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Sunday, December 07, 2014

What Are The Social Expectations in School?

Have social expectations changed in school?

My reflections related to Larry Fliegelman's Connected Principals post inspired this question.

I do think social expectations have changed in school, and I don't think we've given those changes the explicit attention they deserve.

Social expectations have changed because the culture and climate of schools have changed.
  • For example in the past twenty years teaching staffs have changed from staffs with few working moms to staffs with mostly working moms. The same is true for the families we serve. It seems like the majority of families have two working parents in our organization.
  • Also, expectations for the school day have changed. Twenty-five years ago our teaching days were shorter and curriculum expectations less. Now there are many more standardized tests, standards, data reports, curriculum maps, and formal expectations. The professional standards to become an educator have changed too. New teachers are entering the profession with a stronger foundation. 
  • The mostly sixties-generation educators have retired. These were educators who grew up in a culture that welcomed debate and discussion. Today, debate is less welcome and the free speech that was paramount in the 60's less encouraged. 
  • Further, we work together more with formal structures. In the past, our job was much more isolated and now structures like PLC and RTI foster greater collaboration.
  • Leadership has changed too since we have more leaders and coaches than in the past. And leadership philosophies tend to differ from leader to leader as schools change from factory structure to structures related to learning/teaching communities. 
  • Our students are more diverse too. We serve children with cultural roots from all over the world.
  • Tools and resources are more diverse as well. Increasing use of technology is creating multiple changes. 
  • In the past, many freely shared stories from their personal life. Today that is less welcome.
  • Communication is 24-7. In the past communication included only notes in your mailbox. 
  • Our world is more attuned to individual differences, and we are generally more respectful and inclusive when it comes to the many ways we work or live. 
  • In general, people are becoming healthier due to better health care, new knowledge, and access to good food. There is an expectation today that educators are healthy. 
So many of the cultural and climate changes are positive and enriching. I enjoy working with our multicultural staff and students. It makes the job so much more interesting and rich. I also like many of our new curriculum changes and structures. We are teaching with great depth and serving students better in many ways. I also like the fact that I work with so many young moms who are balancing family and school. And, the strengths our new teachers bring are inspiring--I learn so much from them.

Yet, I think we need to think individually and collectively about the impact of these changes.

For example, many of our celebration traditions are rooted in the old climate and culture. We haven't changed our traditions for a long, long time while school culture has changed a lot. Do the traditions still serve our staff and students well? My guess is that some do, and some don't, and it's worth a discussion.

Also, in the past, school was more family like than business like. You could be more free with your words, and your colleagues were more open to supporting you and/or correcting you. Debate was often the mainstay. Now you have to be much more careful with your words and share. Professional discourse is expected on all fronts. A casual comment or passionate retort that was acceptable twenty years ago is probably not acceptable today. This is both positive and negative. The increase in expectation with regard to respectful speech and share is positive, but the disinterest in debate and discussion is problematic. In order to grow, we need to create structures where our differences in thought are welcome and highlighted as one way to integrate and synthesize the best ideas and practice.

Today, there is a greater expectation for educators to be professional, collaborative, and rightly focused on the many expectations of the job. There is also the expectations that professionals have a children-first attitude and face situations with positivity and respect.

Healthy routines and practice are also expectations. Twenty-five years ago teachers smoked in school, and few were going to the health club every day. Today few new teachers are unhealthy as most represent healthy routines and lifestyles.

These changes are occurring in all professions. Daily we read stories of professionals who have been reprimanded for not making the changes in speak or actions required in today's professional world.

You can see that I'm grappling with the social impact of the cultural and climate changes in schools over the past twenty years. Change has happened. Some of it is positive and some of it is less positive. There is no doubt that change has social implications for our individual and collective actions. What's important here is that we explicitly analyze and respond to the changes that have occurred, and work together to create social protocols and guides that define our organization's expectations for communication, collaboration, community, and celebration.

How does this discussion begin?

In what ways are these changes analyzed?

How can we improve the structure and schedule of school life to best support optimal collegiality and collaboration?

How do we help each other change and develop to meet new expectations? Can we support each other more by advocating for structures such as on-sight daycare, better maternity leaves, protocols for debate and discussion, and new, inclusive ways to celebrate.

Larry's targeted post which prompted me to commit to one change has opened my mind to a host of questions related to social expectations and protocols related to school life. I plan to read about this and analyze the topic with greater depth in the weeks to come as I target my efforts in this regard.

What would you add to this discussion? What changes have you noticed?  What implications have those changes had on the social expectations in your teaching/learning organization? How are you reacting to these changes with positive change and growth?

A loosely related, but powerful Ted Talk related to change and growth.