Improving Schools through Cultural Symbols

Ed Harris


Demographic, technological, and economic forces are transforming societal institutions and the ways in which people interact within them. Major challenges of twenty-first century education include adjusting to these shifts and structuring schools to improve human interaction and learning. One important way to shape schools is through their cultural symbols.

Cultural Symbols

Schools are social organizations comprised of people with a set of shared beliefs, complex rituals and relationships, and collective verbal behaviors. Symbols are key in understanding these shared meanings, values, and behaviors because they are expressions of how people interact and conduct business from day to day. A school’s culture can be defined simply as “the way things are done around here” (Deal & Kennedy, 1982, p. 4), and things are done through such symbols as:

  • Stories,
  • Heroes and heroines,
  • Myths and metaphors,
  • Rituals and ceremonies,
  • Facility décor, and
  • Special language or jargon.

In any educational context, shared beliefs and values are personified by its heroes and heroines, maintained and reinforced by its rituals and ceremonies, shaped by the school environment, and communicated through the informal network. In strong cultures, these symbols are a visible, developed, and powerful means of solidarity in the organization. As cultural members embrace an increased sense of belonging, their lives take on new meaning, importance, and identity. In weak cultures these symbols are dormant and in need of revitalizing (Bolman & Deal, 2016).

Cultural Leadership

A central activity of leadership is to improve schools through their symbolic patterns. For example, rituals are activities that occur regularly, such as morning announcements, weekly meetings, or daily greetings. Staff meetings are great venues to reinforce school mission, purpose, and values. In routine staff meetings, for instance, the strategy of “Raising the Achievement Bar for all Students” can be reinforced thorough recognizing, rewarding, and/or encouraging teachers who, in their instructional practices, successfully increase role expectations and improve student learning. An effective approach to teacher acknowledgment ensures that recognition is:

  1. In context with the larger goal and mission of the school,
  2. Appropriate in volume/scale of the action and results, and
  3. Authentic and tied to the teacher’s perception of value.

This recognition is also a way to ceremoniously consecrate heroes and heroines among the teaching ranks who embody the mission and vision of the school. Telling their stories through school publications also reinforces and deepens desired values and meanings.

Turning Barriers into Bridges

On a practical level, the process of examining cultural symbols and making weak cultures strong is sometimes easier said than done. There are times in any school culture—strong, weak, or dying—when existing authority and power structures or political forces present powerful barriers to change.

Educators may also find themselves in strong cultures that actually construct obstacles to improvement and effectiveness. “The way things are done around here” may be counterproductive to sound instructional practices.  Moreover, if these symbols are strongly entrenched in the practices of the school, it is difficult to make any headway toward school enhancement.

Nonetheless, strategic, progressive improvement can occur. Internally, symbols provide meaning to instructional activity and construct a figurative bridge between educational activities and outcomes. Externally, symbols communicate the essential values and beliefs of the school to pertinent stakeholder groups.

In order to successfully envision and enhance cultures of learning in your school, I invite you to reflect upon and reply to the following questions:

  • What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
  • What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
  • Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?

References

Bolman, L., and Deal, T. (2016). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership (6th ed.). San Francisco: Wiley.

Deal, T. E., and Kennedy, A. (1982). Corporate Cultures. Reading, MA: Jossey Bass.

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61 Comments

  1. Jeremiah Gregory

    I chose the following two questions to comment on:

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?

    In the last school I taught at, the principal and superintendent took the time to get the activities and techniques teachers were using in the classroom and presenting them for publications in the school paper, the local newspapers, on social media, in education publications, and at conferences. Teachers at our school were recognized frequently for their ingenuity and imagination when it came to teaching methods and successes in the classroom. I felt like this “raised the bar” for other teachers and eventually made our school into a blue ribbon school.

    As the the second question, I believe the athletics signing ceremonies and having only athletic signing ceremonies marginalized the academic hard work of those who obtained large academic scholarships, or were accepted into a prominent post secondary school, or received other noteworthy scholastic awards. Some of my academically motivated students noticed this and always said it only matters in school if you succeed athletically. I always hated to hear this because they were correct. I think this has a negative effect when we as school focus so much on athletic success and not on scholastic/academic success. There should be the same kinds of recognition for academic achievers or for those who succeed in ANY manner, academic or non-academic, that is not athletic. I am a former assistant coach, I have nothing against athletic programs, However, I always have hated school cultures where athletics always take precedence. This needs to change in many schools.

    Reply
  2. Chris Eck

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    One big ritual that was part of one of the schools I worked in was every morning after the announcements at the beginning of first period the principal would come on and receipt the school motto with the students. At first I wasn’t sure, but then I realized how much the students bought into it as the would say the motto along with her and truly lived by those words, this was evident when one morning the principal was out and my students stood and receipted the motto without her because it was part of the culture and their routine. The motto provided a group connection and something that the students lived by, creating a collaborative work environment for the good of the students.
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Students quickly draw opinions on teachers and I saw first hand the negative impact that myths/stories about teachers could cause, as students would figure out how they could get out of a certain teachers class if they ended up with her on their schedule, when actually she was a great teacher but just had rigor in her class, but year after year I watched students switch out of her class because of what other students said.

    Reply
  3. Rye Donohue

    A key symbol that is working to improve student learning is a hub where teachers are collaborating and never recreating the wheel. With such a high turnover this allows first year teachers to hit the ground running and have an idea of what ‘sound’ teaching practices look like. This hub is constantly being updated and it is a source that increases student achievement.

    A symbol that is working to inhibit student learning is placing such an emphasis on athletes at my school. There is a culture where these students are the ‘top-dogs’ in the school and teachers and administration feed into this. There are not many avenues outside of sports at my school where students are able to self-actualize and grow in there identity.

    Reply
  4. Nichole Ramsey

    •What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    In our school site a symbol we have been working on all year is a reading challenge. If students complete so many hours. They are recognized by putting up a piece of the reading worm. This is a motivation to get students to foster their reading skills, build their love for reading, and give students an opportunity to participate in a school wide activity.
    We also use Great Expectations at our school site. Students are given a weekly principle to uphold and a quote of the week. These are things as teachers we recognize in our classes. We also do a TIGER challenge. Students are recognize at our Rise and Shine assemblies for their great behavior. This leads to students to build stronger relationships with teachers and students.

    •Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    I really believe using symbols can improve the school setting. It can get students motivated to be involved in the community of the school. It allows them to feel apart of something greater than themselves. I know young students enjoy being recognized by their peers and teachers. I know students who remember from previous year activities that were held as a school. They have tendency to remember them because they truly enjoyed being involved in such a large event. I think that is why extracurricular activities are so important for students to experience. They are still learning important skills, but in a different setting!

    Reply
  5. Susan Buser

    Over the last several years our schools has intentionally worked to become a professional learning community. In doing so we have developed the “ritual” of analyzing data for every student on a regular basis. Teachers are provided with additional PLC time every Friday to meet as a grade level to discuss student performance, interventions needed and upcoming learning objectives. One Friday each quarter (usually after benchmark assessments) each grade level meets with the other specialists and administration to look at student performance on th benchmark. We do this using data boards with individual student “sticky notes”. Between the weekly grade level meetings and the quarterly data board meetings we are able to keep student performance at the fore front. This leads to higher student achievement.
    In my personal opinion there tends to be one teacher at every grade level who vocalizes the negative about situations out of their control like class size or parent support. These teachers perpetuate the myth that these factors influence student performance when research has clearly demonstrated that the factors out of our locus of control have a negligible impact on student performance. John Hattie’s meta-anaylsis has determined that teacher expectations and effectiveness of instruction have a much great impact on student achievement than factors like class size and parent involvement.
    One way I think I can impact our culture is by sharing information such as Hattie’s research with our faculty and staff on a regular basis. I also think spotlighting teacher success in some form or fashion would help the nay sayers shift their thinking. I also think that there just might be a time and place for having some difficult conversations with individual teachers about how negativity impacts students.

    Reply
  6. J. Kody Engle

    One of the symbols that brings immediate recognition within my school district is the utilization of what is referred to as the 5 A’s (Activities, Academics, Athletics, Arts, and Attitude). These words will immediately conjure up an idea of a well-rounded student, but it also is taken to heart by many members of the faculty. It shows that it takes more than just one element of education for one to truly benefit and succeed.

    Cultural symbols can be utilized to increase awareness and comfort for people in all walks of life. I know that as I have traveled abroad, any time that I see something familiar it brings peace and comfort, even when the symbol means something completely different to me than it does to someone else. One thing that we as educators must be cognizant of when utilizing symbols is to be sensitive to how these symbols will be interpreted by various groups of people. The dialogue that we engage in further demonstrates the importance and significance of what we believe, making conversation an unseen symbol that is associated with our site.

    Reply
    • Tamara Danley

      Hi Kody,

      May I use your 5 A’s. I had Athletics, Academics, and arts, but not attitude and Activities.

      Reply
  7. Cherith Aven

    The morning announcements at my school are a cultural ritual that first inhibits, then improves student learning. Our principal is well intentioned, but very undisciplined in the delivery of the announcements. Sometimes he will do them right after the second bell rings, other days it may be five or ten minutes into the class period. The teachers and students are left waiting and putting class work on hold while he chats it up in the hall. What should be a time of connection continually leads to frustration and inhibits student learning. On the other hand, the same said principal began including a Wednesday Word of the Week during the announcements. Students are to fill out a form whenever they come across a new word. It has been a fun ritual that he started this year and I hope he will continue.

    Reply
    • Tamara Danley

      Cherith,

      We experience the same issue. It has improved this semester, but it is frustrating for everyone involved.

      Reply
  8. Joshua Taylor

    *What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    One of the major cultural symbols in our school is that of the servant leader as exemplified in Stillwater Makes a Change (SMAC) Week. Every year students and teachers look forward to this one week as their favorite week of the school year. SMAC Week is the culminating week for the student-led philanthropy week. SMAC is one of the core cultural icons of the school. The school celebrates SMAC, celebrates students who lead SMAC, and students know that the model students are the ones who are involved in SMAC. The community celebrates the students involved in this program. It is truly the most culturally significant event at the high school. It is the best way to teach concern for others, leadership, and service. Instead of having lessons about it, we just celebrate the students and staff who do it.

    *Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    My school setting does an amazing job of celebrating all types of students. Often schools only celebrate athletes and athletic accomplishments, but at my school, we celebrate all types of accomplishments. I’ve never been at a school that celebrated the arts as much as my current school. Moreover, one of the crowning accomplishments of any of our teams is an academic state championship. We are proud to have had an academic state championship for at least one sports team for the past 23 years. By celebrating diverse accomplishments, all students feel more included and all students can find a hero or heroine. If a school only celebrate athletes, then many students can’t find a hero or heroine to relate to. They don’t have an older peer to look up to. But, by celebrating diverse greatness, then everyone can find someone to look up to.

    Reply
  9. Jenny Ochwo

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    In our school each month at the staff meeting, a teacher is presented with a “bright idea award”. At the first meeting of the year, the administration choose a teacher who has had a “bright idea” that positively impacted student learning. At the next faculty meeting, that teacher then chooses another teacher (outside her department) that she noticed had a great idea and positively impacted their students. This idea is great because it gets people outside their groups and noticing what others are doing around them.
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    The way school has treated announcements, scheduling, and testing has demeaned the English department. I am not in this department, but several of my hallmates are. Because every student has to have an English class, the admin take a lot of class time or days away from the curriculum to talk about upcoming schedules, do state testing, etc. These teachers already feel that they have a lot on their plate and then they lose class time that other departments don’t lose. Right now the English department is giving the 11th grade science test. Why?! And they wonder why they keep running off teachers in that department….

    Reply
  10. Susan Kirk

    Scrolling screens appear on technology throughout our campus. The messages emphasize positive achievements by individual students, employees, and team sports. An annual Awards Ceremony rewards student achievement with certificates and a night set aside to honor them inidiviually for their unique achievements. Always, the thread of these students as a part of the Connors Team joins them into a collaborative part of the institution, serving as a positive reinforcement of behavior.
    This is a positive use of symbols and ceremonies that encourage student learning. However, we marginalize academic excellence with a disparate focus on other activities. Classes are continually cancelled or ignored and considered excused so that other activities can occur. The unspoken message is that academics can be made up and missed class time represents no loss of value. Community and campus activities are extremely important symbols, but they receive more attention than academics. This is obvious in our campus magazine, which spotlights student activities, but does not contain academic accomplishments except as a byline to the students’ activities.

    Reply
  11. K Dalton

    What symbols in your school are working to improve school learning? Our school is infused with a heavy growth mindset culture. From morning meetings to tangible opportunities to meet and greet, our students are learning that obstacles can be overcome, an attitude of gratitude is key to success, and your past does not have to dictate your future. This is eye-opening to our at-risk youth. When they first arrive, they are disengaged and skeptical. Our school’s energy is infectious, however, and students are soon thinking and performing with a growth mindset mentality. It’s a game changer at our school.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your schools setting? My teachers and I have been visiting other schools to view non-traditional teaching methodologies and school cultures. One school in particular had certain school uniforms. While this may be considered to be a negative at some schools, these students were proud of their attire. They were part of a service-oriented school and spent much time outside of the traditional classroom involved in community and business events. The fact that they were well-dressed and coordinated formed a type of positive vibe for them as they represented themselves and their school in various capacities. As we are considering designating time in next year’s schedule for service opportunities, I am wondering how our students would react to providing some type of attire that would boost their confidence and visual cohesiveness. I plan to ask them.

    Reply
  12. Tommie Grant

    Stillwater High School does a fantastic job of using cultural symbols to improve the school setting. During the first all grade assembly, the principal discussed what it means to be a pioneer, focusing the discussion on being a trail blazer, a leader, and person not afraid to try something new. At the end of each and every assembly, the principal leads a rally cry. Starting with the sophomores (freshman are in a separate building), he excitedly asks each grade, “Who are we?!?” The response is a boisterous, “PIONEERS!!!” In responding, the students are opening calling themselves leaders, which provides an onus to stepping up and taking on new or different roles within the school. The next time you drive by Pioneer Stadium, look at the home stands. It says, “We Are Pioneers,” for all to see.

    At Stillwater Middle School, part of each morning is spent in a class entitled home base. This time is both an inhibitor of student learning and a benefit for learning. The time spent is not used for teaching state standards or curriculum related topics, so those minutes could certainly be better used in a core or elective class. However, the time is spent building relationships between teachers and students and their cooperating teams. Truly knowing one’s students helps a teacher understand when a child is struggling or succeeding and can help them know what type of intervention or celebration needs to take place.

    Reply
  13. Kathryn Knowles

    We have several symbols in my school aimed at improving student learning. We have built in a system of interventions for students to ensure we are providing appropriate supports for every single student in the building to achieve success, both academically and behaviorally. It has taken a year for all staff to buy-in to the building philosophy, but we have seen great progress in students grades and achievement.
    It has been difficult for teachers to implement instructional strategies with high effect sizes. Many times, teachers will provide worksheets rather than provide opportunities for real learning. Change is difficult and for some teachers seems impossible at times. We are working to change the dialogue with a focus on student learning above all else.
    We can improve our school culture through the use of symbols by continuing to communicate our purpose. We communicate this often, but it is important to constantly be reminded of the why.

    Reply
  14. Tamara Danley

    What symbols in your school are working to improve school learning? Our principal started a ritual a couple of years ago that is transferring to our classrooms. At our Monday morning staff meetings she announces “Celebrations.” When I received my Brock Fellowship, she announced it, when babies are born, or life events. As a result, many teachers use this strategy in the classroom with students, and when it is an academic, athletic, or arts achievement, it is announced during morning and afternoon announcements.
    Also, as dept. chair, I was determined I would not allow another new teacher to be treated the way I was when I first came to my school. I worked hard to knock down walls with those long timers that resisted change and tried to sabotage people for no apparent reason. I also make it clear at every department meeting, this is our department, not mine. I ask and expect all members to be a vital part to grow our department. We are still a work in progress, but much better than that dept. 6 years ago.
    What are symbols that inhibit our culture. My first thought is echoed by many of my classmates. Athletics are revered in our school. Our principal and assistant love sports and attend all of the football and basketball games, but rarely do they show up to see the debate or academic bowl team(asst. principal shows up for 1-2 AB matches each year). When they attend other events they are on their phones most of the time. When our basketball team and wrestling team went to state, their was a huge celebration and send off, but our debate team leaves in the morning for nationals and nothing was said or done for them today, so the students say, they don’t care about anyone but athletes. There must be balance. I don’t know how they keep up with all the activities, so I am not judging, but the students are and that creates a negative culture.

    Reply
  15. Dina McClellan

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?

    We have monthly character traits (teamwork, honesty, perseverance, compassion, responsibility, self-discipline, etc.) at our site that students are to follow. Staff look for students throughout the week modeling certain character traits and nominate them for Trojan of the Week (TOW). Friday afternoons at 2:45 it is silent as the intercom comes on and the principal begins reading names of students. If a child’s name is called, they get to go down to the principal’s office and get an item of their choice from the Southeast ES Trojan Store. A card is sent home with the child with the nomination reason inside for them and their parents. With the implementation of TOW, the behavior and overall character of our students has grown.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?

    We are building a culture and teamwork with the implementation of House Teams. As part of the leadership team, we felt that there needed to be connections and relationships made at all levels and across grade levels. We found that we had teachers who because of our schedules never saw each other during a normal day, unless at a staff meeting. The House Teams are a way for staff and students to partner together and mentor one another.

    Reply
  16. Gregory Smith

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    One of the things we do at school is acknowledge when a student becomes a million word reader. They go to the library and pick up a t-shirt and a prize. They have the opportunity to wear that t-shirt with jeans on Fridays. No one else get to wear jeans, so it motivates the students to get to that level.
    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    We have a student of the month recognition assembly each semester where a student receives a certificate and a prize, but we could do a better job of talking about it and encouraging the students to model ‘student of the month’ behavior throughout the month.

    Reply
  17. Edward N. Smith

    The issue of barriers and success stands as a central element of a recent project I began. A local school has experienced a number of recent challenges because the student and community population is changing–thereby creating changes in the subcultures in the larger group. Where these groups interact, and often have difficulty finding common ground, has shown a number of challenges ranging from groups feeling excluded to violence.

    A key element of this, related to symbols, rituals, and culture, stems in consideration for reevaluating the school handbook with an emphasis on the dress code. The initial areas of focus related to the use of hats, scarves, wraps, and similar apparel and the wear of hoodies, hoods, etc. While traditionally, these are seen as not acceptable in school, both subgroup and larger American fashion trends show that wearing of these is more common. Further, because these clothing items carry symbolic weight, whether from religion and culture or as a sign of protest, means there is a great potential for conflict to come from misunderstandings.

    Whether this stems from a change of the times–things no longer being done the old way–or other issues will require further observation on my part.

    The conflicts that arise over this are inhibiting student learning–so much, that they are nearly preventing long standing symbols, such as shared dress standards and spirit apparel, have little or no appeal. There are, however, a few noteworthy exceptions–cultural clubs and similar organization shirts still bear the school name. This reveals there remains also a bit of school pride that can be built from. Only by increasing inclusive relations, and building connections through these cultures–perhaps by building new symbols and norms–can this overall site culture improve.

    Reply
  18. Kelsee Dyess

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?

    I believe the emphasis on collaboration and encouragement are integral symbols that effect the student learning at my school. It is an unstated expectation that teachers and staff collaborate and encourage one another, which ultimately transfers into one’s teaching practices and community in the classroom. If a new teacher is hired, it is essential for them to work effectively with others, otherwise often times their contract is not renewed. The opportunities for collaboration and encouragement cultivate instructional effectiveness, foster teacher morale, and grow a positive school environment.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?

    I believe a child’s home/family are essential in fostering the school culture and student learning. Each year, I host a literacy night for my students’ families to promote family involvement, cultivate positive relationships, and build classroom community. I believe this is an integral component in fostering a positive classroom community. The families become more ingrained, I gain a deeper understanding of each child’s home/family, and the students become more connected. I would like to see my school as a whole improve in encouraging parental involvement. I believe this is an aspect of our school that is lacking. As an aspiring leader, I am passionate about utilizing the families to promote the school culture and learning environment.

    Reply
  19. Brielle Smith

    I think incorporating cultural symbols into everyday teaching is important. even though I teach math I can always learn something new and bring it into my classroom. I chose to reflect on what symbols in your school are working to improve student learning? I think that in my classroom I use stories, rituals, decorations, and certain language to enhance learning in my classroom. It helps to show passion, then the students see your passion and have a higher buy in rate. What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning? I also think that rituals, stories, and language can also inhibit learning if not used correctly or if the teacher is not passionate enough for student buy in.

    Reply
  20. Jacklyn Henley

    I currently work in a Head Start, so we use symbols in our everyday teaching. One way that we use these symbols is to place around the room and in the students’ cubbies to help them recognize where their own things are and to help them learn to recognize their name in writing; however, I feel like this inhibits learning also by creating a crutch for young children. They begin to rely on the symbols instead of looking at the name and learning it or looking at their surroundings to figure things out.

    We could use more culturally diverse symbols to celebrate each of the different family cultures that attend the Head Start each year. This would make both the children and family members feel more welcome and open to learning and volunteering, especially since we get quite a few international student families from OSU come through the Head Start.

    Reply
  21. Doug Ruffner

    In the second high school in which I worked they conducted an assembly called the Senior Awards Assembly.This get together of all of the students showcased not only the talents of every athlete and their awards and scholarships, but that of every senior student, in any organization that had received recognition for excellence in their preferred activity. Every senior student that had received a scholarship of any amount was recognized, total awards that year were over three million dollars for a good third of the senior class. This was not an overnight happening; it had taken years for this assembly to become the impetus for many student to work hard and achieve much so that they could shine during this well-publicized event. Even the local media covered it. This was something that worked for student enhancement.

    What doesn’t work is when an event such as this is touted to be a regular happening and simply is not done with any consistency. Student of the month comes to mind; it usually starts out fine then peters out as the year progresses.The same happens with monthly teacher recognition. Consistency really is the key to promoting icons that the student will value over time, not the here-today-gone-tomorrow fluff.

    Reply
  22. Sarah Freeman

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    We have many symbols that work to improve student learning, however, recently we started two new ‘symbols’ the Attendance Wall and Reading Counts Car Race. The Attendance Wall is displayed in the front of the building, and each teacher has a square where after the morning attendance is posted, each class attendance percentage is written on the wall. Then, as the students go to specials, lunch, or to the cafeteria they pass this wall. Whoever has the highest average percentage at the end of the week gets a Free Dress Day (our school wears uniforms). Wow, the students have really invested in this “wall”; they are very motivated to not wear a uniform. They enjoy going by and seeing the difference percentages, and are taking account for their attendance. We have already seen attendance increase in the past few months. We also have a new Reading Counts wall, that looks like a race track. At the end of the hallway there is a checkered flag, and at the end of each week the Media Specialist moves all the cars in the race. Their are check points along the way, “trophies” that they can win when they pass each check point. Some of the “trophies” include an ice-cream party, movie and popcorn party etc. These symbols have become a daily occurrence and reminder for them to keep challenging themselves, and to hold themselves accountable.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    Cultural symbols are very important in an environment. Socially, emotionally, and academically cultural symbols play a big role in the way students and teachers interact within the school building and with each other. Ways that my school can use cultural symbols to improve the school setting are to provide: displayed classroom procedures in every classroom, have a school creed that each student learns/recites during the morning routine, have displays/posters of important ‘heroes’ throughout history/locally, and to continue to develop and maintain rituals. These are not currently a part of the school cultural symbols therefore they could be used to improve the school setting.

    Reply
  23. Mohazobyn Panchoo

    Stories,
    Heroes and heroines,
    Myths and metaphors,
    Rituals and ceremonies,
    Facility décor, and
    Special language or jargon.
    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    Our rituals, ceremonies, and special language/jargon in particular are deliberately created and developed to improve not only student learning but also buy-in to our path to success.
    For example – the entire school of staff and students engage in a morning assembly or “Rise and Shine” which had evolved and improved over time to ground our stakeholders in our norms and expectations for behavior and academic investment. We recognize through ‘Shout-Outs” and prizes success and/or progress towards our site goals. Additionally at the morning assembly, we review, reinforce, and practice our site norms and procedures.
    Site wide all teachers and staff use a common language and signals – throughout the building teachers use the language of the 0-4 voice level chart in our precise directions to students. All classes use common site symbols for “I have a question”, or “I’m thinking about the answer” and so on. Both the site symbols and Voice Level chart is posted in every class and in the hallways and cafeteria.

    On the other hand, in our attempt to recognize and encourage commitment and focus on our site goals we use all staff meetings to showcase staff that are progressing toward our academic (and cultural) outcomes, we get feedback that some staff members are left out. Our intention to maintain a momentum and create buy-in has not been as successful as we anticipated.

    Reply
  24. Steve Nguyen

    There are two symbols that are productive within our school district which relate to instructors and students. These are motivational quotes they is shared after morning announcements along with motivational quotes in the staff lounge. Our campus administration provides these small quotes to the staff and students. At first, I thought it was silly but noticed myself reading and hearing it daily over the intercom.

    There are symbols within a school that inhibits the learning environment like program tours during class instruction from certain schools districts requesting to see our programs. I think this worthwhile activity hinders the learning environment at times. However, it’s a necessary pipeline for student to be motivated for their future endeavors.

    I think we can improve our cultural symbols through a shared value system by standardizing our symbols. Taking pride in one high school may be difficult if you had a mascot for another school that isn’t as academically or athletically strong.

    Reply
  25. Kim Castaldi

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    One of the things we started last year was creating a back-to-school ceremony that was more like a pep rally or sporting event. We had shirts for everyone on the back of the chairs and had the band and drum line perform. We wanted to make it a bonding experience and something to boost spirits at the beginning of the year.
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    I think over time we have lost some of our iconic symbols that helped bind us together. For example, we used to have an administrators retreat that really was a team-building event and we would always end with some sort of skit that was fun and uplifting and would carry it over to our back-to-school assembly for teachers. I think as administrators, we need to show everyone that we are down-to-earth, “real” people instead of living in the ivory tower.
    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    I think we need to bring back some practices that bond our teachers and schools together. For awhile, we had a superintendent challenge that seemed to create healthy competition. I would like to see something like this again.

    Reply
  26. Coleman Hickman

    For symbols improving student learning, the way the school as taking the process of collaboration within the school and has run with it, making it much more involved and productive. Collaboration Day is an event that happens district wide, once a month that allows teachers to work together from across the district, strengthening skills to help students be successful in the classroom. In some cases, this is the only time teachers are able to work together and create plans to make unique education experiences within the school.

    A symbol in my school that I feel is inhibiting students from learning is the emphasis of certain extra-curricular activities over others. As a former elective teacher that had students missing school all the time for different activities, I feel it was inhibiting their learning, overall. Although my students were getting great experiences for my classes, they still missed opportunities in other classes too. The same goes for a heavy emphasis on athletics.

    As previous classmates have said, using cultural symbols to improve the school setting could done through a continuous building of teacher relationships through activities etc. I know Collaboration Day was the only time I would see teachers from other buildings and that makes for an awkward work environment.

    Reply
  27. Mary Sloat

    Symbols that are working to improve student learning in my school’s environment are the logos and school colors. Our sports teams, band, academic teams, and students in general proudly wear the maroon and gray with the letter G plastered everywhere. I think it’s important that a school have a common symbol or motto to unite them. A tradition that has been going on for decades at my school is to sing the school song on the football field after the game, whether we win or lose. This is to show solidarity and support of our students, school, and community. We use symbols like awards and graduation cords to support and encourage community service and involvement because it improves student learning. I believe that learning inside the classroom is only part of a well-rounded individual and that students should get out in their communities to learn and contribute which our school’s national honor society, FFA, FCCLA, sports programs, and student council all promote within.

    My school is improving its school setting through the continued use of school branding in its new facilities that are being added. Everywhere you look, the big “G” and the maroon and gray colors are plastered everywhere (which is great) because it reminds us of who we are. The trophy cases that are located throughout the facilities are full of athletic, academic, and FFA awards. There is not just one dedicated trophy case. Outside the FFA classroom is a large case full of awards. Students who have won state and national academic awards get their picture hung in the school lobby. This is an impressive way to honor their hard work.

    Reply
    • Trent J. Swanson

      I love the reinforcement of the school branding to create a sense of belonging. The singing of the school fight song is a lost art for many students. I’m glad this tradition continues at your school!

      Reply
  28. Tania

    These are all great discussions!

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  29. Tania

    Great comments!

    Reply
  30. Mary Sloat

    Symbols that are working to improve student learning are the letter “G” and our school colors, which can be seen everywhere. A tradition that is important is the gathering to sing the alma mater on the football field after each home game, win or lose. We are teaching our students that community support and traditions are important in any culture and that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom but in the world.
    Symbols that are working to inhibit student learning are like what others voiced which is the over emphasis on athletics. I’m at almost every football and basketball game which always has more in attendance than music or other extra-curricular activities. However, I believe this is a cultural issue and not just our community issue. I love sports but it’s frustrating that C average student athletes are receiving full scholarships while 4.0 gpa students rarely receive such financial rewards and cultural recognition.
    We can improve our school setting by using the cultural symbols of awards and graduation cords to promote our school’s motto of serving the community by getting students more involved in community service not only in our school community but across the county and state. More and more students are learning that their contributions to society are valuable and may even save lives. Each year we have more students wearing blood donation cords when they graduate symbolizing their consistent donations to help people in our state and nation.

    Reply
    • Walter Howell

      Mary, thank you for your post. I enjoyed your description of students gathering to sing the alma mater after sporting events. This is common in Stillwater after football games. OSU Football does this, and we seem to have followed suit. I think it is an excellent head nod to tradition, which is something that we seem to get away from all too often in this day an age.

      I agree with you that it can be cultural when sporting events are more attended than performing arts events. We do live in Oklahoma, so sporting events will probably always be well attended. However, I have seen excellent attendance at performing arts events in some communities. In Stillwater, we have a large following for our music and art programs where one can witness packed parking lots on concert evenings. I think the cultural climate in this community is one that embraces the arts. This can be seen by the number of people who often attend who are not parents of musicians or other student participants.

      Reply
  31. William Doty

    When I think of symbols of culture in our school, I think of when we play “Eye of the Tiger” on the speaker system. Our mascot is the Tigers. On days we have a home day we may only hear it once, but on homecomings we hear it every passing period. It seems like this would get old, but you’d be surprised how many students like it. Also, it reminds students that there is a game, gets them talking about the game, and probably does good things for the attendance. More importantly, it is something unique to our school, and is something students and teachers will hold different from neighboring schools that do not have this ritual.

    Reply
    • Trent J. Swanson

      My toes were tapping as I heard the song “eye of the tiger” in my head. My high school mascot was the tigers. Many great memories of this song associated with games, school activities, friends, and community wide events. Songs are a great unifying symbol for a school and community to connect!

      Reply
      • Ross Ashcraft

        Mine too!

        Reply
  32. Trent J. Swanson

    I believe the two cultural contexts that would resemble my place of work (school) would fall slightly under the Individualists and mainly Egalitarian quadrant. The main reason I would say Individualists is in the name alone. I serve at an alternative high school and the instructional delivery we provide is very individualized for each student and self paced. The student and teachers work together to create an individualized path towards getting the student back on track academically and onto graduation for the individual student. This path is created based upon the student’s strengths, weaknesses and multiple needs both academically and outside of school.
    Regarding the Egalitarian context of the school, I believe this is the dominant culture. As a staff, we have the responsibility of carefully creating a path of success for each student on a case by case basis. However, this can be in direct conflict with a Egalitarian style of our school model which utilizes school wide policies regarding student performance and expectations. We collectively support our students through an Advisor / Advisee class (CARE) which supports the overall academic and social success by infusing character education. This class represents the fundamental goals of our school to develop the whole student. At our school each, we have to take into consideration each situation and identify ways we can support the individual student collectively as a school. This includes staff having active roles in decision making, increasing the school’s outreach and participation within the community, authority defined and determined by support of the communal group, and decision making governed largely by group consensus. A main component of our school is staff input regarding student and school wide decisions. Each member is expected to be an active participant. This is out of necessity, due to our smaller school size and the expectations by other staff members and the students they represent. Each staff member acts as a representative “voice” for the students and our school to collectively support our school community.

    Reply
  33. Trent J. Swanson

    Sorry, I got a little confused on this post. Here’s information on the cultural symbols of our school…

    The biggest symbol that works to improve our student learning is the school mission of “One Student at a Time”. With this symbol, we have multiple celebrations to get our students “across the finish line” of gradation. As the alternative high school we participate in the high school commencement ceremony but we also have the ritual of a “graduation walk” once a senior completes his / her final credit for graduation. All of the students and staff are called into the hallway and this graduation walk takes place down the school hallway. We tell the students to get loud and proud as they clap, holler, and cheer for their graduating classmate. On the flip side of the coin, unfortunately, some students may not be motivated enough or able to handle the freedom of the self paced environment and many times we have to remind the students, “self paced does not mean no pace”.

    We have such a tight focus on the individual but look to ways for school wide collaboration and community involvement to help with these successes. One of our most popular community ventures has been our “Dogs of Lincoln” program. This program is a partnership with our students and staff, Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Sciences and the Humane Society. Each classroom teacher adopts a dog from the Humane Society on a three week basis. The dogs are at the alternative school throughout the week, and taken care of and trained by the students and staff. At the end of the day, the dogs return return to the Humane Society. The main goal of the program is relationship building. The dogs learned to engage with their caregiver and greatly benefit from increased social interactions and basic skills training, all geared toward making the dogs ready for adoption into a loving home. The goal for the students is to focus on the responsibility and commitment of caring for the dogs and the bond that is built during the process. This community outreach has been woven into the culture fabric of our school as we are into our 4th year of the Dogs of the Dogs of Lincoln Program!

    Reply
    • Dudley Darrow

      Trent, I really like the way that you have incorporated individual student goals for your school and a larger goal with the “Dogs of Lincoln” program. Furthermore, I believe that the dog program only benefits your individual student goal of students graduating. I believe that is allows them to open up to your school community and find a connection with your school, the employees, other students and can only help the individual student become successful.

      Reply
  34. Karla Dyess

    •What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    •What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    •Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?

    I enjoyed reflecting on these questions as they really do say a lot about your district or school. When I think of my district, I think the symbols we are using to improve student learning is the emphasis on our mantra: Literacy, Engagement and Graduation. It is common language now at our schools and our district has made a point of talking about how decisions may impact those key ideas. In addition. our Superintendent has made student academics a much bigger focus by including an Academic Signing Day, student art work highlighted at the ESC and including teacher and student awards at monthly Board of Education meetings.

    I think the symbols that may inhibit student learning might be the attention paid to the highest achievers, and not necessarily students who are making great gains at their own levels. In a very big high school, it can be a challenge to recognize all the students and staff, and it seems like the same people are consistently getting attention. However, when you have over 4000 people on a campus, there needs to be a way to recognize more people in a meaningful way. This basically goes along with the last question. One idea we’ve had is to create smaller learning environments where students and staff have opportunities to create relationships and be recognized for their achievements.

    Reply
    • Denise Wake

      I really liked your comment about all the attention paid to the highest achievers, and not necessarily student who are making great gains in an area. I also wrote about his in my comment, but as a special education teacher, I firmly believe that students need to be rewarded for what they are improving in. When a student get an award for an area they struggle in, it make all the difference in their self-confidence and wanting to try even harder.

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  35. Andrea Haken

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?

    Our college is currently constructing an undergraduate laboratory that will extend research and provide students with more hands on application of their material. This will change many things from classroom structure to assignments. Nearly every class will now have a lab component. This provides our students with greater depth of knowledge. Their knowledge will not only be theoretical as it has been in the past. It will make the students more marketable to employers. The downside of this change is the $ amount. Student will now pay more in fees in order to maintain building materials. This can deter certain students from choosing our institution.
    I have always thought having a logo is a great way to be identified and contributes to marketing. When our leadership changed the first thing to change was to remove the former logo of the school and it was never replaced with anything new. It makes it difficult to keep consistency.

    Reply
    • Chuck Louviere

      Hey Andrea, this is interesting. Maybe some good will come of it to help graduates with future employment. I wouldn’t like shelling out the extra “lab” cash, so I can see that point; but, I did for this online class to keep from driving all the way to Stillwater 🙂

      Maybe your department can have a competition to come up with a new logo. You know, one of those $100 gift card prizes for the finalist. Yeah, money must grow on trees. I just haven’t found one in my yard yet.

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  36. Ross Ashcraft

    A surprisingly effective symbol at school was when the principal was standing at the door as the kids left everyday. It was a powerful hero like symbol in their minds that they had a great day and she was rewarding them for their hard work. When she wasn’t there the kids were always disappointed. The disappointment was so great that the assistant principal had to take over on the days she couldn’t come. It had become a part of the school’s culture for these kids to be congratulated and high fived at the end of their day!

    Reply
  37. Denise Wake

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning? I have been at my current school for only one year, but the symbols that have been used at our school are daily announcements that include a character word for the month and a educational word for the week. Students are asked to provide examples of the educational word for the week and send to the office. On Fridays the Administrator reads the examples and gives out special prizes. We also have monthly assemblies, AR parties and AR store that students can buy things based on the points they earned that quarter.
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning? As a special education teacher I see many times that the same students get the awards year after year. I believe we not only need to award the students that make the highest grade, but also students that make the most gains or improve in some other way. This way students that the majority of the time never gets anything, will get something for their accomplishments. I had a student this year who could read very few words at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year he was had improved his reading by two grade levels! Was he on grade level…No, but he was so proud of himself. At the end of the year assembly, you bet I gave him a reading award and he was so proud!
    Through the use of cultural symbols how can you improve your school setting? I think it goes along with what I previously wrote, to not just reward the highest or best, reward all accomplishments. At my daughters previous school when she was in first and second grade, they had a monthly award for the character of the month. This would include prizes of bumper stickers, pencils and other things. She would cry because she never got a monthly award and would say, but they already got it. I’m respectful, why don’t I get one? I think every administrator and teacher needs to be more aware of what students get what awards in order to make sure that the same kids don’t get it the same awards year after year. That way students would really want to work harder in order to get them.

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  38. BJ McBride

    While I am starting year two at my current site and district, I feel like what I have observed, there is a significant push for improving student learning. One of the ways that this happens is that we, like many Tulsa area schools, have an adjusted Friday schedule to allow time for PLC. Now, in my former district, our PLCs were dedicated solely to our departments. However, my current site and district are both much smaller, which allows us to meet at a whole site and then occasionally with those at the Middle School and the High School. This has been beneficial because we have the ability to sit down and actually work through vertical alignment to raise the bar for student success. Another way that this happens is through the use of the Great Expectations program. My site reached model status this (or almost last) school year, and a lot of these techniques are beneficial for student success outside of the classroom!

    As for the cultural symbols and the impact on the school setting, again, I am still “new”… However, one thing that has stood out to me with my transition to this district is that even though freshmen are in their own building that is considered “separate” from the HS campus, the freshmen are included in everything at the high school. Our first pep assembly of the year, the freshmen enter last and are welcomed by the upperclassmen. Each pep assembly, different groups are recognized and celebrated, and each class is up for the spirit stick. At the final pep assembly of the year, the seniors are first to leave and are given the opportunity to do the senior walk through a line of their current/former teachers. Another cultural symbol that I appreciate is homecoming in the fall! From the class contests to the float building competition for the parade, as someone who has moved in, I think this has so much value and impact on our school!

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  39. Ellen Vannoy

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning? Though a very unpopular answer, I feel student IDs inhibit student learning. The amount of time we waste due to discipline outweigh any safety concern. Students who cannot afford a new ID are publicly humiliated in the front offices, neon temp tags do not work, and administrators waste valuable time on the entire concept. Students verbalize they feel like “chattel” and that a level of personal relationship is missing.

    A school symbol that promotes student learning would be chrome books. Our one-to-one initiative puts the technology in the hands of our students. It is a symbol of a progressive school. A school who uses research and data to drive decisions. However, it is also a symbol of wealth and socio-economic standards. Our district does have an affluent voting demographic.

    Reply
    • Evelyn Kwanza

      Ellen,

      I completely agree with you that student IDs can be a distraction and an obstacle. When we first moved to Oklahoma my son’s high school was in a season that emphasized wearing them and students were assigned detention when they forgot them or didn’t wear them. It was silly in my book. I think the resources needed to monitor all of the detentions for busy and often forgetful high school students plus parent complaints made administration release this rule over time. As you mentioned, it had more of a negative affect on the culture of the school than a safety insurance.

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  40. Amy Presley

    What symbols in your school ae working to iprove student learning?
    A few years back, our site began a back-to-school camp for incoming/new students to campus. The idea was to create a culture of belonging while helping to get rid of some of those First Day nerves by not only helping kids familiarize themselves with the campus, but how to recognize people around campus guarenteed to be friendly and supportive that first day (look for the bright tees!). It has been really neat watching how the program has really gained momentum but with incoming student choosing to attend, but with returning students volunteering to be one of those anchoring/approachable folks.
    What symbols inhibit learning?
    I’m going to go with competition for kids’ time. We have a history of allowing a few of our programs involving a small percentage of our kids to dictate the culture. Where there is a scheduling conflict, these programs get to dictate the outcome even though we are talking a few hundred students on a campus of thousands. I really worry that allowing this send a message that academics are less important than the programs.

    Reply
  41. Chuck Louviere

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    We use assessment software with built in training and customized reports to reinforce higher education computer science course content covered in the class room.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Workload in some courses is not realistic for the level of course. In dealing with this matter practically, I have adjusted my teaching strategy for one class to help students get some of the work done “in class” where I am available to assist in areas of struggle.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    One thing that struck me as I read this blog is the nature of recognizing and rewarding those who embody something that leadership is promoting. Two dangers exist here: 1) “Brown-nosing” the boss 2) Partiality, favoritism, and to an extreme sense, discrimination. The idea is that everyone is part of the collaborative group, but certain ones (that agree with you) get special treatment and recognition. Run this one through legal first 🙂

    Reply
    • Dudley Darrow

      What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
      One of my big challenges as the building principal, is the 9th grade year transitioning into high school. There is a ton of research that simply states that this is a make or break year for the students and I would have to agree. Furthermore, we have three middle schools feeding into our high school which adds it’s own challenges.

      What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
      We have recently adopted a later bell schedule that will allow for much more collaboration and PLC time for our staff. Additionally, the later start time will allow for students to receive tutorial time with the individual teachers be school begins.

      Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
      I wish there was an easy answer here, but it never ends. One of our big challenges is school safety right now and tightening the reins a bit. This will only improve the culture for the students, parents and staff I believe.

      Reply
  42. Robin Saputo

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    I think one symbol in my school that is working to improve student learning is our continual celebration and recognition of students reading successes. As a site we decided that each grade level would add paper links down our hallways for books students have read as well as the class as a whole. Not only could students take pride in their accomplishments but visitors who were in our building acknowledged the work students were putting into this reading challenge.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    I feel that we can over emphasize certain areas of achievement and neglect the work of others. It could be that perhaps sports is the focus or that students who achieve high marks are the focus group. Regardless, every student has successes that need to be celebrated and nurtured.

    Reply
  43. Walter Howell

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?

    As you walk down the main hallway at Stillwater High School, you pass a long trophy case that is filled with State Academic Championships. Stillwater has a long history of winning State Academic Championships by our athletic teams since the inception of the award. We won 7 this past year! I find this display incredibly encouraging academically for our students. We choose to display these academic awards prominently rather than athletic accomplishments.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?

    There are some instances of inhibiting student learning present in our school. As much as I love it, the open campus during lunch can hurt student involvement academically. Some students find it challenging to stay on campus to eat and visit with a teacher for a class in which they are struggling. The draw to go out to lunch with friends can be too tempting. Some of them should spend more time talking to teachers and getting help.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?

    I think the way we attempt to teach all new students the culture of what it means to be a Pioneer is very important. We discuss the idea of trailblazing all the time. We teach them the school song. We teach them how to become involved in school, not only academically, but through social activism, philanthropy, and with school spirit. These symbols can be very powerful indeed.

    Reply
  44. Curtis Whiteley

    In my school building, one of the themes that has been used as a mission/vision is the three Rs, Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor. These three concepts are supposed to be at the core of everything each staff member and teacher does. In other words, in our practice as teachers, are we teaching in a way that is building relationships, making instruction relevant to today, and pushing students to new levels of thinking. Some of the ways that we are encouraged to do such things is to do what we can to get to know the student personally, through asking and taking about the activities they are involved in and show up to school activities of students when possible. A big part of our staff meetings is dedicated to us sharing stories on things we have done that demonstrates we are working toward the three Rs. This past school year, my district began a 1:1 (each student was issued a Chromebook) initiative in all secondary schools. Most all of our professional development has been dedicated towards learning ways to utilize this piece of technology in ways that mirror relevant things students work with. There has been a google doc that is updated with a lists of these strategies. These three Rs are not just talked about with staff, but also with students.

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  45. Matt Cook

    Over the past several years, enrollment at the school where I teach has grown considerably. This has been both good and bad in my opinion. One good thing about the dramatic increase in enrollment is the new high school campus. Located less than half of a mile from a major interstate highway, the new campus not only sparked members of the community to change the name of the street on which it is located to accommodate the district’s newest addition, but the campus has been largely credited with catalyzing the influx of families from all over the west side of the metro to move in. I believe that the main academic building itself symbolizes a renewed sense of pride in the school system and “the way we do things” around the community. I feel like I can speak for most of the faculty when I say that being able to work at an establishment as impressively built as the new campus inspires a sense of awe, loyalty, and pride that may, from time to time, border on hubris for some.
    One negative aspect of the rapid growth my district has seen is the speed with which it happened. Although I have not had a chance to “fact check” these figures myself, they came from administrators who, I believe, had no reason for exaggeration or embellishment. For years before the opening of the new high school campus, enrollment at the high school level struggled to reach 1,800 students. So, building a high school designed to hold 2,500 seemed prudent, considering estimated growth. In the first week that the building opened, an estimated 107 families moved in to the district and enrolled their children which put strain on every school, especially the high school which recorded 2,500+ students enrolled in its first week and has grown to over 2,600 consistently in the years following it inauguration. The problem this has caused amounts to getting too big too quickly. As silly as it may sound, doing business with 1,800 in mind versus doing business with 2,600 in mind are two very different ways of doing business. So, whereas the building symbolizes a lot of pride, etc., it also symbolizes a fair amount of frustration and stress as it has been challenging for administrators and teachers to meet the demands of a community of learners and their families in light of the rapid growth. As some have put it, “we have a small-school mentality with a huge school.”

    Reply
  46. Evelyn Kwanza

    What symbols are working in your school to improve student learning?

    My school (a 6th grade center) has worked very hard on creating mantras that aid in creating a culture of respect and achievement. The principals lead the school in a morning assembly that begins with flag salute and in with the creed,
    “I, a student at the 6th grade center, pledge to my best, treat other with kindness and make this a great day!” I love that this is a short affirmation of effort for their academics and respect for their others. Shortly after the students arrive to their fist class, the morning announcement are heard. These always end with “Have a great day and be a RESPECTFUL RAM!” Throughout the building are sentences that encourage positive character development. These are painted on the wall and illuminated in the light panels on the hall ceilings. I think both of the rituals and the decor of the building go a long way to establish behavioral norms and creating a positive overall culture. Many people people have noticed that our building has what they describe as a different “feel” than others in our district. Several of the staff who’ve worked in other buildings have claimed that the 6th grade building was a favorite. In fact, I would say that it has been my favorite educational setting. I believe these rituals help to remind the staff about their purpose and conduct as well which affects morale and team building.
    I believe mantras for younger students are powerful. So I’ve come up with one for my classroom which affirms to my students that they are musicians and directs them to focus. The students love to take turns leading it helping their peers get ready for choir class.

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  47. Carolyn Erickson

    The schools I work with use the model of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as their framework for behavior. This model can help leaders and teams answer three questions regarding behavior: what do you want, how do you get it, and can you keep it? The framework is built on clear, common, and consistent expectations. These expectations rely on the foundational aspects of relationships, environment, and procedures (REP). The leadership team at each site is tasked with developing schoolwide expectations, designing vehicles for acknowledgment, setting and maintaining discipline responses, and collecting and analyzing data to assess implementation efforts. All of the schools are coached to understand the five observable tasks of establishing schoolwide expectations: 1) Expectations should be short and memorable, 2) Expectations should be applicable to all common areas and they are for all staff and students, 3) For expectations to be firmly established, they must be explicitly taught, retaught, and modeled, 4) Expectations should be clearly visible and easily referenced in a variety of ways, and 5) All staff, students, and parents/guardians should be reminded of the expectations in a positive and regular manner. As the implementation of these expectations becomes more firmly grounded and embedded, the schools are beginning to see a change in the behaviors of both students and staff. This, in turn, is having a positive effect on the perception of climate. Expectations are created by each site, so they are organic, individualized, and sustainable. Teachers are seeing the parallels between teaching academics and behavior which is believed to be instrumental in the increasing academic performance and decreasing problematic behaviors. Additionally, as the expectations become a part of everything the schools do there seems to be a corresponding increase in school pride.

    Reply
  48. Carolyn Erickson

    The schools I work with use the model of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as their framework for behavior. This model can help leaders and teams answer three questions regarding behavior: what do you want, how do you get it, and can you keep it? The framework is built on clear, common, and consistent expectations. These expectations rely on the foundational aspects of relationships, environment, and procedures (REP). The leadership team at each site is tasked with developing schoolwide expectations, designing vehicles for acknowledgment, setting and maintaining discipline responses, and collecting and analyzing data to assess implementation efforts. All of the schools are coached to understand the five observable tasks of establishing schoolwide expectations: 1) Expectations should be short and memorable, 2) Expectations should be applicable to all common areas and they are for all staff and students, 3) For expectations to be firmly established, they must be explicitly taught, retaught, and modeled, 4) Expectations should be clearly visible and easily referenced in a variety of ways, and 5) All staff, students, and parents/guardians should be reminded of the expectations in a positive and regular manner. As the implementation of these expectations becomes more firmly grounded and embedded, the schools are beginning to see a change in the behaviors of both students and staff. This, in turn, is having a positive effect on the perception of climate. Expectations are created by each site, so they are organic, individualized, and sustainable. Teachers are seeing the parallels between teaching academics and behavior which is believed to be instrumental in the increasing academic performance and decreasing problematic behaviors. Additionally, as the expectations become a part of everything the schools do there seems to be a corresponding increase in school pride.

    Reply
  49. Lora Reavis

    Our school has developed symbols and rituals that date back to its first year in the ’80’s. To date our school has only had two principals, the second will be retiring next year. The first thing that comes to mind is how they have established a culture of family. The saying goes at Creek, “Once a Creek kid, always a Creek kid.” It doesn’t matter if the students are district assigned or behavior problems, once they are there our principal will do his best to keep them in the school to give them a stable school home so the students can focus on learning. The symbol of “Shoot for the Moon” helps student learning, establishing a mindset that anything is possible. The culture of the teachers creates a moral purpose of teaching the students communication and life skills, not just academics. Each day there is a mystery teacher who catches a student reading and gives them a golden dollar. Students are motivated to read more independently because of this ritual.
    The family culture can be daunting for new teachers as they enter the community and establish classroom practices. I wonder sometimes if the unnamed pressure to conform to the grade level experienced teacher’s norms might become a stumbling block to the creativity new teachers can bring. This ritual could hinder student learning.
    We could improve our student culture by recognizing the most improved. This would give struggling students a reachable goal and incentive to do better.

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  50. Rexi Phillips

    One symbol that really inspired our students and impacted overall achievement was a simple announcement over the intercom. Working in an alt ed high school, a lot of celebration was given to grit and follow through, and especially big deal was made about graduation. Our students could walk during graduation with their home high school, but many students didn’t feel the emotional sentiment or belonging there. Many felt boulevard was their home and they wanted to celebrate graduating with us. So, a celebration ritual slowly evolved. When students graduated (which could happen at any time of the school year) the principal would get on the intercom and do a school wide announcement to celebrate. It started with “cha ching cha ching” which symbolized the emotional deposit that was being made in our schools emotional bank account for being a part of their lives. After that intro, the principal, in an excited tone, announced the student’s name and that they had graduated from Boulevard Academy. It was customary for all classrooms to clap and cheee. Then, since our school is so small, the graduate could choose to visit classes and get high fives and hugs. Sometimes the graduation paperwork would not be complete until after school had already dismissed. In these cases, more often than not, the students chose to come back the next morning to have their “cha ching” announced. In writing this, I am reminded of the simple beauty and how it made our kids feel how loved and valued they are.

    As for negative symbols, I can think of situations where the “that’s just how we do it” has stood in the way of what is best for students. This is especially true in the issue of dress code. While dress code certainly serves a purpose and once in place I think it must be adhered to, I am thinking of times it was up for reassessment. Again, our school’s view of alt ed was that sometimes we had to find alternatives and if kids were at school, engaged, respectful, and critically thinking and building relationships we were on the right track. The few times we brought up the dress code for revision the discussion of hats came up. While I understand in some schools their is a legitimate safety concern, we had not experienced those. Students and teachers would get in to power struggles over hats and ultimately learning time would be lost. So, we opened discussion about if the student was meeting all the requirements of academics attitude, and attendance, was it worth compromising it over a hat. Regardless of where one stands, the “that’s how it has always been” camp would not even come to the table on the issue and refused to offer evidence or support. This lack of communication, if not the policy, was a detriment to students.

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