02 October 2017

Climate Change

The terms culture and climate are often used interchangeably when referring to schools. But these refer to slightly different traits. A building's culture is demonstrated through its way of doing things: how PLCs function, norms, and so on. It's internal to the system. But the climate? That's sensed by outsiders. When they walk into your building, do they feel welcome? Is there a sense of safety?

I've had the privilege in visiting dozens and dozens of schools over the last ten years. And I can tell you that climate is a very real thing. You know instantly if a school is a pleasant space to be and whether you would be willing to work there. I realize that doesn't sound very scientific. That's because it isn't. It's very affective based, but real nonetheless.

I recently posted about my Dear Principal project this year. As I visit more and more buildings, it is interesting to see the climate reflected in the data I collect and represent. One school, which I would not have identified as having all that positive of a climate, had the largest number of student to adult interactions. Kids were incredibly friendly. Many of them readily struck up a relaxed conversation with me---and I had a great time chatting with them. It was a very pleasant surprise. And then another school turned out to be not that way. Remember, for this first round of data collection, I am documenting the number of smiles I see. In this particular school, I made two rounds through the classrooms...and I only found one instance of a kid smiling at another kid. One. The number of other interactions was also depressingly small. No joy in Mudville, my friends. But there could be any number of explanations: time of day, length of my visit, or even chance.

Now that I'm nearly done with my first round with schools (we have 10 schools and my goal is to do three post cards for each this year), I'm starting to notice some other trends and ponder other ways to collect and represent data about schools. While I am asking principals for what they wish people knew about their schools, here are some things I'd like to pay attention to:
  • How often to teachers talk to girls in their classrooms and what is the nature of these interactions?
  • How often are their words of praise or encouragement?
  • Where do students of colour sit in the classroom (especially with relationship to the teacher desk)?
I am trying to stay away from things that principals would monitor or talk about with teachers as part of the evaluation model. As interested as I am in the idea of student engagement, I can't touch it with my project. Nor can I count things related to school improvement or building goals. I don't want to mix my purposes with theirs. But I do want to try and represent my "noticings" about their schools...to raise some awareness about how their buildings might be perceived. There is no good or bad, no goal to set or reach with these data. They're simply a snapshot...a moment in time from my visit. But maybe by pointing toward something other than achievement, we can change the climate of how we view our work.