Todd Whitaker noted, "When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold." I am a principal, and I know that the culture of our school is one of my most important responsibilities. I relish that role, and I take it personally. I am proud of our school's culture, but I know that no principal creates school culture in a vacuum. School culture is a function of the values, attitudes, and behaviors of all the adults in the building. While the most important role for teachers is to teach the students in their classroom, they should never underestimate their potential for impacting the culture of the school. Teachers are never neutral with respect to a school's culture. They do things every day that either undermine or enhance the mission of the school. If you're a teacher, here are five concrete ways that you can positively impact your school's culture:
1. Observe other teachers' classrooms... and invite them to observe yours. I strongly believe that one of the best professional development strategies is to learn from the teachers down the hall. When you initiate peer observations, you foster a culture of collaboration within the building. It creates a more cohesive faculty and increases the likelihood that the best instructional practices in the building get replicated.
2. Take responsibility for your students' academic achievement... and share your data with colleagues. Data is used by the most successful schools to make instructional decisions and drive school improvement efforts. It is not always comfortable to share your own assessment results, but it is an essential component of healthy professional learning communities. When you take the tough steps of sharing your data with colleagues, it encourages others to follow suit. Your candor sends the message that weaknesses will be confronted head on. Faculties that are honest with each other about student achievement are in the best position to do something about it. Don't wait on the principal or instructional coach to call a data meeting -- you start the conversation. It will make it more likely that your colleagues will own their data as well.
3. Take risks... and fail publicly. It is easy for faculties to become complacent, especially when the status quo is adequate. Try something new in your classroom, and let your colleagues know how it goes. If a new activity or strategy bombs, scrap it... or tweak it, but share your experiences and move on. Your courage and your transparency will inspire other teachers to break out of their own ruts. Innovation thrives in schools where teachers are free to fail.
4. Be patient with the knuckleheads... and never lose sight of your purpose. Most teachers have some challenging students at some point during the day. It can be tempting for teachers to complain about them in the lounge, at the lunch table, in the hallways, or even at faculty meetings. You teach the knuckleheads too, but you give them the benefit of the doubt. You show empathy, You understand that the inappropriate behaviors are a manifestation of dysfunctional circumstances outside of school that no kid should have to deal with. Your attitude toward the toughest students will not go unnoticed by other teachers. It is usually the case that the most difficult kids need the most TLC. Your patience with these kids reminds other teachers what's really important -- making a difference in the lives of kids.
5. Stay positive... even in the face of adversity. We all have tough days, and some circumstances seem to conspire to destroy the morale of the faculty. Smile, remain optimistic, and figure out a way to remind your colleagues "the glass is half full." Optimism is contagious. The positive energy you bring to work each day will lift the spirits of those around you. Your commitment to maintaining a positive outlook will generate positive energy in the building that can make the naysayers irrelevant.