Improving Schools through Cultural Symbols

Author:

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.
  • Image Source

164 Comments

  1. Michael Afolabi

    There were some symbolic things that happens in a school I know so well to improve student learning and to encourage hardwork. The school normally have what is called VSI (Visual Spring Initiative). This happens every Friday and “everything” is discussed with the student which covers, academic, spiritual, health, medicals etc. At times the boys are separated form the girls when it is time for sensitive health talk. There is freedom to express and to ask every kind of question. Another beautiful thing done which is symbolic in this same school is the presentation of golden tie to the best and most outstanding student at the end of the term/semester. This is a drive because it encourages healthy competition among the students. The staff who is involved in the the trainings are also recognized. This exercises have become ritual and every student looks forward to this occasions.

    Reply
  2. Jesi Young

    Pep assemblies and spirit weeks are a huge cultural symbol in our school. Student Council, the cheer squad and coach, and principals work very hard to create a culture where students are proud of where they come from and feel that they belong. With Pep Assemblies, we try to celebrate the multiple sports going on but of course they are usually focused on and scheduled on football game nights. We need to do a better job of holding pep assemblies in other seasons so the school pride lasts through the school year. Spirit Weeks help students feel as if they belong and even those who do not dress up for dress up days enjoy seeing what their more outgoing classmates will come up with.

    During the pandemic, culture symbols like these went away and I think it had a detrimental impact on the school culture. Most students felt like they were “just there” and all the fun that came with school was gone. Last year and this coming school year a focus on school culture will help bring us back to pre-pandemic student engagement.

    Reply
  3. Katie Quillin

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    We are currently working as a department to further develop our rituals. Since Covid, we now have a weekly zoom staffing meeting and now as a new ritual we have a more “how are you” daily challenge. An email is sent out to us from leadership asking how our day is, family life, mental head space, and what our leaders can do to help us be more productive both in our work and family lives. This is something we have been asked to filter down to our students and engage with them on a more symbolic level. Using this in the MPower Classroom has helped me understand my students better and many have said they actually feel heard.
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    I am going to use an example I see in my intern site school. At this school, boys athletics is held to a shining light while girls are left in the dark. Last year the boys football team became state champions. They got to ride a brand new bus from Muscogee Nation and meals provided by local business. The girls softball team goes to state almost every year. There is no special treatment, no parade, no special bus. I think for the girls they feel like they are left out. I think this makes them feel less important and taints their image of the school they attend. I think in the symbolic meaning, this makes them symbolize a negative and not a positive.

    Reply
  4. Bethany Knight

    One cultural symbol in our school is SWINE Week. It is our philanthropy week where student council’s year long fundraiser ends in a week of celebration and silliness. In one regard, this is an amazing opportunity for our kids to raise money for cause that is bigger than themselves and learn so many leadership qualities. It enriches the lives of many students and community members. In another way, the same week can make our students in poverty feel smaller and less seen than ever. Our teachers work extremely hard to ensure that all students are included and have opportunities to participate, but we cannot have eyes and ears everywhere. It becomes imperative that faculty members offer extra support and find ways to be inclusive.

    Reply
  5. Christy Bennefield

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

    Our school has a symbol called the partnership triangle for success that outlines the roles and responsibilities that the teacher, parent and student will abide by in order to achieve the goals set for the student for the school year. The outer portion of the triangle has the word communicate on each side in order to emphasize the importance of this in the overall execution of the plans for the student. When one portion of the triangle fails to do its part, the goals for the student are at risk. This symbol helps to support student learning with clear and detailed expectations.

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

    The school’s setting can be improved by rewarding behaviors that support the mission of the school. At our school, the motto is “school can be different”. Celebrating and rewarding efforts of educators in partnership with parents and students to implement innovative and individualized educational plans for students can encourage this practice to be adopted and expanded on by others in the organization. This year our school initiated a program called Level Up. Educators, administrators and students were all encouraged to focus on areas of improvement to give their best this year. Students who participated were entered in a drawing for school gear. This school related incentive prize also helped to promote the school and its culture.

    Reply
  6. Jacob Miller

    At my school site we are not doing anything extra on the symbols to motivate our scholars. We have our academic all state wall but that’s all for academics. Within my athletic department we have invested into rebranding our logos, adding door wraps throughout the facilities, and displaying all academic and state championship awards. I also started a high school hall of fame that will honor our past scholars and athletes. For academics, there isn’t a budget to improve our school facilities. Simple door wraps or painting the halls will uplift our scholars and motivate our scholars to not only want to be in school but be successful in school.

    Reply
  7. Mackenzie Chitko

    At my 7-12 grade school, we are currently working on improving the school culture with academics. The symbol or ritual we are working with is an open campus policy that the district has had. It used to be 11 & 12 only, but to decrease the number of students at lunches during covid it was then opened to 10-12. This has been a bargaining chip for students as if you are on the D-Failing-Incomplete (DFI) you can not leave for lunch until the next grade check. This has been helpful to hold our students accountable while still giving them freedom through responsibility. There is a sign-in sheet for those who are on the list that have to stay.

    Reply
  8. Merredith Newman

    At my school, we have gone through a “rebranding” over the last two years. We are a technology center and have tried for many years to get away from the connotation of “vo-tech” and instead become known as Career Tech. To accomplish this and attract a more diverse group of students, we have rebranded our name, title, and all symbols on all areas of our campuses. This change is meant to make a positive culture change for our staff and students.
    One way to use a culture symbol to improve my school setting would be to provide a graduation ceremony for our students. We have many positive ceremonies to recruit and introduce the students to our center, but after they have worked hard to complete their program they are simply given a certificate in the office or by mail. I believe if we had a ceremony for them, it would inspire more students to finish or attend our tech center.

    Reply
  9. Karie Moorehead

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

    I have heard it said many times, “That’s how we do things here”. Our school has many transfer students. Occasionally, we get a transfer student that doesn’t understand they can’t get away with things in a small school that they likely got away with at a larger school. Often times it is small infractions that change the dynamics of the class, but ultimately do inhibit learning. I feel that our current students tend to act as the new transfer students rather than the new students acting like our current students. If a transfer student is continually causing problems, it is likely their transfer will not be renewed the following year. Sometimes the damage has already been done. The staff could have a plan in place to deal with class behaviors that inhibit student learning. These behaviors can include any behavior that goes against our school culture: goofing around in class, disrespect, not completing work, etc. The school culture begins to shift when there are no consistent consequences, especially when we increase enrollment by at least 50 students in one year. I know that I like to deal with class behaviors on my own, but if a plan was in place and all teachers recognized the behaviors, together we could encourage better classroom behaviors that would encourage all students to act in a way that promotes learning.

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

    I would begin with announcements. We do morning announcements, but our concurrently enrolled students and vo-tech students do not hear them. Years of students have complained they do not know what is going on. Morning and afternoon announcements would solve this issue.
    Another area of improvement I recognize is that teachers/staff should encourage student involvement in all organizations. I recently held cheer tryouts. It was announced only on days I went to the office and asked to have it announced even though I had asked for it to be announced daily. I do not know of any staff promoting or encouraging tryouts. Often someone complains about diminishing school spirit, but it takes an intentional effort to promote school spirit. From my experience, it begins with the adults.

    Reply
  10. Rayna Zimmerman

    One of the most important symbols (pre COVID) is our school round-up. Each morning every single student and teacher meets in the gym and starts their day together. While it sounds like a mess, it’s so strategically implemented that it is always successful. There is a huge feeling of collectivism that comes from the morning and students are highly engaged. I didn’t realize how important this piece was to our school culture until it was temporarily halted by COVID. The process helps to improve student learning in many ways. First, and most obviously, we discuss vocabulary words and application of said words, and we learn phrases in different languages, taught and spoken by students in our school (we are very diverse), but lest directly, it creates unity and a sense of belonging to this school, and I really feel it helps foster relationships as ALL students see ALL teachers, as well as each other.

    One thing that really inhibits student growth, in my opinion, is the “stories” that surround our school Because we are very diversified, and have a significant Title I population, we get a bad rap. I often feel like teachers, especially new teachers, believe this and it negatively impacts their ability to lead a classroom effectively.

    Reply
  11. Merredith Newman

    At my school we have gone through a “rebranding” over the last two years. We are a technology center and have tried for many years to get away from the connotation of “vo-tech” and instead become known as Career Tech. To accomplish this and attract a more diverse group of students, we have rebranded our name, title, and all symbols on all areas of our campuses. This change is meant to make a positive culture change for our staff and students.
    One way to use a culture symbol to improve my school setting, would be to provide a graduation ceremony for our students. We have many positive ceremonies to recruit and introduce the students to our center, but after they have worked hard to complete their program they are simply given a certificate in the office or mail. I believe if we had a ceremony for them, it would inspire more students to finish or attend our tech center.

    Reply
  12. Jayden Dobbs

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning? In my school we have a slogan or creed that states “be the reason”. This motto and way of life is preached and encouraged both visually and verbally by our staff to our students to improve student learning. The idea behind the motto is that we want all individuals of the school to be the reason others want to keep coming to school. After Covid-19, student attendance was a consistent battle for our staff to overcome and accommodate for. We implemented this motto for our staff and students to encourage students to be kind and genuine to other in order to be the reason others want to be in school and therefore, improve student overall learning.

    Our school has a mission statement that is lengthy and hard to grasp for students. Our mission statement is “to be recognized as the very best middle school in the state of Oklahoma at helping every student reach their potential.” I think that a mission statement that is less broad and easier to digest would suffice as a better cultural symbol. The subjectiveness of the statement leaves for uncertainty on the symbolism of that message. The mission statement doesn’t have an action in it which leads to a lot of guessing on how students and staff can accomplish the mission statement. I think that if our school used action words towards the mission statement that our students would buy into the process of becoming the best middle school in the state of Oklahoma and have students reach their potential.

    Reply
  13. Starr Wilson

    At my school we have many rituals like morning announcements, Dress Your Best Mondays, College Gear Wednesdays, and Spirits Fridays. We started the school year with the theme “RAMS UNITE.” There is a UNITED club and the art department is about to feature the UNITED art show next week that will feature individual, interactive, and collaborative art. The teachers were provided shirts to advertise the theme and banners are hung in the hallways that were made by the art students. The theme was voted on by the staff before the beginning of the year and I feel that is a great step in the direction of trying to make all students feel included and comfortable when they walk through the doors each day.

    We have always voted for Teacher of the Year but this year the administration started having Teacher of the Week. The 2020-2021 TOY selected the first Teacher of the Week and then they selected the next TOW and so on. I appreciated the administration making this effort because it allowed us to recognize more teachers and their efforts in the classrooms. The principals go to the teacher’s classroom and read the reason why they were selected by the previous teacher in front of their students which makes them excited to be apart of the celebration. A sign is hung outside their door for the remainder of the week. The only thing that I don’t like about this process is that we have a very large faculty and not all of the teachers get recognized and so they may not feel appreciated.

    We have Student of the Month but because there are approximately 3,000 students in the building we only award it to seniors. I do not like this at all because I feel like we need to do more to recognize students in every grade. We used to give awards for top student for every subject and families were invited to the ceremony while donuts were served. I really wish we would bring that back to reward students for working hard. I feel that it is important to make teachers feel like assets through showing recognition and appreciation to increase morale. Students of all ages get excited by knowing they did a Good Job and I feel like if we want to truly UNITE our school then we need to continue to find ways for the students to feel special as well and let them know they didn’t get lost due to the large school population.

    Reply
  14. Jessica Ventris (Ferree)

    I think my agency, CareerTech, has done a great job improving its rituals. We have Morning Chat every Monday where the State Director gives updates to all staff. There are weekly manager meetings for managers to give updates from their divisions and share best practices. I have weekly staff meetings with my division. These all benefit our culture by improving communication. Also, the increase in professional development opportunities is a symbol that inhibits staff learning. We used to have a logo that symbolized our mission and goals. When you saw it on billboards, marketing materials, and handouts, you knew it was CareerTech. Last year we started using the new Oklahoma logo for everything and I believe this took away from our individual recognition. Everything we used to see was branded in a familiar way that united us and was only ours. This is something we should bring back to improve our setting. It symbolized our commitment to each other and our schools by incorporating our goals. Currently, we are branded like other state agencies.

    Reply
  15. Becky Taylor

    Our school has a triangle that represents our goals. The base is knowledge, one side represents technical skills, and the other side represents workforce readiness. Inside the triangle are a set of scales that balance skills and success. The triangle was chosen because it is the strongest of all geometric shapes. Our administration uses this symbol to focus our goals. I think we should have a mascot at our school. Something that represents what we do or our culture.

    Reply
    • Mackenzie Chitko

      I would love to get this diagram!
      We utilize a PRIDE matrix that is posted in every room, but I find that it is too much text for students to understand or relate to.
      Our mascot is the Warrior, and I do not believe we utilize it enough in academics. We could utilize it as rewarding the students who have increased or maintained their academic standing and give them “Warrior’s Fight” for academics.

      Reply
  16. Sally Cox

    We started our school year with a theme of The Road to Success. All the teachers have street signs with their names outside their doors. Mine is Cox Way. We have signs all over encouraging career exploration. We lost much of the school culture we had in the past due to covid. We used to start the school day in an all school meeting. This is where all the announcements we made and it was an opportunity to see everyone and say good morning. It did a lot to bring us together. We also do Student of the Month. Each teacher picks a student each month that has some qualities they admire or has improved in some way. It’s not always the kids that usually get noticed.The kids actually really like it. They get to leave early on fridays and it makes them feel special.

    Reply
  17. Mashon Buckner

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

    Since we haven’t had a chance to do our weekly assemblies to recognize our academic leaders, they were announced on the announcements and given a special mask to wear at school. These represent student leaders and other students look up to them. The kids are so proud to wear these masks and they are awarded to not only the high achieving students, but also the hardest working students.

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

    I would say the over abundance of posted rules and regulations that come from different theories can be overwhelming. We are Great Expectations, Conscious Discipline, Social Thinking, TBRI, Halo Project, etc. The list keeps going and it can be overwhelming for students to see all the different options there and know which one to go to.

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

    Focusing on one of the behavior curriculum would be ideal. Conscious Discipline allows for a wish you well board for absent staff and students, as well as a friends and family board to post pictures of students and their closest friends or families. It develops a sense of belonging and community within the school.

    Reply
  18. Anissa Angier-Dunn

    In my school we use our symbols as practical tools in our environment. Symbols when they also have a practical application can really improve a school setting in my opinion. We have a common saying every day at the end of announcements such as “It’s my job to keep you safe, and it’s your job to…” and the kids respond with “…keep it that way!” This is something we can then reference in a lot of situations when we need to address an issue. An example might be a fight on the playground which is clearly not safe, or running in the hallways which is not safe. We also use this safety ritual in other symbols such as universal “safe places” throughout the school that help students self-regulate when needed. This gets them back into a student learning environment quickly. It is somewhat difficult to identify something that we do as a ritual that inhibits student learning since we’re designed to promote student learning. But maybe a ritual that inhibits learning is allowing over-stretched teachers to develop. When teachers are stretched too far, they cannot adequately plan lessons or sustain high-quality instruction. This is an accepted “norm” in a lot of school settings.

    Reply
  19. David Jewell

    Two years ago my school, during announcements said goooo wildcats. Upward and onward to be lifelong learners. As the years have progressed it has become mundane and not as impactful as the original intention was meant to be. A couple reasons why this occurred. #1 the construction took over 1/2 of the school and we were relegated to 1200 students in three hallways. #2 the intercom system rarely worked and students could not hear. #3 covid. With masks and social distancing we were no longer allowed to congregate in assemblies. These reasons alone made it difficult to continue with cultural symbol. I believe this year we will make a change. The inhibiting factors are listed above and I hope to start up assemblies again along with a working intercom system and a completed school.

    Being authentic will be the biggest impact to improve your school setting. Teachers, students and everyone else can see through the fake, so being authentic is a huge step in what it means to increase your school culture.

    Reply
    • Sally Cox

      Your last paragraph is so true. Students know when we are being authentic. In the Alt Ed setting many of the kids have had negative relationships and interactions with teachers and authority figures as a whole. Our morning meetings really help to develop relationships. Can’t wait to get back to those.

      Reply
  20. Randy Williams

    In the district in which I teach, we have a multilayered vision statement, but one of the focus areas of the statement is to deliver exceptional learning in the 5 A’s (Academics, Activities, Arts, Athletics, Attitude). All decisions that are made are aligned with this statement. Plus, the district has a motto of striving for excellence which permeates throughout the district at all levels. It is based on the idea that we are constantly striving for improvement from administrators and teachers to students, so basically, we want to improve. You see this in the schools striving for improvement to better serve students. In addition, the district vision statement the school I teach at has a set of belief statements that are closely aligned with the district vision but are more geared to serve as a guiding post for our decision impacting the students are our site. Both are posted in each classroom but, more importantly, are referenced constantly in almost all group communication and guide the daily decisions of the school and classrooms. This is important that it is good to have a vision statement, mission statement, and belief statement. Still, unless they are used consistently and constantly, they are just statements: they have to be living breathing identity for them to have the impact.

    One of the points that resonated with me in the article is how language impacts the culture, like stories, but it could also be in the signage and things hanging in the building. For example, a sign could read Do not eat in the library, which I consider negatively. Instead, the sign could say thank you for eating in the cafeteria and leaving food and beverages in your bag. This rephrasing now has a positive connotation for students. Often, we can do little things when linked together that can positively impact the culture of the school and district.

    Reply
  21. Christie Sandefur

    My school has a motto we say at the end of announcements everyday. We use the phrase “At Canyon Ridge” we will be on time, ready for success, considerate and kind. We will ROCK the Ridge. This has promoted a sense of community and ownership in how we not only work towards academic success but how we present ourselves in our school community. We started this the first year the school opened 8 years ago and even today, students will remember that motto. It has become a historical symbol of Canyon Ridge. When our seniors come back to visit on Senior day they all repeat it as soon as they come in the building. We have created a culture for them just from one simple saying.

    Reply
    • Tami Woods

      One of the symbols in my school that are working to improve student learning are the wildly important goals (WIGS) that we talk about in the classrooms, post in the hallways and progress monitor. Student learning data, is charted and celebrated monthly. We are a lighthouse “Leader in Me” elementary school. Our morning student led announcements include a monthly leadership habit plus our “WIGS” along with words such as “we have a plan and set goals, we do things that have meaning and make a difference, we are an important part of our classroom and contribute to our school’s mission and vision, we look for ways to be a good citizen. We have artwork and leadership quotes all up and down the hallways that serve as visual reminders to students that they are all leaders. All of these symbols in our school have helped to improve student learning. Our school has moved from a “C-“on the state report card to an “A” in the area of academic growth. I think we could improve our school setting by having monthly student led assemblies again. Covid19 has prevented us from having celebratory monthly student led assemblies where the students and teachers are recognized and celebrated in a BIG way! We did this Pre-COVID and it really makes a difference!

      Reply
    • Anissa Angier-Dunn

      In my school we use our symbols as practical tools in our environment. Symbols when they also have a practical application can really improve a school setting in my opinion. We have a common saying every day at the end of announcements such as “It’s my job to keep you safe, and it’s your job to…” and the kids respond with “…keep it that way!” This is something we can then reference in a lot of situations when we need to address an issue. An example might be a fight on the playground which is clearly not safe, or running in the hallways which is not safe. We also use this safety ritual in other symbols such as universal “safe places” throughout the school that help students self-regulate when needed. This gets them back into a student learning environment quickly. It is somewhat difficult to identify something that we do as a ritual that inhibits student learning since we’re designed to promote student learning. But maybe a ritual that inhibits learning is allowing over-stretched teachers to develop. When teachers are stretched too far, they cannot adequately plan lessons or sustain high-quality instruction. This is an accepted “norm” in a lot of school settings.

      Reply
  22. Dominic Egure

    My school had an end of the month assembly where everyone in the school, teachers and students gathered under the mango trees to commend and applaud students (or classes) who worked hardest in the particular month. Specifically, the neatest class of the month is applauded; the most diligent student of the month is applauded; and many other praises are given to reward hard work. This is also the day that each class sends a class delegate to show (display) the uniqueness or creativity of their class, and no one student is allowed to represent a class more than one time in a given school year. These celebrations and rituals were symbolic. They taught students to develop growth mindset. I believe that it was a shared value system and common orientation that talents and abilities are not cast on stone; they can be developed. In the midst of dilapidated class room buildings with bad chairs and tables, students demonstrated resilience, and were willing to stick to their vision. #Nigerian perspective

    Reply
  23. Keith Ooten

    At my school site we have a slogan and phrase, “assume the best intent while setting the gold standard.” The staff of my school really has bought into this ideology and has made this school a wonderful place to be and to work. We also have numerous past students that have done great things with themselves including Skip Bayless, Elizabeth Warren, and Vince Gill. There is a designated area for our past students as well with their name on the wall, tying them to our school. Finally, we have a school wide program where we raise money for certain families that are in desperate need. This brings the school closer together as well as brining in the community to assist.

    Reply
  24. George Pascaul

    our School has several phrases we use every morning. after a couple years of it, the phrases are burned into the kids’, and teacher’s, memory. ” the most amazing elementary school in the universe” is one of them. another is “its. great day to have a great day”. the school also changes up the theme for the year. every year we pick a new theme and decorate the building accordingly. this year is “level up” so everything will be video game themed. along with the new theme will come new catch phrases to add into the library. as annoying as it may seem as adults it does work. every wall has a reminder of what to do or think for the students. the goal of the school is plastered all over the place to be seen at all times. if anything, there is no excuse for not knowing the expectations.

    when I was in school we had the 7 pillars of character counts. to this day I remember them. I even remember the cadence you used to say it in and the wall we had to face while saying it.

    keeping a positive environment can be a very useful tool. filling the school with positive symbols helps create that environment. at the elementary level, it is everything. about a quarter of the student can’t even read what’s on the walls but can identify the message being said just from the repetition alone.

    Reply
  25. Courtney Miller

    At my university we have different symbols that encourage student learning. We use bulletin boards to advertise tutoring for those struggling. We also post student success stories on every floor so students can see that our students are succeeding. We post graduation photos of nurses on the 1st floor. We put our office hours in our syllabus and are present for students to get help. We also post additional resources on our website to help students. One thing that inhibits learning is sometimes teachers are not present in their offices during office hours or fail to give back exams so students can learn from their mistakes.

    The main thing we can do to help with learning is we can be present more for our students. So they can tell the stories about how teachers were there for them when they needed help. We can also post more success stories of students. All these visual cues help students want to learn.

    Reply
    • Dominic Egure

      My school had an end of the month assembly where everyone in the school, teachers and students gather under the mango trees to commend and applaud students (or classes) who worked hardest in the month. Specifically, the neatest class of the month is applauded; the most diligent student of the month is applauded; and many other praises are given to reward hard work. This is also the day that each class sends a class delegate to show (display) the uniqueness or creativity of a class, and no one student is allowed to represent a class in a given school year. These celebrations and rituals are symbolic. They teach students to develop growth mindset. What I believe that it was a shared view that talents and abilities are not cast on stone; they can be developed. In the midst of dilapidated class room buildings with bad chairs and tables, students demonstrated resilience, and were willing to stick to their vision. #Nigerian perspective

      Reply
  26. Sydney Silva

    My district often uses the phrase, “It’s a great day to be a wildcat”. This phrase has built a positive community around our schools and also set the expectation for what being a wildcat is and looks like. At a school site level, we put a big focus on wildcat character traits. The students look forward to learning about the month’s character trait and they work hard to be recognized for displaying that trait throughout the month.

    Reply
    • Christie Sandefur

      In the previous school I worked in as an administrator – I constantly was reminded of the phrase “it’s lonely at the top”. I despise this phrase and 100% do not believe that it is correct. By stifling relationships between yourself and your staff you are inhibiting student learning. I believe that relationships are the center of student success in schools. Cultivating a positive enriched school environment that allows for teacher creativity, autonomy and collaboration is vital to student success.

      Reply
  27. Catherine Schmutz

    At our school we have a ‘hall of fame’ of past graduates to showcase what graduates have done. This works to help inspire students to aspire to something more than just themselves, but this isn’t updated reguarllary and students aren’t often involved with the selection of the nominees or with the ceremony to induct them into the hall of fame. This symbol in the school could be use to help inspire students to achieve a successful life if it was updated more regularly and which a wide range of ‘successful’ people, not just those who went to earn fame and fortune.

    Reply
  28. Karla White

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    It has been such a crazy year because of COVID 19 and the new rules put in place to ensure the safety of students and staff. At the beginning of the year, our superintendent set our theme as GRIT – encouraging all staff and students to persevere through our struggles. Our rituals changed, but we strived to continue as much as possible to maintain our positive school culture.
    We have a creed that is recited every morning that concludes with “…respectful, responsible and ready, that’s the Broncho way!” Teachers are given forms called “Broncho Brands” that we hand out to students who are behaving in the Broncho Way. The students get recognition by having names read over the intercom, and are on a Bingo board for a bigger award. Students love the reward system and try very hard to be recognized. This culture carries over into the classroom, where students are working harder to be successful academically and behaviorally.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    We have been so lucky to have most of our students in person for the majority of the year. One of the struggles that inhibited our school was distance learning. Reflecting on our system, we need to be mindful to include all students in the rituals/symbol cultures of our daily/weekly/monthly recognitions. There were no Broncho Brands, Sensational Citizens, or Principals Bingo for those students. Moving forward, our staff should examine ways to we can celebrate all learners so our culture isn’t impeded in the future. Hopefully, distance learning will not be a factor next year!

    Reply
  29. Stacey Goodwin

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

    We honor a boy and girl Student of the Month from each grade each month. We also have an awards assembly at the end of each month, but we don´t focus on academics as much as I think we should. The librarian has begun a Million Word club and every month she takes a picture of the student holding a sign to show how many words he/she has read so far on their way to a million.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    We have some sort of Teacher v. Student game every nine weeks (dodgeball, kickball, basketball, and volleyball). Any kid can play and all kids can attend no matter how they have behaved or what grades they make. The teachers often cheat to win. I dislike them very much because they send the wrong message. Our culture is much more of play than of learning.

    Reply
  30. Taylor Emmons

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    At the school, I am a part of we focus heavily on student recognition and really try and spread out our recognition to the majority of students. We recognize students through a student of the month, class or team “Antler All-Stars”, individual student “Antler All-Stars”, honor achievements, and end of the year student awards. We nominate teams and individual students who show The Antler Way. The Antler Way is our school’s universal rules, Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible. Teachers recognize classes as a class “Antler All-Stars” on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have a spreadsheet with team rotations on it and within the team, the teachers can pick whose class is going above and beyond and expressing the Antler Way inside the classroom. We use a rotation to try and recognize as many students as possible. These students class are then announced on the intercom, they receive an Antler All-Start Point, candy is brought to their room, and hear a small recognition statement from their teacher.
    We also recognize students through individual “Antler All-Star” points. We use an app to give students points for following The Antler Way. After they hit 25 points they can spend these points in a souvenir shop. This app and point system we started this year allowed us to recognize students faster and more students throughout the building were being recognized on a daily basis.
    Using cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    Our school district started PBIS, 3 years ago, and I believe it has changed the outlook of our campus. Before PBIS we just expected students to know teacher and school expectations. Since implementing PBIS it has shown teachers that we need to teach students our expectations and not to assume they already know them. Once we teach them we are able to reward students throughout the point system for following the expected behaviors. I think teaching students rituals and expectations have changed the culture of my building.

    Reply
    • Chad Bailey

      What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
      Before Covid, our district participated in several statewide Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) events that were enormous contributors to the cultures on our three campuses. The single most effective CTSO and the corresponding event was SkillsUSA and its state conference. Each year in February, students from nine different programs on our campus alone would prepare for district contests. Outcomes from these district contests qualified individuals and teams to advance to State Conference. SkillsUSA State Conference lasts three days and has traditionally been held in Tulsa during the middle part of April.
      So, students begin training in their respective programs when they come on campus in August. They compete in program-related contests in February, hoping to qualify for the State Conference in April. Why do they do this? Because they are passionate about their program content, of course, and because it is three days and two nights of fun, reward, and culture building in Tulsa. The cultural effect of this one annual event is tremendous because it creates positive, motivating, enduring symbols in the forms of:
      *Stories (lots of stories!)
      *Heroes and Heroines (Those who win medals and go on stage are never forgotten!)
      *Myths and Metaphors (Along with the stories come fabrications and truth-stretching for
      the listener’s benefit, but that also enriches the culture!)
      *Rituals and Ceremonies (Pomp and circumstance for recognizing those that
      compete and especially those that return with medals!)
      *Facility Decor (Not only do state winners receive medals, but the campus does too, along
      with a banner displaying the student’s name and contest. Both are displayed for future
      students to see and remind instructors and faculty that success is attainable with
      hard work and perseverance.)
      *Special Language or Jargon (Students and instructors all develop references and sayings
      that are unique to them and the experiences they had at conference, contributing to their
      feelings of bonded relatedness)
      All of this encourages and perpetuates a culture of hard work, determination, motivation, and participation. Also, it contributes to student feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

      What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
      Poor student/Instructor attendance, poor student/Instructor behavior, poor student/Instructor production and outcome are all symbols of apathy and complacency in both student and instructor. If such things are not dealt with quickly and consistently, they portray acceptance of such attitudes. Acceptance of apathy and complacency will inhibit student learning.

      Reply
  31. Jesi Young

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

    We have “dog tag” rituals, to point out students who are exhibiting the four behavior expectations. As well as weekly shoutouts on announcements for classes that are showing improvements each unit. Another big ritual that improves student learning are celebration days. Our school is very data-driven, so classes that exceed the school goals on formative assessments get party days, which is a a huge incentive for many of them.

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

    As it is for most rural schools, football is life. Funding, focus and praise for football and other athletics always seems to take the front seat at a school, but adding in arts and academics to the successes in the school improve school setting so all students feel involved in the school community. Also, addressing heroes and heroines – pointing out students of the week or month, not just for academic excellence, but for improvement, or small successes to let people know their efforts are being seen can really improve the school setting.

    Reply
  32. Shareen Smith

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    At my school, we focus on student recognition through the rituals and ceremonies we have. These include students of the month, class ‘all-stars’, individual student ‘all-stars’, end of the year student awards, and honors distinction. We use an app to give students ‘points’ for following the ‘Antler Way’ (special jargon). Students can use their points to shop the souvenir shop and buy candy, drinks, and other small items. Our honors program also represents an important value in our school. It is open to all students instead of just G/T students or students in specialized classes.
    Using cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    One way we have improved our school recently is through the implementation of PBIS. Prior to PBIS, hallway behavior was a common frustration for teachers. When we introduced the ‘Antler Way’ we saw student behavior improve. Using rituals and special jargon we created common expectations and everyday ‘heroes’ by recognizing students who are following these expectations.

    Reply
    • Jamie Edford

      As an employee of a school located in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, I think frequently on cultural symbols to support and reinforce our priorities as well as our sense of belonging to the community. As OSU-Tulsa transitioned from UCAT, it was important to us to emphasize the orange colors and OSU branding throughout campus. However, that can sometimes be to the detriment of the feeling of community connection. We are now mindfully increasing the symbols showing our connections to our community such as including the Tulsa flag on our flagpoles and light poles. We also are thrilled to have the Ellis Walker Woods memorial, dedicated to the first principal of Booker T. Washington High School on our campus. We continue to find ways to increase the visibility of diverse heroes and role models from Tulsa, and particularly the Greenwood District, on our campus. This will not only better connect us to our neighborhood better but also provide an increased sense of belonging to our students.

      Reply
  33. Brad Ross

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

    We have an awards ceremony toward the end of each academic year at the community college where I work. This allows any instructor to present an award to any student who they feel deserves it based on their work in their class. Because it is so wide open and flexible, it allows teachers the autonomy to highlight student achievement in a wide variety of ways.

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

    I think our mission and core values are at the very least not helping. And it isn’t the words themselves, but I feel that we could do a better job of embodying them in our practical interactions with students. I think having more signs with our mission statement and outlined values would be beneficial to help remind everyone to keep these important ideas in mind.

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

    I think creating my own symbols and stories within my own classes is the best way to improve. I need to do a better job of recognizing the achievement of my students and creating an atmosphere that is constantly focused on their success.

    Reply
  34. Jess

    Creating symbolic rituals is not only important within a school system, but it is equally important outside of it too. This is where we use mascots, cheers, rituals, etc… to bring communities together. It makes people feel part of something and engages families in the pride of their District and school.

    Creating strong rituals with your students and student families is something that helps with support and communication. Helping parents to feel like they are part of their students school experience (ex. School carnival, family nights, fairs…) encourages a partnership. It also gets the community talking- in a positive way.

    Reply
  35. Marcie Yates

    As multiple OSU campuses are encompassed in the culture of OSU, I can’t help but use the symbol of homecoming to improve student learning and community engagement in unity. Each campus is engrained in the culture of homecoming at OSU. Whether you’re a student at the main campus participating in house decks for walk arounds the night before, alumni attending the pep rally, family and friends tailgating before the game, a fan attending the game, or just being apart of the homecoming festivities throughout the week leading up to the game, homecoming is a cultural symbol in which student learning is improved through engagement. It brings about a community atmosphere each year that has special facility decor, jargon, rituals, and stories. It is an ongoing tradition that has well familiarized into the community of OSU, not just in Stillwater. It allows students from each campus to feel apart of the same community. OSU is a family, and homecoming is used as a symbol to solidify that mission.

    Reply
  36. Nadia DeKoch

    In terms of symbols that I feel are really woking to improve student learning, I would say it is the amount of student recognition that students/families receive via social media, personal and public acknowledgements, and the whole idea that “It’s great to be a Wildcat”. Collectively as a district, teachers and staff make an intentional effort to share student success stories. This includes school related successes, as well as outside recognitions. By doing so, students and families feel appreciated, recognized, and often motivate other students to challenge themselves to reach their highest potential. We want our students to know that with hard work and effort, they too can reach their goals. The same goes for our teaching and professional staff. When an employee or department has made obvious strides, or made a significant accomplishment in our schools, the district goes above and beyond to identify them and publicly praise them for their contributions. It has become a very evident and positive thing here in Piedmont.

    I feel that the majority of the district understands that “the way things are done around here”, comes to mean that we do what is best for students, even if that is inconvenient for adults sometimes. Every elementary school had weekly assemblies to recognize student achievements, recite the school creed, sing our school song, and deliver various district announcements and events. Along with weekly “Wildcat Wake-Up” (assemblies), there are morning announcements, district staff focus points, weekly district principal meetings, and weekly PLC meetings. These routines/rituals go hand in hand with our mission: Empowering students to succeed in a changing world. Every student. Every day.

    In regards to symbols in our schools that are working to inhibit student learning at this point, I can honestly say I am not certain. I feel that as a district we do have some parents that make it difficult for the school to educate their student to the best of our ability, due to attendance, lack of disciplinary support, or refusal to accept special education services. However, I am having a difficult time coming up with “symbols” that inhibit learning at this time.

    When analyzing cultural symbols that can improve our school setting, my mind goes to our current situation with the issue of COVID 19 and all of the obstacles we are now faced with. Teacher and parent morale is at a low point, many are emotionally, mentally, and financially strained, and there are many unknowns. Our district has developed a tentative plan to open school in August, but we must continue to be positive and push forward for the sake of our students. Collectively our administrative team has committed to serving our teacher and students and doing our utmost to be transparent and help in any way possible. Like teachers, parents also have many hesitations and so we are preparing for all things. If cultural symbols can be the words we speak, then that will be our most important tool as we move forward.

    Reply
  37. Richie Gonzales

    In our district, we follow three things that are the cultural verbiage (symbols). They are the mission, vision, and core values. The vision, “To be the region’s leader of career and technical education, resulting in a quality job for every student and a skilled workforce for every company.” The vision, “Educating people for success in the workplace.” From this, it is clear that industry and jobs are very important to the fulfillment of the mission and vision. Industry and placement are buzz words dropped all the time. In addition to these, we have the core values of collaboration, communication, flexibility, stewardship, diversity, respect, accountability, and high expectations. These words have meaning to all students and staff. They are placed in prominent places around the district.

    Reply
  38. Byron Smith

    I found this blog post to be very informative in furthering my understanding of organizational culture, particularly in the value of symbols. I was first introduced to the concept of symbols serving as raw materials while learning about Perrow’s Contingency Theory in our third lesson (Harris, 2020, slide 6). I now have a much stronger understanding of symbols as they relate organizational culture.

    As an outsider in the education field, I will present my perspective of symbols as they apply to a forensic science laboratory. Symbols that improve the culture of my organization include laboratory accreditation to the ISO/IEC 17025 International Standard. Government operated forensic labs are required to hold accreditation status in the State of Oklahoma. This symbol serves as a motivator, as well as a reminder of the high quality of work that is required to be performed. As such, all laboratory results are published in a report that displays the accreditation symbol. Another symbol that serves as a motivator for improvement is the shared story of a transformational leader who recently retired. This individual became a heroine as she occupied an administrative role during a significant time of change and greatly improved the overall behavior and climate of the laboratory.

    A symbol that inhibits production is the ritual for court testimony. Forensic scientists are frequently called to testify to their findings when cases that go to trial. It is notorious that this activity requires scientists to spend significant time simply waiting at the courthouse to be called to testify. Consequently, production slows because these individuals are removed from their work to wait alongside other trial witnesses. This ritual includes wearing formal attire, being quiet and keeping conversations to a minimum, not discussing their involvement in the case with others, and often waiting several hours. The work that these individuals perform is temporarily halted on days that they must appear for testimony, thereby inhibiting production.

    Symbols can be used to improve the organization through reminders that change is possible and that improvement is desired. Following Deming’s Total Quality Management approach, employees working in the frontline need to know that they have the authority to recommend and initiate change. Such authority is provided to them through procedures derived from the laboratory accreditation program. Consequently, their comments and ideas are valued by management and can lead to effective change.

    Harris, E. (2020). Lesson 3: Contingency theory and LMX theory [PowerPoint slides]. VoiceThread.
    https://voicethread.com/myvoice/thread/11039835/64702493

    Reply
  39. Jennifer K Allen

    The district recently redid the logos of every K-12 school, as some were repetitive, others were offensive, and others were identical to college logos. In our school the logo both improves and inhibits student learning. It improves by being a focal point of our identity, emblazoned on our school shirts, uniforms, sports wear, and printed materials. It inhibits because one aspect of the logo is offensive to some, but was not removed by district officials.
    “The way we do things around here” has not been clearly established due to ever-changing administration teams. There used to be a core group of teachers that kept things going, but they have all either retired or moved to another building. We now have a prime opportunity to re-establish our norms in a positive way.
    This change process will take several years and a stable staff and administrative team.

    Reply
  40. Mindy Englett

    The things that are working are the things like stories from the past. We can learn from past-both good and bad. We talk a lot about stories from the past. Many kids will remember projects teachers in the past have traditionally done with classes. Sometimes this is shared so the teacher knows this happened with the classes before them, and they would also like to experience this. Many of the students we serve have families that are from here, but there are many that do not. The stories have been passed down over the years. Recently, a student shared with me the story of a time-capsule that is currently behind some bricks in the building. He noticed a placard on the building and began asking questions to elders in the town. He learned that this was placed there when the building was built and behind that placard was a time-capsule. That was an amazing learning experience for that child. However, he is now constantly asking me what I am going to do about removing the time capsule so we can all see what is inside. With knowledge comes power.

    Something that is always nagging at me is the old adage “we’ve always done it that way.” My consistent reply is “Well, we will continue to get the results we’ve always gotten.” Moving people away from tradition is hard. We make sacred cows out of symbols. I have a teacher who was a student at the school, started her teaching career at the school, and is still at the school. She consistently wants things as they have always been. With new people come new ideas and change. It is hard for her to move with that change, but she does it.

    Now, I am about to have the 1952 old hardwood gymnasium floor replaced. That is going to be a symbol that I may have major protests over.

    Reply
    • Jennifer K Allen

      I agree with “we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t mean we need to keep doing things that way. Keep what works. Change what doesn’t.

      Reply
  41. Heather Lester

    My experiences are slightly different than most because of teaching in higher ed instead of K-12. We do still experience the definition of culture, but many times it is not as obvious as in K-12. “The way things are done around here,” is part of our culture. I have been working at CSC for 18 years, so I know “the way” well. We are small and rural, so we have the opportunity to get to know each of our students, many of whom we pass at Walmart each week. As faculty, we are able to develop strong bonds with many of them because of our size and the fact that most students will have to take a variety of courses with the same instructor. Another difference in our culture are the relationships. For example, I call our president by his first name. I do not mean any disrespect, but I have known him since he was teaching classes. I respect him, but I like the fact that things are not so formal.

    Our symbols are Rowdy the CSC Cowboy. He is our mascot and the main symbol we all rally behind. I suppose that facility dècor would be the orange and black colors that represent CSC. You can find these colors in every building and classroom, reminding students how proud we are to be cowboys. Other symbols might include our Classroom Building. It is the oldest building on campus and our centerpiece. When you think of CSC, that is one picture that comes to mind. It is well over 100 years old and represents our distinguished history in the state. We also have a wall of stories that, as an alum, I still enjoy looking at today. It tells of past achievements, heroes, and heroines that are a legacy to our school. Funny enough, one of the best symbols is the overwhelming smell of manure you are met with each morning. We are a small, agricultural school and our barns and pens are right next to the classrooms where students learn. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Reply
  42. Karen Mitchek

    When thinking about “the way things are done around here”, two different school buildings come to mind. In both, a principal had been at the helm for decades. After these principals retired, the new principals struggled with implementing change. The building I am more familiar with had the added pressure of this previous principal also having a daughter who still taught in the building. This principal has been with the district for 3 years now and still struggles with the ghost of this past principal. Even when attempting to make changes that are in regard to safety of the students and LEGAL practices, she gets a lot of push-back because that’s “not how we do things at _____”.
    Some symbols that the district has tried to implement in every building are from “Safe and Civil schools”. The district was hoping to get “CHAMPS” implemented so that every student would go through the district and know the language- even if they changed buildings in the district. Some principals/teachers jumped right on board and hung banners with the CHAMPS expectations for each setting; others had already been implementing a similar expectation through “Great Expectations”, so they kept their current language and symbols up in the schools. It’s hard to get everyone on board when there are similar programs running in different buildings of the district.

    Reply
  43. Edward Perry

    The symbols that are improving our school are founded in our six-step process for entry into our school. Because we are no student’s home school, there is an application process involved in becoming a student at my school. This six-step process has become a symbol to parents, teachers, and administration predominantly. To parents, it provides expectations, the vision and mission of the school, and replicates the rigor that students will have to endure in order to thrive at the school. For administration, it symbolizes the bonding of parents and the school in caring for and committing to student success. Because two of the steps are in-person meetings, parents must give a mandatory minimum amount of effort to ensure their student’s entry. This shows admin that the parent cares. For teachers, this shows that admin cares about the relationships being formed, started the process, and makes talking to parents much easier.

    I think that the symbol of Will Rogers, at times, inhibits student learning. Although he had many inspirational quotes, wore many hats in society, and was influential for a large part of the early 20th century. Some of his beliefs do not resonate with 21st century students. As well, the amount of paraphernalia around the school makes the symbol almost invisible. Students don’t see any of it because they see all of it. The quotes, the pictures, the large bust at the front of the school, all of it is lost because there’s so much of it.

    I think that the teachers that have been having students, especially in our middle school classes, recite a creed everyday have been seeing a lot more focus, hard work, and don’t have to manage the classroom nearly as much as they would otherwise. I’ve seen it in classrooms where teachers felt ineffective, and the change, while not instantaneous, still occurs after a few weeks. I believe that if we are unified, whether or not the symbol is a creed, a mascot, etc., we will find our direction and achieve our goals together.

    Reply
  44. Heidi Launius

    I live in Broken Arrow and both of my kids are lifers at BA, but I teach at Union. It only took new teacher orientation for me to figure out the whole U thing. At Union the symbol of making a U with your fingers has been used much like the pistol fingers at OSU, we do it during assemblies, we do it in group pictures. Then U is also attached to all kinds of motto’s, U-matter, the U-way, Uncommon, beaUtiful, and many others. All of these help create a sense of family, or belonging.

    The culture of creating a motto or symbol creates a sense of being and belonging even in a large district. Union has done this well by attaching the motto or symbol to other symbols and sayings and further enhancing the sense of belonging. Even the most reluctant student or shy student will throw up the U for a picture. Regardless of the age of students we all want to feel wanted and like we belong. The U along with the core values we teach has created that family feeling for many students.

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  45. Katy Horton

    Each year our school develops a theme for that year. This year it was JEI Hero. From there we embed the theme in morning announcement, door decorations, staff meetings, and assemblies. On our morning announcements each week, students can be nominated to be a “JEI Hero.” Their name is read allowed and why they are nominated. This gives them something to work for and it’s a way for students to recognize other students who go above and beyond.

    By including our theme in door decorations each year, we are adding color and excitement to the 5th and 6th grade halls in our building. This is a competition for teachers and so we all try and go all out. They typically stay up all year. It’s just a little something that brings cheer to us all each day.

    School settings can be improved through the use of cultural symbols because they create a “sticky” point of reference for students. When done right, cultural symbols bring students and faculty together, centered around a common goal, and creates an easy way to remember expectation for greatness. Especially at the middle school level, when there is excitement and meaning behind the cultural symbols at a school, students become invested and want to achieve. It starts at the top.

    Reply
  46. Amy Eikenberry

    My school has a “School Creed” that is supposed to be recited in classrooms every morning, but is recited each Friday morning at our weekly rallies. The creed discusses students being honest, respectful, kind, and having a strong work ethic. I think this is something that actually keeps these traits in the forefront of students’ minds as the language is used so frequently and is discussed with students who misbehave. Many classrooms go above and beyond and provide awards and incentives for students displaying the kerr creed traits. We also have ceremonies to honor students specifically who have been showing these traits in school.
    A large portion of the students in my school are far behind academically. I think a symbol or tradition of some sort would be helpful to encourage students in their academic growth. Something that is school wide that involves a reading growth goals that is seen visually would be helpful for students. Something that reminds them what they are working toward every day.

    Reply
  47. Chanda C Gibson

    The Split U in red and black is synonymous with Union Public Schools. Young or old, it does not matter because students, faculty, staff, alumni, and fans all throw the U in support and unity within the district. When I first moved into the district, I was very pleased to see the symbol because the same symbol, but in red and blue, was used at my high school. I was educated at South Panola in MS, and I also taught there for 13 years. So it was like I was still at home in my new state and school district. Even though I did not grow up in the Union School District, the sense of family is strong. As a college/career advisor, we hashtag almost everything that we post on our social media. Normally, when students are accepted into a college, we announce it on social media by having the student ring a cowbell as a friend introduces them and announce the acceptance. Since Covid-19 hit, we have started a new tradition/hashtag to celebrate our seniors, #celebrategoodtimeswithU and #UHSdecided.

    As I mentioned on the Voice Thread, one of the symbols that is slowly taking second place to the U is the Redskin mascot. Many public schools and universities across the nation have taken drastic measures to change the image of their schools. Ole Miss has replaced Colonel Reb, and Arkansas State replaced the Red Indian (I use these examples because they are my and my husband’s alma maters). TPS changed the names of Jackson and Lee Elementary Schools. If we are to be inclusive of all learners in our district, those changes must be made in order to not offend. History is not being erased when these changed are made, but rather history is being made.

    Reply
  48. Adam Peterson

    I think our school does a pretty good job of building a strong culture. We constantly work towards maintaining a tradition of excellence, we have teachers recognize each other for a job well done, we celebrate academics (nearly) as well as athletics. I do think sometimes we push too hard on measurable things and deemphasize attitudes like empathy and service. Overall these are skills that need developing too.
    We recently created a belief statement for our faculty and it is slowly trickling into our student body What we are finding though is that large ships turn slowly, yet onwards we march.

    Reply
  49. sam allen

    One way that our superintendent has increased our cultural is by creating the slogan The Wardog Way. He created this cultural because we didn’t really have a positive cultural or a specific identity. We always identified ourselves as being the only wardog out there. The Wardog Way is who we are and the good things from our schools, staff, and students. We have professionally created videos of each school exemplifying our core ideas and The Wardog Way. Our superintendent also gives out pins to staff members who go above and beyond and exemplifies the wardog way.

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  50. Sam Allen

    One symbol right now that everyone is using to improve school learning is the term “Distant Learning”. Since we are no longer allowed in our buildings to teach students the entire state has been using the term “distant learning”. We are using this term to help students learn because it ensures that all students have the opportunity to learning during this unforeseen time. If we used the term virtual school, not every student has access to the internet or a technology device. Distant Learning is a term that is helpful to ensure all students have the opportunity to learn during this time.

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  51. Sam Alen

    Our school setting cultural is improving each year thanks to our superintendent. When he first got here 4 years ago, we didn’t really have an identity. We were just wardogs and unique because we are the only wardogs out there. He created a cultural identity for the district by creating the slogan The Wardog Way. The Wardog Way is what our school cultural is. It show cases all of the good things going on in our schools and district. We have made professional videos about each school in our district and how they each exemplify The Wardog Way. Also one time each quarter we have the entire district together and our superintendent gives out pins of a wardog to people who exemplfy The Wardog Way. The schools, teachers, students, and parents all have bought into The Wardog Way. We all love it and rally behind it and expect people in our community to do the same.

    Reply
  52. Lauren Stauffer

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    In my school we have a motto that all of the principals share. It is “Show Up, Act Right, Work Hard.” This motto is placed around the building and can be seen in all three administrators’ offices. Attendance has been a focus in my school, so it was important for the motto to include just showing up to school. In addition to this motto, our principal has a hashtag that he uses to close out every email. It is #rowtheboat. He wants to instill a sense of teamwork among the employees in that we are all in this together. If we need anything, we can come to him or other faculty members to get the job done. He also does a great job of recognizing different staff members at every faculty meeting. The teachers in the building appreciate the recognition for a job well done which in turn motivates the teachers to be the best that they can be in the classroom which in turn affects student learning.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    Incorporating daily rituals, having common slogans or themes, and celebrating our successes will help to improve the school setting. Looking back on my own high school years, I do not think about what I learned. Instead, I think about the teachers, graduation, prom, and other special events that molded me into the person I am today. Cultural symbols instill a sense of pride, unity, and motivation. As educators, we need to remember that school is more than academics. But, as we increase cultural symbols it will have a positive impact on student success.

    Reply
  53. Emily Beers

    When reading about the symbolic frame, I thought a lot about how Epic has branded itself with the motto, symbol, and idea that “school can be different.” It is one of the strongest selling-points of the school. It allows families and teachers to break free from the restraints of “they way it’s always been” and even though we and our students are bound by very similar expectations, it feels different. The culture and story that has been built around Epic’s 8-year existence is quite potent in our state at this time and it has given many students and families who would otherwise feel marginalized or left out by the societal norms in brick and mortar schools a sense of belonging.

    Reply
  54. Shelley Lawson

    Recently, my district created a position at the administrative level to address “telling our story”. With the increase in social media, it seems like our “story” is constantly being shared. Having a person in charge of the school’s social media presence has taken some pressure off of the individual building administrative teams and ensured information is available. There are so many positive things that happen at schools on a regular basis, but sometimes that information is not publicized like it could be.
    My district has also adopted Great Expectations in efforts to create a more well-rounded citizen. A former superintendent once said that most businesses will teach their employees the skills needed for the job, but employees need to have the right character to succeed.

    Reply
    • Emily Beers

      Shelly,

      This is an excellent use of social media in connecting with the community! Also, Great Expectations is such an amazing school climate/culture program! Together, your students and families will feel a sense of belonging and meaning that keeps that school pride strong!

      Reply
  55. Quinn Thompson

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    This year, our building has been more active in discipline than most years we are accustomed to. You can see the wear classroom discipline issues have on teachers and administrators. Usually the types of behavior issues we see after spring break we were seeing before winter break. It became discouraging, to put it mildly, but one administrator and our school media center specialist created “Ram Rewards.” When students do something that show’s themselves and the school in a positive light they received “Ram Rewards.” Each Friday during our morning assembly our assistant principal usually accompanied with a special guest would draw 10 names from the “Ram Reward” tickets that had student’s name on them. Just implementing something so simple brought immediate change to most students. This program has been so effective it was brought up many times during faculty meeting, how teachers are spending less time disciplining students, which allowed more time for learning.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Our administration wanted to rewrite our school’s mission statement last year. During that process, teachers were encouraged to take part in the process. Three different mission statements were created and then one was voted on by the faculty last May. Once the new mission statement was chosen, our administration printed and framed it, passing one out to every teacher. To further bring home the importance of our mission statement our administration has our students recite our mission statement every morning during our morning assembly. On the first day, they went through it line by line with the students to explain the meaning of what our school’s vision is for the upcoming school year. Our mission statement says, “Our purpose is to come together as Owasso Rams, inspiring each other to learn, grow, and serve.”

    Reply
  56. Kimberly McCallum

    My district is comprised of four elementary schools that feed into one middle, junior high, and high school. The elementary schools each have their own mascot. Over the last few years, a strong effort has been made to increase representation of our district mascot on every building. The purpose was to improve the overall cohesion of the district. While each of the elementary buildings still have their own mascot and school colors (one always being the district blue) to retain their individuality, there is also a new understanding among our youngest students that they are also Chieftains. The logo was redone and hung on every building…admin and service center included. It helped unify the community and led to greater pride in our schools.

    The addition of a marketing director position was also aimed at improving our school image. He has been responsible for getting the good things out of the shadows and into the spotlight. He gets our students on camera and uploads those videos to social media. He makes sure the various news outlets are aware when events are taking place. The parents and community have loved seeing their children involved in these things. It may seem strange to include these things under improving student learning, but the level of pride in the district has led to increased effort. People want to contribute to the good news and good vibes.

    Decor was mentioned. A few years ago, a federal grant led to the creation of a data room with detailed data walls in our school. Initially as teachers we hated it. Over the years we have come to view it very differently. It gives us an amazing visual representation of our students’ growth and improvements. Students not performing at grade level no longer bring shame, but a sense of possibility. We can look at the fifth grade wall and remember what that wall looked like when they were in Grade 1. We know the change that can take place so the walls now bring excitement. *The room is not accessible to parents or students and students are not visibly identified on the wall*

    The flip side of this is the data walls that we were required to keep in our classrooms. These were great encouragement for some students, but worked against others. Even without names identified a student knew if they were the only one in the advanced category (improving learning by positive feelings) or the only child in the lowest category (working against student learning through discouragement). The data walls where students got to move frequently were far more effective than those that were stagnant most of the time and only changed a few times a year.

    Reply
  57. Julia Gardner

    One of our district emblems is a split letter U. For many years, we have used a hand signal, forming a U with the forefinger and thumb of each hand, as a sign of solidarity and pride in our district. When students are photographed or filmed, they throw the U. It’s so ubiquitous, that our rival will sometimes throw an upside-down U out as a challenge. As I type this, there is a facebook event scheduled for a Friday Distance Learning Spirit Day for everyone to Throw the U with a hashtag on social media. Alumni and long-time employees use the hashtag #allmylife and #UnionFam to denote this same sense of pride and loyalty on social media. Many district employees are graduates or parents of graduates, including me. This type of tradition takes years to establish and makes our mission clear. School principals at two sites in particular have incorporated hashtag phrases to communicate their shared vision.

    Classroom teachers and site leaders can capitalize on rituals to create both culture through a group identity and engagement. Eric Jensen’s brain-based learning strategies are built to create cognitive pathways through rituals. Callbacks that are used throughout the school serve the purpose of creating belonging through shared experience and also become more powerful as they are used in multiple settings. I think we should be careful to curate such symbols and rituals though; while we can cultivate these, they also need to grow and spread organically. Students can easily identify a disingenuous attempt to manipulate them and will not respond positively.

    Reply
  58. Tasheika Cole

    In My school One of the symbolic statements that is said every morning and afternoon by our assistant Principle is “Attendance matter, you matter, be here, on time, everyday”. There are signs all over the building. The more we as instructors here it the more we repeat it to our students. Whats funny is that the students here it so much that they usually finish the statement before we complete the statement. This symbolic statement is so important and working because it is our mission at Tulsa Technology to prepare students to be skilled and work ready for the workplace upon their completion of the program they are enrolled in.This inhabits and improves students learning by helping them to understanding that importance of attendance in class and on the job. Our students understand that just missing one day you miss so much

    We are able to use this symbolic statement in identifying our students attendance through an awards ceremony every quarter for perfect attendance. students and classes are noticed for their attendance and given a trophy, pizza party and each person can put their names in a drawing to win a TV or what ever the prize may be that quarter.This improves our school settings because students know that attendance truly counts, we are watching and they will be rewarded.

    Reply
  59. Victoria Vargas

    My school has experienced a lot of teacher turnover. Losing veteran teachers means the loss of symbolic framework knowledge. When comparing our current teacher workforce to that of five years ago, there are only 20% of us still at my location. The stories are still told, but because the new or newer teachers have no idea who we are talking about don’t make the connection the story would otherwise have if they knew the person or knew someone who knew the person. There are daily rituals that still continue to help bridge that gap, so continuing with daily announcements and monthly faculty meetings are very helpful.

    I do my part to create a welcoming environment at my school by cheerfully greeting students every day whether they are in my class or not. I welcome them to school and tell them I’m glad they are present for learning. It creates a feeling of inclusion and acceptance. I wear a rainbow colored headband every Friday to celebrate a week of learning which has become a symbol for my students. It seems silly, but the students grow to love these things that mean something to them. These types of things could be done on a school-wide basis that could help strengthen a school’s culture.

    Reply
    • Tasheika Cole

      Victoria I love your enthusiasm. I can see imagine the excitement in the kids eyes as they see you in your rainbow colored. This definitely makes for a great culture and building of meaningful rituals .

      Reply
  60. Sean McKinney

    My school has a symbolic statement that we use regularly in the building that our students are “safe, responsible, and respectful.” This is on signs in the halls, in many classrooms and forms (like handbooks), and repeated at every school assembly. Without these qualities, our students would be unable to learn and apply their knowledge effectively and, as a result, the teachers would not be accomplishing their goals. This part of our school culture is an important symbol that works to improve student social learning and development in our building.

    I believe developing a slogan or saying, in very few words, that would be attractive and quotable can be a powerful driving force for school culture. Students in various organizations greatly value these cultural ties to an organization that makes them feel that they can truly belong. This symbol would need to be a concise and marketable statement of who we want our students to grow into by the time they leave the building and move on in their education, and should be displayed everywhere possible, including in yearbooks, on t-shirts, on walls and in hallways, and anywhere else it is possible to put the slogan. These symbols could greatly help in the effort to create a promote a school culture that is conducive to student learning.

    Reply
  61. Bridget

    In my school, we have a mantra of P.R.I.D.E. It stands for Purposeful, Respect, Integrity, Determination and Exemplar. Teachers use this language in redirection and praise with students. We have monthly PRIDE assemblies and recognize those students who are showing PRIDE behavior.

    We also talk a lot about the importance of growth. In a school where many of the students are more than one year below grade level, we focus on moving forward not in reaching a standard. This is discussed with students in their daily work, test scores and work ethic. I think we could do a better job of showing this in symbols. A picture of a staircase in the hall asking “How have you grown today?” or even depicting a teacher at the top of the staircase and reaching down to help someone up the stairs. Then planting that image throughout the building. I could see this as a symbol that could help improve the culture of learning at our school.

    Reply
  62. Jason Riggs

    My school district recently published a video on its website in which a parent, their child, and the child’s teacher were all interviewed. The video was inspired by the parent’s reflection on how the teacher had found ways to connect and care for her child while providing an environment for her to excel academically. By posting the video on the district website and social media, the district sets a standard for the kind of educators it seeks and employees. Another positive use of symbols in my schools is seen in our implementation of Great Expectations. The staff now intentionally uses similar language with the students, identifying students exhibiting the life principles is one example. Recognizing these students in front of their peers and parents at our weekly assembly is a ritual that has been established and is now looked forward to each week by students, parents, and staff.

    In the recent shift to distance learning, I’m recognizing that some symbols seem to continue without effort while others do not. We must recognize this as the current school setting, and not as a weird few months that we can forget next year. To make the best of this current, unexpected situation – schools need to find different ways to keep their cultural symbols relevant and in the minds of students and families. I end my emails to students with the phrase “WE ARE SANGRE,” which is how each assembly was ended during the school year. However the focus on recognizing life principles in students is not as easy without the daily interaction we took for granted.

    Reply
    • Kimberly McCallum

      I love the idea of the tagline in your email! My old principal did this and I had completely forgotten about it until I read your post.

      My district has also created a few videos similar to the ones you mentioned. I think it is so important to spotlight students and families and positive connections with the school. There will always be those who talk poorly about a school and at times things do go wrong, but the more positive stories out there the better because it helps balance those times.

      Reply
    • Tasheika Cole

      Jason I love this. The videos gives students and community a clear picture of the schools expectations in their educators and the type of relationship and culture the organization is building.

      Reply
    • Emily Beers

      I love Great Expectations! I taught at Richmond for 6 years and will definitely be pushing for GE in my future schools. Ritual and ceremony are rich in GE!

      Reply
  63. Gracye Kuhn McCoy

    We have created a strong culture in our building. We use daily rituals and ceremonies to improve student learning. Our daily Rise and Shine assembly brings students together. We recite our student motto everyday, “We the students of KWE are committed to learn, whatever takes, no exceptions, no excuses.” We use classroom and school ceremonies to celebrate the success of our students’ commitment to the motto. Other symbols we can use to improve our school setting include stories and heroes. I would love to see more stories being told through multiple outlets. We could use the rise and shine assembly, incorporate them into social media accounts, put them in the school newsletter, or just share them more often at staff meetings.

    Reply
  64. Rob Beattie

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    We use the Leader in Me platform to help with school culture and student engagement with each other. I think the 7 Habits works really well for students to feel good about themselves and their school. It really helps to build that since of accomplishment for a lot of them. We also have Friday morning assemblies where birthdays are recognized and students get to yell out their grade level chant. Before and after the assemblies we play music that the students have chosen. The kids love to dance and sing the songs. It gives those students recognition for their song.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    I think we could do a better job of recognizing individual accomplishments. Showing other students that hard work can pay off, even if it does not end in an A. I also think that we could recognize teachers for going above and beyond their duties to make the school safe and friendly. Even if it is only in front of staff at a staff meeting. Just let them know that they handled a situation well, or that they were caring and friendly. I know we are supposed to be that way, but recognition is nice to hear.

    Reply
    • Gracye Kuhn McCoy

      Rob-
      We really wanted to use Leader in Me about 8 years ago, but we were ahead of the trend and ulitmately not given district approval to implement the program. I have always heard really good things about the culture that platform can create and sustain in a building. I am glad it is working for your school!

      Reply
  65. David Rogers

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    In the school where I teach we have a school picnic twice a year. During the picnic the students from each class compete in different activities. Volleyball, tug of war, scavenger hunts, etc. This brings the classes closer and helps to define the culture of the school. I believe this aids in the educational process for the students.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    I believe that getting the instructors and staff together in ways other than staff meetings and trainings is a good way to improve the culture of the school. At my school we participated in one of the escape rooms once. It was a fun way to get together and to get to know one another better and to work together as a group. This improved the culture of our campus.

    Reply
  66. Michael Davis

    As a teacher and coach we celebrating our student athletes on signing date for what they do on the field and courts ,but we do very little celebrating when say one of those same students makes an 36 on the ACT.So I have taken it upon myself to celebrate good grades and great grade point averages.

    Reply
  67. Keith Ooten

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

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

    At my current school, we celebrate our history as a school that has come from a class A school to a class 6A school in relatively short time. We take pride in knowing that the school district is known as one of the best in the state of Oklahoma. What is better, is the students know this! The students, just like parents, have high expectations of the teachers and this makes for a great culture where learning takes priority. We make student achievement a priority for everyone and have goals for each student. Once they reach these goals, it is cause for celebration.

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

    As a teacher and a coach, I must say that celebrating an athletes signing day (letter of intent to play athletics at a university or college) and all the hard work the student has taken up to that point inhibits the idea that academics had a part as well. While I believe this is common on signing day, wouldn’t it be great to speak about the academic side of things, as without this the athlete wouldn’t have a signing day in the first place. This would be great for other students to see as well as academics surely would take priority over athletics.

    Reply
    • Michael Davis

      Through the use of cultural symbols how can you improve your school setting ? We have a pep assembly once a week led by our school principal this were he reminds every student and teacher along with support staff that they are Pioneers, and as such he wants everyone to take pride in being a Pioneer.No one is excluded,we say a creed that we chant that goes like this “We are Pioneers” which helps us set our culture on being a part of the Pioneer family,and that pretty special in our school district.

      Reply
  68. Taya Oelze

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

    My school is a “Leader in Me” school also! We follow and teach Stephan Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and teach that ALL students can be leaders! One ritual we use to improve student learning is our once a month “Leaders Lighting the Way” ceremony, where we celebrate one student from each class who has consistently shown leadership characteristics. Other students get to watch, be inspired, and learn from their peers in this way. It encourages them to follow these 7 habits and be a leader as well.

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

    On the other hand, I also wonder if this act is/sometimes does inhibit student learning. Since our core belief is that ALL students can be leaders, I fear that this may simultaneously be hurting our vision and only showing that “leadership is for the few” instead of learning that “leadership is for the many” (Paradigm from Stephan Covey). I work at improving this within my own classroom by noticing and praising my students all day long for leadership characteristics and leadership acts. My kindergarten students now recognize and praise each other for “acts of kindness” and “acts of leadership”. This is a wonderful sight to see and a beautiful way to create peer support.

    Reply
  69. Mary Murray

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    Some of the symbols that are working in my current elementary school are facility decor, rituals and ceremonies, and special language. At my elementary school, we have a schoolwide program that is called Leader In Me. Leader in Me includes many components that help with creating an environment that improves student learning. The program consists of decor that reminds students of the seven habits to become an effective leader. These posters are hung up around the school and include fun cartoon characters that attract the students’ attention. The school also holds ceremonies that celebrate when a student reaches the goal they made and are caught following the habits. The Leader in Me also has a special language that students recognize quickly through class lessons, discussions, and videos found on the Leader In Me website. Some examples of the unique language would be Lead Measures, WIGs, and Synergizing.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    I think one way to improve my school’s setting would be to have the school mission statement posted throughout the building in multiple areas. Many staff members know our school mission statement, but several do not.
    I also think my school’s setting could be improved by having monthly celebrations in the gym that celebrate the students who were selected for the student of the month. Currently, we record a video and show the video in our classroom. I think bringing the whole school together for the celebration would be a powerful ritual.

    Reply
    • Keith Ooten

      Hey there Mary!

      I love your idea of posting the schools mission statement as a means of building positive school relations between staff, parents, and administrators. Having everyone on the same page building toward a common goal is a must.

      Reply
  70. Mindy Englett

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    I think the stories from the past are huge in rural areas. We see this bringing the community in and having a greater impact on community involvement. In Hominy, it is a tradition that there is a huge community parade on Football Homecoming day. I work in the community and the entire community comes out for that, and it really gives off a sense of belonging and oneness between the community and the school.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    While I used the homecoming parade as an example, I will use an example of countless pep assemblies for this. While, yes, these are important, they are taking a lot of time from the instructional component of the day. When many rural schools are four day week already, I feel like this creates a huge barrier to learning, and further impedes the learning process because students are not spending enough time on instruction.

    Reply
  71. Brandy Owens

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    My school also has implemented the Great Expectations model and there are many symbols associated with this method. One specifically that I find particularly positive is the use of quotes in daily instruction. Each teacher is free to teach quotes that are applicable to their curriculum but there are a few that we use school wide. Every student knows how to finish the end of certain quotes enhancing their sense of belonging. It’s a great way to teach content and character.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    Cultural symbols in a school setting really enhance belonging within the faculty. Things as simple as matching t-shirts and team logos really remind teachers of common goals. Using symbols are an effective way to bring people together and create a sense of comradery. Visual cues are important for consistent reminders of purpose.

    Reply
  72. Marci White

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning? My school has made great strides in the areas of RTI (response to intervention) and through our professional learning communities (PLC) We have late start Wednesdays in which we meet in one of two groups, our larger PLC or our department specific PLCs. Through these groups we are able to go over student data, make plans for attendance incentives, and build common formative assessments. While these are not flawless organizations, student learning has greatly benefited from these collaborations.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning? At my school a huge driving force is our marching band program as well as all athletics, namely football. While these serve great purpose for building community and encouraging students to keep their grades up, they are also a hindrance at times as well. Attention is often given to these extra curricular sports and activities over others. In my opinion other notable groups get overshadowed. There is also a great deal of pressure on educators to make sure those participating in these activities are eligible.

    Reply
  73. Ali Saied

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    In my school we have implemented C.A.R.E.S ( caring, achievement, respect, enthusiasm, success) this is our way for our students to keep trackof their achievements. If a student is found doing any of the cares behaviors they are rewarded with a ticket and inserted into a tub, and each morning at the school round up we choose 5 students and we celebrate their success with the student body, and ten the students are rewarded individually.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    the school setting could be grately improved if the students were hld accountable by admin. Our students who choose not to follow CARES and would much ratger get in trouble get more attention than the students who are doing the correct thing. Unfortunatly the students who do not follow the rules get more attention by bribery so they will act right, and these kiddos are wise so they keep getting in trouble so they get more rewards. As an admin you must enforce your rules and stick with them so you are not being ran over by students! Another things Is feeling appriciated as an employee, when you dont feel appricaiated for doing your job or even going above and beyond it makes you not want to do that anymore.

    Reply
  74. Emmie Robertson

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

    In my last school, each morning during the announcements the principal would have students lead the rest of the school in their school motto and creed. This not only enhanced the students that were leading, public speaking skills, but this also allowed the rest of the student population the chance to memorize and really learn what their school stood for in terms of behavior and expectations throughout their school.

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

    Although I really enjoy the reading of the expectations during morning announcements, it is difficult to get the first graders to truly understand the many definitions that come with being a Great Expectations school. There is great meaning behind the process, but the students are then stuck on understanding the word, or trying to read the word themselves, that they don’t actually understand why that is an expectation they should follow.

    Reply
  75. Ryan Cooper

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

    Recently there has been a big push towards collaboration meetings within departments. Unfortunately, this effort has been met with resistance. This can be very beneficial if teachers would be will to share their ideas. I feel like some teachers are not participating because they want to be the “cool” teacher and could care less about the success of their colleagues. I am a firm believer that we need to work together in order to find the best ways of teaching and communicating.

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

    There is not much recognition and reward for the non athlete students. I think this is a hindrance to creating the desired culture. We have a ton of talented students and their “awesome” goes unnoticed. I coach baseball, and many of our players have a their own signing meeting, where family, teammates and members of the media attend. This is in addition to the National Signing Day that happens in February. For this event our athletic department puts on a big production, showcasing all the athletes that are signing for their respected sport. We need to do a better job recognizing all of our students achievements.

    Reply
  76. Angela Parks

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    Our 7th Grade Center implemented a school-wide enrichment program this year based on student and teacher choice. All teachers and students were involved in sessions outside of their normal teaching area or course selection. The students were so on board with getting to choose what they were interested in that the teachers were excited to buy in and try new things as well. It was such a group effort that collaboration, risk-taking, clear goals, values, and preferences made for natural good behavior. Students and teachers looked forward to Enrichment Time to the point that student attendance improved on that day and students also enjoyed the demonstration/display day at the end of each six-week session. I think getting the teachers out of their normal showed an investment in learning and a commitment to school goals.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    The 7th Grade Center principal is in his second year following a principal that retired having been in the building for more than twenty years. Navigating the culture was a challenge at times, but he was wise and respectful of things that worked and calm and diligent about things that needed to change. He did a good job of establishing relationships and building trust with the staff. He lived by his message to put students first and he is still following through with building a strong culture.

    Reply
  77. Morgan Sharpton

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    I believe the school I work in is improving student learning by incorporating students in the discussions. They have PD to help new teachers watch how a veteran teacher uses Socratic seminars, book talks, and other formative ways for students to build rapport with classmates, boost public speaking, and to dig deeper into learning concepts by talking through them. I also think we are improving student learning by placing an emphasis on the whole student. Recently, we have begun to dig deeper into different trauma and therapeutic research to better assist our whole campus.
    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Our district is well known for offering a variety of options for all learners- but it may be inhibiting our students. We are financially tied up in providing specialized classes to a small number of students. We struggle to find qualified teachers to hold these positions. Other classrooms are impacted by this as well. While a few students are taking the specialized classes, other classrooms may be bursting at the seams.

    Reply
  78. Josh Encinas

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    A huge symbol in our school is Live It. Our school chant is What do we want? Success. How do we get it? Live It! I enjoy expressing to our students actions speak louder words. When we set our goals at the beginning of the semester, we talk how are you going to reach those goals? How do you see someone that has successfully reached those goals.
    What symbols in your school inhibit student learning?
    The lack of buy in from teachers and staff. When we have spirit days and teachers get upset that at the assemblies the students do not show any pride in the school, but then during the week the teacher does not participate in the dress up days. That is the easiest way to show your school pride. Just participate!

    Reply
  79. Lee Ann Willyard

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    My school is a Leader in Me school and we promote and practice Steven Covey’s 7 Habits. We focus on each person setting personal,academic, and community goals and discuss how and when we think we can attain those goals. We have our own dialogue, daily rituals(morning announcements), student jobs, student led conferences(students share their goals, growth and achievements with an adult), and monthly leadership assemblies that are focused on showcasing a grade level and then celebrating successes of students. This helps students develop ownership of their learning.

    What symbols in your school inhibit student learning?
    The lack of “buy in” or “mindset” by some teachers and staff on how education is changing and how students are learning in the 21st century. The negative discussions that occur(sometimes in front of students) definitely hinders student learning. Lack of knowledge that some teachers have when it comes to students dealing or suffering from trauma and those in special education. I think as educators we need to focus on what kind of students we may have and work together to find ways to promote student learning for all types of learners so we aren’t inhibiting student achievement.

    Reply
  80. Nicole Gorbet

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

    We have students of the month that highlight different characteristics each month. Because of the specific traits addressed, we are able to pull in more students beyond the good grades/athletic crowd. Every 5-6 weeks our students take STAR tests which produce a percentile for where they are and a projected percentile for where they will be on the test. This year we chose to have the students chart those scores throughout the year to see their own growth. This has been a game changer for our students, taking something that has always been done but removed from the students’ understanding and making it their own. They really enjoyed showing all of their teachers just how much they grew between each test.

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

    We have an advisory time which isn’t very regulated. As a result a time that could be used to enhance learning or support struggling students is squandered.

    Reply
  81. Tyler Feasel

    1. What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    The school that I teach at uses the symbol of college to improve student learning. All students are referred to as scholars, all teachers promote which college(s) they attended, and on the last Thursday of every month staff and students are encouraged to wear collegiate apparel. This helps promote academics, with the goal of some type of college attendance for students

    2. What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Being in a school that is 1-to-1 for student Chromebooks,the use of these Chromebooks has many great benefits. But there are certain situations where this use of tech inhibits learning. Many students will use the Chromebooks for games, YouTube, and many other things not associated with education. Although I support students having Chromebooks; the blockage of some sites would be of great benefit.

    Reply
  82. Megan Alvarado

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    My school recently implemented Great Expectations. GE procedures are all about celebrating student success and treating each other with kindness. Each Monday, we have a school-wide meeting where all of us come together to celebrate successes, birthdays, and extra-curricular activities that our students participate in. We learn a new cheer each week and implement them into our classrooms. This is a great way to motivate students to do better, because it gives them a chance to be recognized and celebrate their successes.

    What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    Every week, we take the time as an entire school to celebrating AR (reading) points, sight words, and math celebrations in each grade level. For example, in third grade we celebrate when students achieve their multiplication facts. Being recognized in front of the whole school is a great way to motivate students to want to do more and do better.

    Reply
  83. Michelle Hight

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    In my current school we are in the process of implementing classroom meetings in each classroom to start each day. This is a ritual that encourages students to positively engage with the teacher and classmates. Another benefit is that this allows each student to put aside any “baggage”, stress, anxiety, etc. and to start the day in a positive way. These classroom meetings also include opportunities to incorporate past learning and prepare for the day’s learning. Another symbol that we are working on to improve student learning is common language. When we all use common language, students better understand and are able to carrying learning from one situation to another.

    Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
    My school site opened August of last year. As a new site, we are working on establishing our community and culture. A couple of things that we have discussing working on growing in the coming months and years are more assemblies, growing our use of story and tradition, and as I mentioned, growing our use of common language.

    Reply
  84. Karynn Thomas

    1. What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    Every morning and afternoon, our school prays together. This year, at the end of afternoon prayers, we sing our school song together in the hallway before students dismiss. All of the extra curricular activities trophies are displayed as you walk up the stairs and have diocesan spelling bees, academic bowl tournaments, robotics, and other academic activities, the principal also recognizes students’ participation and hard work. Also, each day the principal asks if there are any birthdays that day, and if there are, the student stands next to the principal and a special birthday blessing is prayed for that student by the entire student body and faculty. All of these symbols create a school culture where students feel important and cared for which leads to more academic achievements.

    2. What symbols in your school are working to inhibit student learning?
    The upper elementary and lower elementary have the same policies and procedures, as do the middle schoolers, but the middle school teachers don’t enforce the policies on those students. Therefore, students in the upper and lower elementary see how middle school students behave and think that since the middle school teachers don’t enforce the school rules, then the rules don’t apply to them either. The principal also teaches three middle school classes and plans field trips for just middle school and states at faculty meetings “I’m unsure what happens in elementary since I just teach middle school.” That projects to teachers that the principal has no interest in the other grade levels and brings down teacher morale.
    In staff meetings, teachers are never recognized for going above and beyond, taking on a task for the principal, volunteering their time for the school, etc. If this were to happen, more teachers would step up and volunteer knowing that they were appreciated.

    Reply
  85. Stacia L Roberts

    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
    What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?Our school is using a school wide morning assembly to help improve student learning. At 7:50 every morning all of the school staff and students meet in the gym for a school wide roundup. During this time different things are celebrated. For instance, student’s can earn “bus bucks” for doing the right thing on the bus and the principal draws from those each week and gives those students a prize. This is a good motivational tool to help the students remember to do the right thing.

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

    Reply
    • Stacia L Roberts

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

      At our morning school wide assembly, we sing our school song and we recite our school creed. The school creed reminds students of the expected behaviors and how to show respect for others. This is a mantra that the school has created and saying it everyday makes it become a habit. At the end of the morning assembly we sing our school song everyday. This is a great reminder that we are all a school community and that we need to work together to make our school great.

      Reply
  86. 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.

    Reply
  87. 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.

    Reply
  88. 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
  89. 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
  90. 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.

    Reply
  91. 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
  92. 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.

    Reply
  93. 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
  94. 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
    • Angela Timmons

      Reading is so important. I really like that this is a symbol of success at your school!

      Reply
  95. 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
  96. 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
  97. 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.

      Reply
  98. 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!

    Reply
  99. 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.

    Reply
  100. 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
  101. 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.

      Reply
  102. 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.

      Reply
  103. 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
  104. 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.

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  105. 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
  106. 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
  107. 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
  108. 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.

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  109. 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.

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  110. 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.

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  111. 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.

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  112. 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.

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  113. 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.

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  114. 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.

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  115. 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.

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  116. 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.

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  117. 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.

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  118. 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.

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  119. 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.

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  120. 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.

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  121. 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.

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  122. 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.

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  123. 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.

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  124. 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.

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  125. 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….

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  126. 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.

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  127. 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
  128. 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.

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  129. 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.

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  130. 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
  131. 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.

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  132. 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.

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  133. 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.

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    • Angela Timmons

      What symbols in your school are working to improve student learning?
      This year our principal have begun using special recognition for students who exemplify one of the IB Learner Profiles. We are an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. The learner profiles are words such as: risk-taker, open-minded, inquirers. Any student can be recognized and all students in every class gets one by the end of the year. They are called the Super, Mega Learner awards (this title was created by a group of students). This has been such a success as it has our staff really looking for the good in “every” child!

      Through the use of cultural symbols, how can you improve your school setting?
      I would like to take the above idea and move it to staff. Seeing the way that our students have responded to the recognitions just solidifies that our staff need something similar in place. Being a classroom teacher or working with students in any manner is a tough job at times. We have so many amazing staff that work so hard for our students that recognition does matter.

      Reply

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