Shared Values: Everyone Benefits
Leaders are cognizant of the need to have a strong and positive school culture, built over time among a community with shared values. They are also under pressure to incorporate change to the routines within the school and sometimes to the culture itself. Complicating the role of these leaders as they try to protect shared values successful routines and implement new ones can be faculty turnover.
The Challenge of Faculty Turnover
There are two extreme scenarios in which schools find themselves with regard to consistency and faculty. Most school systems enjoy a small turnover rate each year. There are schools where teachers come to teach and stay for their careers. This is healthy as it allows for consistency and the incorporation of newness. Particularly in these fiscal times, those schools have a little new energy and new thought; it is another demand placed on those within to reach out and bring newness to them. But, there is opportunity for teams to form, styles to become known, and cultures to become strong.
Then, there are schools who suffer an unrelenting rate of turnover of teachers. In schools where teacher turnover is high, there is little time for teams to come together, for styles to become known, for career teachers to help mentor beginning ones, for cultures to move beyond survival and, ultimately, for students to be known. Often, in those schools, leader turnover is also high but it is imperative that the leader make consistency of values and of practice a priority. Students need consistency whether there is a stable faculty or one with frequent turnover.
The Leaders' Responsibility
No matter whether the environment has a stable faculty or one where turnover is high, the leader holds responsibility for developing and implementing a consistent set of expectations for all. Allowing for individual creativity, styles, and methods helps teachers develop their own passion and commitment. Becoming more of who you are is energizing. Here's the catch. Unless there are agreed upon shared values and common routines and practices, the experience for our consumers, the children and their parents and guardians, can be frustrating as they have to learn new routines each year. Consistency is important for those coming through the system, student and parent or guardian alike.
Deciding on common routines and practices based upon shared values while not constraining teachers' individuality is not easy. The success of this relies on the leader's ability to facilitate conversation and decision-making by being creative, open minded, fair, and vision focused. When routines can be more uniform, the experience of growing through the system becomes more fluid for the students and their parents and guardians.
Think and Reflect
Summertime offers opportunity for teachers and leaders alike to reflect on these routines and return to school prepared for a continuing discussion about what parts of the educational day can benefit from more uniformity. Ongoing reflection and discussion about how shared values are reflected in routines and practices is essential. One area that can be uniformly designed without affecting teachers' individual approaches to teaching is behavior. Starting with behavior, and not beginning with, for example, homework practices, can feel safer, and offer a frame of reference for future conversations. Questions to begin could be:
- What are the expectations for behavior?
- How are our expectations communicated to new faculty, staff, and students?
- How are behaviors responded to?
- Do all teachers respond to specific behaviors in the same way with all students?
- In their classrooms?
- In the hallway?
- In the cafeteria?
These are different in elementary, middle and high school. An articulated continuum that is consistent and adjusts as children enter new stages of their development, makes routines that easier to follow than ones that seem random and different in classrooms and hallways throughout the school experience.
Talk About It
Leading these discussions is pivotal. As with all plans, unless there is a checking in process, to review practice and progress, the meaning of the conversations can diminish. So it is important to end the discussions with a plan for monitoring progress along the way and deciding what will be indicators of moving forward with success.
Students learn from understanding and meeting expectations. They also learn from how the adults in the building interact with them. And parents learn from the way their children are understood and meet expectations. Consistency in messages builds trust and relationships and makes and maintains the space for more time for teaching and learning.
Benefits arise from deciding to develop and insure building wide common routines. One is that students and parents and guardians know, understand, and learn from a consistent set of rules and expectations. Amidst all the other changes, it is a relief that some things don't change. For schools with high faculty turnover, this consistency creates more firm ground for those new teachers and for the students in their classrooms. Where the faculty is stable, consistency of practice frees time to creatively engage the curriculum and central core purpose of learning. Then, community develops as perspectives are shared and understanding and agreement develops. All in all, everyone benefits.