Culture, Community, Curriculum.
I’ve been given the opportunity to grow into a position that allows me to provide parts of our new teacher onboarding and training. When our school opened 9 years ago, it was pretty chaotic, and I remember tables lining the hallways covered in curriculum and resources. No one knew who was to take what, and the items we had chosen from the piles of furniture and supplies in the gym were in utter disarray in our classrooms, waiting to be put together in ways that would provide a warm environment for learning. Our teacher training and onboarding were intentional and long. My head was full before lunch every day. It encompassed everything we might need to know (that had been figured out anyway) and with the understanding that each of us was chosen for a very specific purpose and that we were bringing skills, knowledge, and passion to the table, we embarked on a simply amazing journey.
Last year while I was preparing what I’d do for new teachers, I got to thinking about how to structure what I needed teachers to know and understand so that they could join the rest of the staff in the work we’d be doing with a good foundation in why we do what we do. I thought back to how I might categorize everything we learned that first year:
Culture, Community, Curriculum.
The culture of a school determines whether it lives or dies. It’s the “why” behind a school’s existence. Who do we serve? What is our purpose? What are our goals? What do we believe? What are our values? How will we live the mission and vision of our school? If the people working in a building don’t share in the answers to those questions, it affects the culture of the school, how families and kids view it and exist within it, and how it’s seen by the public. Culture matters.
Community matters as much as the culture–it’s the community that defines the culture. It includes those who work and learn within the walls of the building, but also those who support the school from the outside–the neighborhood, the district, the graduates, the local and state level organizations who believe in the mission of the school. There’s a lot of overlap between culture and community…they’re intertwined like vines on a wall, growing and changing with the needs of the school and the kids who are learning there.
Curriculum is the last piece, and it joins the first two, being just as intertwined with the others, not standing on its own. It’s the “how” we teach, the resources we use, the ways in which we approach our learners and the opportunities we provide them to explore content and delve into it, pulling forth the pieces of information and connections that they’ll take with them into high school and beyond. Providing teachers with resources and allowing them to tailor how they share what has been determined the kids need to know is critical. We can’t use canned, scripted curriculum with tall poppies, no matter how simple it might make our teaching. Most, if not all, of our tall poppies have already begun looking toward the horizon beyond and are wondering what’s out there, what’s next, and would be stifled if we taught that way. We do not teach widgets, and the children we serve require that we take risks beyond the teacher’s edition to ensure that they make meaningful connections to what they’re learning.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll meet with new teachers who have agreed to join us on this amazing journey. Some are new, right out of a teacher training program, others have a little experience, and still a few come with years of teaching kids under their belts. But for all of them, it’ll be like the first year all over again. Their questions will range from where can I find white out to how do I use the copier to what do I do when a kid does <insert thing that drives them nuts>. And while we chat, they’ll be worried that their classrooms will never get put together to be ready for kids. Those with experience will figure out how to put their classrooms together to be functional somewhat quickly, but the new teachers, well, they’ll experiment a bit, using what they saw their cooperating teachers do and probably change the layout of their classroom 200 times between now and May…and tweak things multiple times every day between now and the first day of school.
I think that if they can keep in mind as we go forward into the other pieces of professional development we have planned for this year and meetings with families during the next two weeks, they’ll be fine. I hope it gives them a good foundation for the work we’ll do this year on behalf of the kids we serve.
And I hope that I get good feedback so that I can keep growing and learning too.