By Mike Janatovich
“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
As I read and reflect on Gandhi’s quote, I begin to think that many schools have the wrong idea about culture. A school’s culture does not merely consist of what the eye can see. It’s made up of what is in the hearts and souls of the students and educators. If we only use our eyes to evaluate a school culture, we will not be able to get a deep understanding of the values and beliefs that people hold near and dear to them. In order to establish and sustain a positive culture, we must use our ears and listen. By listening, we can build strong relationships. With strong relationships, we can build a tremendous, lasting school culture.
Start with Students
Schools were built for students, so we must consistently listen to them and learn what is taking place in their lives. Listening to students will not only open our eyes to their world, but it also builds trust. Students need to know that they will be heard and that the adults in their life will listen to them and support their needs. If we do not take the time to listen to our students, how will we ever get into their hearts and souls? We need to get out and talk with kids and ask them questions. After we ask the questions, we must really listen to what they share. At all times, we must be sincere and use what we hear to either support them in their learning journey or initiate change that will support their needs.
The Power Lies with the Educator
As educators, we have the greatest influence on a school culture. Every day we work closely with other educators to achieve the ultimate goal of educating students. Listening to other educators is imperative for a positive culture. If you are a teacher, you need to share your concerns and success with those around you. If you are an administrator, you must listen to these concerns and find ways to address them and support the teacher. Knowing what struggles teachers are having is a great way to positively affect a culture. Most teachers do not wear their emotions on their sleeves, so simple observations will not reveal a struggle. Building relationships with teachers and listening to them will allow them to share on a deeper level, while giving you an opportunity to support them. On the other hand, sharing successes is also a necessary component in building a positive school culture. It’s important to highlight all the good things happening and create an upbeat atmosphere that will have a resounding effect with all stakeholders.
Parents Help Connect the Dots
Parents are probably the most untapped resource in education. We always go to them when things are wrong, but we must also go to them so we can get things right. Parents know their children’s needs, and we must use them as resources to better understand our students. Getting parents involved and listening to them will allow us to build trusting relationships and gain information that will support our learners in the classroom. Parents want what is best for their children, and they want to be a part of the school culture. As educators, we must listen to their insight so we can connect the dots in our students’ learning and support the whole child.
Putting It All Together
After we listen to all the stakeholders, we must act. We must talk about and share our successes and failures. In doing so, communication will get stronger and belief systems will get deeper. When people know that there is someone that will listen to them, they feel supported. It is this support that will allow for great things to happen. Students will take ownership of their learning, teachers will take educational risks, and parents will become collaborative partners. Without truly listening to people and understanding the core beliefs they hold in their hearts, we will never make the progress that students and educators in our schools deserve. We cannot afford not to listen. For if we fail to listen, we fail to learn. And if we fail to learn, our culture will fail to grow, to the detriment of everyone in our schools.
Mike Janatovich is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. He is currently the assistant principal at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio. Janatovich believes that educating the whole child is critical to ensuring academic success and is an advocate for supporting middle-level learners. Connect with Janatovich on Twitter @mjanatovich.