic intervention until they have created a relationship with the person delivering the support. These same relationships make formative feedback possible, open the dialog between student and staff regarding bullying and allow for students to connect their hopes and dreams to learning, thereby making academic projects relevant. Our team believes deeply that culture is the garden bed, if the bed is cultivated well, anything can grow.

It doesn't matter if you are trying to master the 50/50 Rock'n Roll on the skate ramp or if you are launching student led conferences: both need a total commitment. Once the ramp-rider believes in himself, and fully commits, any trick becomes possible. Once a school fully commits to building a culture founded on strong relationships - the possibilities become limitless. Every school strives for academic and social success for its students, and these targets become infinitely more obtainable when a school commits to building a supportive culture, where staff and students are connected; a place where each student is involved in the building of successful processes; a place where all adults agree that language matters and logical consequences are only one step in restoring relationships. When a school commits to building this type of culture, all things become possible.