Positive School Culture

These have been all over my school hallways. 

These have been all over my school hallways. 

I’ve also been seeing these.

I’ve seen students excitedly tearing off a compliment and rushing over to their friends to bestow the gift.  One of my students even left one on my desk the other day.

Each day, I watch as my table-teams grapple with their primary source documents.  They talk with each other, help each other understand the slightly archaic language, and joke around in a positive away.

One day in December, two of my students got into an argument over some rumor spreading.  After talking to the two in the hallway, they apologized to each other, and made a commitment to squash the rumor. The next day, I checked in with them, and both said that they were fine, with smiles on their faces.

That same week, I was talking to one of my third-period kids who was failing science (I like to keep tabs on all of my students grades, not just their history marks).  As we talked, two of my other students overheard.  “Jim (not his real name), we’re in your science class,” they said. “We both eat lunch here in Mr. Orphal’s class.  If you come in, we’ll help you.”

Now, I’m not saying that my new school doesn’t have problems.  A few of my kids have earned detention and in-school suspension for skipping class or talking disrespectfully to a teacher.  What I am saying is this: I am deeply impressed with the caring and supportive culture among my students.

I wonder how this happened?  I hear from some of my colleagues that the school wasn’t always like this.  I want to know more.

From my own experience in Oakland, I know that a group of dedicated teachers and students can change a school culture.  When I started working a Skyline in 2007, groups of students would regularly prowl the hallways at lunch, chanting, “Whose School?!?  OUR SCHOOL!”  That year, even trying to correct my own students was a challenge.  I routinely faced defiance; “I’m not in your class now, you can’t tell me what to do!”

By 2013, the environment was much improved.  While my Oakland students we’re still tardy to class in mass, most were by then going to class.  While we still had fights, I could break them up without fear of being struck from behind by an opportunistic student.  I could even call a student over who was not mine and correct his or her behavior.

While I know what my colleagues and I did at Skyline to work on improving the culture, I don’t know what that process was like here at Northwood.

I intend to find out.

Stay tuned, dear reader.  As soon as I know, you’ll be the first I tell.

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