Learning Landscapes


School Culture

During our Strategic Planning process last school year, we had deep conversations about our school culture. We are a warm and happy school with many special relationships among students, parents, faculty and staff. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see faculty chatting together over lunch, children holding hands as they walk through the school, teenagers playing soccer, parents exchanging ideas, or staff members enjoying a laugh together. We are definitely a school where people care about each other and take pleasure in being together. However, as it turns out, our strategic planning process identified that our community aspires to more. What we have today isn’t fully satisfying to us. We want an even richer school culture. I think this is cool – we aspire to something beyond what we have today!

What is school culture? This is a topic that has been written about in the professional literature for a long time, and various research studies about it. The National School Climate Center explains that “School climate refers to the quality and character of school life as it relates to norms and values, interpersonal relations and social interactions, and organizational processes and structures. School climate sets the tone for all the learning and teaching done in the school environment and, as research proves, it is predictive of students’ ability to learn and develop in healthy ways.”

Did you read that last part? Read it again: school climate and culture is predictive of student’s ability to learn and develop in healthy ways. That statement gives us a lot to think about. How well does our current school climate impact our students’ ability to learn?

We all know what a negative environment feels like, places that are unpleasant. Perhaps public spaces like bus terminals or government offices or poorer areas of town or older shopping centers. In these places, we don’t feel safe or comfortable; the surroundings aren’t attractive or clean; we don’t feel cared for and our needs aren’t adequately met; people seem unhappy, cynical, and distrustful. They aren’t places where we want to linger and enjoy ourselves.

As a school, we want the best possible school climate and culture for our community. More than just a “nice place to be”, our strategic plan nudges us to become a school climate and culture where all members of our community feel healthy, safe, respected, engaged, supported, and challenged. In addition, we specify becoming a culture that is inclusive, respectful and responsive to all. This is a tall order, but one that we care about deeply and are willing to work towards.

Here is my question for you: What would it look like for YOU if our school had this kind of climate and culture? I encourage  you to share your ideas about this in the comment section below so others can read your thoughts.

One last thing: don’t miss a wonderful opportunity to come together as a community tomorrow. Our Parent Teacher Organization has organized a Family Fun Run, Walk, and Breakfast for Saturday October 25th. I can’t wait to see you all, please come and show your school spirit! Click here to see the Video-cast from the Director  that we made to advertise the event! Hope to see you there!

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Beginning our Transformation

This past Thursday, we held our first Professional Development Day. Such days are precious in our school. We treasure the opportunity to come together as professionals to focus on the goals that will make our school even better. Our dreams for our school are ambitious and we are eager to get started this year!

First, a bit of history: Last school year was my first year as the Director of Academia Cotopaxi. The time was right to create a new Strategic Plan that would chart our future for the next five years. We began by reviewing perception data from our community regarding our areas of strength and areas for improvement, we discussed new ideas in education, and developments in the world, near and far. We crafted a new mission statement, core value statements, and five strategic objectives to be accomplished over the next five years. Then we created five Action Teams, one for each of the strategic objectives, tasked with determining concrete steps towards accomplishing the strategic objectives. Over 100 individuals volunteered to be directly involved in developing our final Strategic Plan. Board members, teachers, parents, support staff, and administrators worked together over six months to develop the final Strategic Plan document. This is the blueprint for our future, owned by our community, and motivating us to a new level of change. Our journey towards transformation has begun!

Last Thursday, the faculty and staff spent time focused on just one strategic objective – School Culture. The quality of a school’s culture – its norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, ceremonies, traditions – is an indication of the quality of the school. We want to strengthen, uplift, and transform key aspects of our school culture. We started by looking closely at the current reality of our school culture in terms of students, faculty and staff, parents, leadership and facilities, systems and structures. Then we began describing the blue sky future that we desired and what needs to change to get there. From this giant set of wishes, we will identify a number of concrete steps to begin implementing this year.

For anyone involved in a change process, skepticism is a powerful deterrent! There are always naysayers, people who don’t believe that real change can happen, or people who continue to remain in their bubble, refusing to be part of the change, or people who choose to criticize from afar rather than get involved in the messy work of change. Change is complex and requires hard work. The path isn’t always clear or straightforward and there are mistakes along the way. I consider myself lucky because I have seen change happen effectively, successfully in previous schools.

Last Thursday, as I watched and listened to our faculty and staff, I saw people who were invested in this process, people who care deeply about our school and who are willing to get their hands dirty and deal with the hard stuff. The photos here capture the intensity, the seriousness, the engagement of our faculty and staff. This is the beginning of our transformation effort – having the right people doing the most important work – and I am full of hope and optimism for our future!

How do Facilities, Systems and Structures contribute to School Culture?

How do Facilities, Systems and Structures contribute to School Culture?

What is our current reality and what is our Blue Sky Future?

How does Leadership contribute to School Culture?

How do Parents contribute to School Culture?

We need your candid perspective on what isn't working in our school's culture.

How can we engage students and teachers in improving school culture?

What will it take to transform our school culture?

What will it take to transform our school culture?

Sharing our hopes and wishes for a transformed school culture.

Sharing our hopes and wishes for a transformed school culture.