In attempting to change the culture here at Sparrow Middle School, we as the architects of our children’ s future, must resist the temptation to only look at teaching methods and curriculum. We have to look at our many diverse subgroups and address their interests and problems, thus creating a truly inclusive learning environment. It is necessary to connect with all our stakeholders and leaders (whether officially titled or not) to plan together. Changing a culture, “means producing the capacity to seek, critically assess and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices – all the time, inside the organization as well as outside it.” (Fullan, p. 317). With the support and input from our diverse community we can create effective methods of nurturing the cultural sensitivity that will enable the emergence of effective teaching.
We all realize that titles and offices of authority alone will not change Sparrow’s culture. It will be the effect our vision, values, and actions, apparent to all, that will bring about the change we seek. “The paradox is that transformation would not be possible without accompanying messiness.” (Fullan, p.303). Fullan further states, “…the best way to manage change is to let it happen.” (Fullan, p.304). We will embrace change.
Students must feel comfortable and capable of performing in three key areas; academically, socially, and the development of life skills. When we look at the Sparrow’s present culture, we can’t help but notice the obstacles our students endure to achieve success in these important competencies. There are cultural as well as language barriers we have to break through. We have very few Spanish speaking teachers, yet our Hispanic population in school has increased by 140% the past 5 years. We must embrace this emergence. We need a team of like-minded school community members dedicated to helping us take stock of where we are now and where we want to go. What kind of a school do we want? Are there success stories around us that we can learn from? We have previously surveyed all our stakeholders to receive their input on what we do well and what we need to improve upon. We will examine these results and measure them against our previously developed vision and value statements to reach a consensus. Both short and long term goals need to be established and a plan of action developed going forward.
We must promote our students academically, emotionally and with a sense of civic pride. Our students are our most precious resources. Our school will provide a culture that values a safe, caring, active, and inclusive school community. We will look for glows – our successes, and also be aware of our grows – what we need to continue to work on. Middleville City is an unique and vibrant city filled with a richness of diversity, history and civic pride that will help us serve its students and the entire community. Our scholars come to us with open minds and hearts. They arrive here filled with energy, and eager to learn. It is our responsibility to provide them with a safe, caring, engaging, and rigorous environment where they can thrive. We must provide them the connections to all the services and resources our community has to offer, thus enabling our scholars to find their strengths and talents, while successfully meeting their needs. Our task is to help them become productive citizens of the 21st century global community. We will celebrate our successes as a community and acknowledge those who helped make them possible. We will be united in excellence.
Many of our stakeholders use our present culture as an excuse to obstruct the change process and try to keep things the way they are. Yet, “change is a process, not an event.” (Fullan p.312). Many people are afraid of change (Mr. Billups, Mrs. Eloise, and Mrs. Feakins), but before we change the policies and procedures we must first change the culture of our school. Every new principal starts off with similar difficulties when faced with changing the “way we have always done things here.” Or, in the words of Mrs. Feakins, “Sparrow is my school.” Yet in the final analysis, “Transforming the culture – changing the way we do things – is the main point.” (Fullan, p.316). Sometimes change is necessarily thrust upon us and is not a choice we have the option to take or leave.
We will utilize a multitude of methods to improve communication both within the school grounds and the community at large. Communication will be employed to both inform our constituents and engage them in our mission. People will be given the opportunity to interact and have new methods to collaborate. Information will be transparent and continuous and will be disseminated on a regular basis to all families and staff members. It will be written, electronic, oral, multimedia and of course here personally at Sparrow. Scholars will be encouraged to be active in our student forums to voice their opinions and concerns, but to also help us fulfill our mission to improve student outcomes. These processes will allow us to have a fully collaborative endeavor, uniting the entire educational community for the benefit of all.
It is important that we do not change the traditions that make us special and unique, but embrace them. This would include “Sparrow Spring”. This celebration is a fixture of each academic year and something to be used to further build our community relationships and our school-wide sense of pride. We will however, look at moving the timing of the festival away from our equally important end-of-grade state-mandated testing schedule. Both will benefit as it will allow our students to fully concentrate on each, while being able to perform their best work. The festival is the most heralded event in the community, bringing much deserved praise and attention. It is a tremendous opportunity for our school to strengthen our bonds with the community at large. As one of our more influential community members calls it, “the very best thing about living in this community.” We must allow this to flourish. Celebrating our monthly poet laureates is another valued tradition to which we can add a monthly academic achievement award and a student of the month at each grade level – presented to the scholar who epitomizes the positive socially responsible behavior we espouse.
Next we need to implement our action plan that outlines our decision making policies, mentor teaching program, and more meaningful professional development sessions for our staff. Our efforts to change what we value as a school must be transparent and sacrosanct. When we truly value academic performance, we must set high expectations that will not waiver. Since we value collaborative participation, then all voices must be heard and every member must have a seat at the table. Our plans and changes cannot be mandated by those with titles, but only forged by our collaborative efforts.
We will rely on what we do well and improve upon our weaknesses. Our traditions and successful programs, in conjunction with a clear vision of our future path, will rejuvenate the level of enthusiasm, participation, and collaboration needed to see our vision to fruition. Although leadership will be at the forefront we will require the best efforts of all our members. Some programs need better management and some new ones will be initiated. A collaborative approach is necessary, starting with our new teacher mentoring program, utilizing our most experienced teachers to help our newest teachers. This will strengthen all our teachers internally. We will concentrate on; classroom management techniques, instructional strategies, lesson planning, and a multicultural education approach. We are, “striving for coherence in a nonlinear world.” ( Fullan, p.316).
We will undertake a deep dive of our testing data to inform our instructional strategies going forward. Teachers will therefore be able to focus more of their time on effective teaching and helping our scholars learn. “Collective efficacy of teachers in school is a better predictor of student success in school than socioeconomic status of the students”. (Marzano p 99). This data will also be shared with students to empower them to better understand the expectations placed upon them. This will enable them to set lofty goals and become more engaged in the learning process. This teacher input to our instruction is crucial to any new program’s success – by helping those students who are underperforming. “A principal can do little to directly affect student achievement, they do it through an effective culture.” (Marzano, p.47). By forging a stronger relationship with key mentoring teachers our culture will improve. ” A school’s culture can positively or negatively influence a school’s effectiveness.” (Marzano, p.47).
This undertaking won’t be easy and at times will seem like grunt work and “complexities can be unlocked and even understood but rarely controlled.” (Fullan, p.318). But if every position in our school has meaning, then no job is too small or insignificant. We need to recognize that the professional development of our staff and attention to detail are critical elements of our growth and will be supportive of better student outcomes. “If we don’t deal with the program in terms of cultural change, the results of our efforts will have a very short half-life.” (Fullan, p.312). This is our action plan. “Dreamers only dream, but creators bring their dreams into reality.” (Marzano, p.72). Let’s get started on our dream.