Saturday, July 07, 2018

Culturize: Lessons for Teaching and Leading Well

A few months ago I ordered Jimmy Cases' book Culturize. Then on this cool, bright, summer Saturday morning, I had the chance to read the book. I knew that Casas, an education leader that I met years ago at an Educon conference and have since interacted with via social media, would have words of wisdom for me and my practice, and I was right.

As with any professional book I read, I was looking for ways that I could better and grow my practice as an elementary school educator. There were a number of points that I felt I had already embedded into my practice, and a number of points that I want to further develop and embrace as I improve my craft. Any educator and leader who reads this book will find points to ponder and ideas that will inspire and improve their practice. Below I highlight four areas that I am focused on, areas that I look forward to improving thanks to Casas' wisdom and experience.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Casas focuses heavily on relationship as the central theme of successful teaching and learning. This emphasis spoke to me since one goal I have is to continue to build a strong classroom culture that prioritizes good relationships with students, colleagues, families, and administrators. Casas provides many short stories and examples of how and why to build positive relationships with all whom you work with and for. Some of his points related to building strong relationships with students that resonated with me include the following:
  • ". . take time to talk to students and understand what they see, feel, and experience."
  • "Add a deep understanding of personal student situations, ability to secure community-based services for students and families, and compassion for individual circumstances. . ."
  • Foster "student-centered culture rooted in kindness and compassion." 
  • ". . beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and interactions . . .scream, "I care about you!", "You can do better!," and "You are important to me."
  • "Hence, it is imperative that we begin early on to implement in our schools systemic, organized structures to ensure that every child feels safe, connected, and valued by staff."
  • "creating an environment where the students get to know one another. . .that allow students to regularly interact with one another. . ."
  • ". . .talk with kids, to get to understand them. . ."
  • ". . intentional about creating connection with children. . "
  • ". . . creating a school culture that makes them feel connected, capable, and confident in their abilities."
  • "Establishing a trusting relationship with struggling students first allows them to feel comfortable enough to share their personal struggles."
  • ". . . take time to ask questions. . .rather than make assumptions. . ."
  • ". . .impeccable with your word."
  • ". . .dependable in follow through. . ."
  • When working with the parent-teacher-student team to help a child, focus on "what success would look like for this student. . .what support the student would need. . .the role the student needs to play in his own success."
  • "Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to listen and learn more about the issue and then help the students come up with their own solutions."
  • "Never underestimate the impact that purposeful and positive engagement with students can have on a school community." 
  • ". . .students are inherently the most important people entering our school building."
  • "We care, and we are here to support you and your family."
  • "The key is to keep trying and never give up on a child or a family, to commit to doing whatever it takes to create a plan that ensures any child can and will be successful.
  • "Behind every child's face is a story that needs to be heard, appreciated, respected, valued, and in some cases, shared."
High Expectations and Leadership
I was also interested in Casas' many comments related to having high expectations of students and developing their abilities to lead. As we teach all students, particularly students who struggle, we think deeply about the expectations we have for them and the leadership attributes we model and inspire. Casas' points below will influence my work and conversation related to high expectations and leadership in the years ahead:
  • ". . .a goal is to help others become great leaders."
  • Use words to inspire others for success, not shame.
  • Act to inspire wellness, not weariness.
  • Help all to achieve their personal best.
  • ". . .build up their confidence. . ."
  • "A growth mindset, complimented with a strong work ethic and determination. . ."
  • "Students can accomplish any task with the right support and right attitude." (How do we work together to provide "right support" and foster "right attitude"?)
  • ". . push kids to learn at high levels."
  • ". . hold them accountable for learning and don't allow students to submit work that is not of high quality."
  • "What we model is what we get."
  • ". . .regardless of their level, takes time, patience, a positive attitude, and a certain level of persistence to inspire our children to believe they can do anything!"
  • "Building a community of leaders is how we create school cultures where everyone, from the youngest student to the most seasoned educator, believes they have an obligation to be a culturizer with the power to impact the school in a positive way."
  • "One of the best skills we can teach kids is failure recovery."

A specific goal I have for the year ahead is to better the collaborative work I do with specialists, therapists, guidance, and administration when it comes to our collective service to students. In this regard, our team will begin by looking at potentially better ways to schedule services. I also think we need to discuss our individual and collective efforts to determine what we believe is most important when it comes to what we can do for students. Casas had many comments in the book that speak to this, comments I've listed below:
  • "This kind of culture begins with the building leader and teachers creating a common vision and agreeing upon values that honor every student. This is done by holding educators accountable for delivering quality content in meaningful ways and cultivating positive, personal relationships with students." (What does our good individual and collective work look like?)
  • ". . .cultivate a positive culture in classrooms."
  • "The key is to keep trying and never give up on a child or a family, to commit to doing whatever it takes to create a plan that ensures any child can and will be successful. Believing is half the battle, but believing must be followed up with actions to complete the other half."
  • "If you want people to be less anxious, provide more clarity."
  • ". . .is poor communication the root of all evil?"
  • "A positive work environment is the most critical element of ensuring that students feel safe, connected, valued, and primed for success."
  • ". . . people need to know what you stand for. . .are passionate about. . .what we believe needs to happen next. . .what we expect from them." (What do we expect from one another?)
  • "How you interact, respond to, and acknowledge the work of others daily demonstrates your awareness that you can't do this alone."
  • "By building communities, building others up, and building a sense of trust, we can create the kind of positive work environment where adults want to work and students want to learn."
  • develop student agency, foster student-led initiatives that give students a voice in all areas of school life and learning.
  • "Every child deserves the opportunity to be part of something great!"

Awfulize versus Awesomize
As a critical thinker who turned to blogging when my ideas and questions were not entertained and, in fact, disdained, I paid attention to Chapter 3: Carry the Banner. I wanted to learn about how one can both critique the status quo while also "carrying the banner" for the school community with "deep adulation, sense of honor, and great regard for the schools and districts in which they serve." How does one work towards betterment and remain an "ambassador for his organization" who lifts up the community "with a message of honor, commitment, and solidarity"? This is a topic that I never remember being discussed in my tenure, and one that I'll be thinking about using Cases' statements below:
  • "Model positive interactions. . .recognize that every interaction with a student, parent, or staff member is one single moment to inspire more positive interactions and to impact every person they encounter in a positive way."
  • "Remember that your body language reflects your beliefs. . .bring your best you into every situation is to bring a positive attitude--regardless of the severity of the situation." (See the promise in the problem.)
  • "Show appreciation. . educators who have been blessed to be surrounded by a caring and thoughtful team understand the significance of a simple thank you, pat on the back, handwritten note. . . genuine gratitude."
  • "Little by little we connect, support, and encourage, and by doing so, we begin to create a positive culture for our students and our school communities."
  • "Have an appreciation for the hard work of co-teachers and leaders."
  • ". .. model the attitudes and behaviors we want to see repeated."
  • "You can't inspire your students and colleagues to be great if you are not aspiring for greatness yourself. . . you must aspire so you can inspire."
  • ". . .be intentional about our mindsets and attitudes."
  • Become life-fit: "honors . . .unique situations throughout various points in our lives, leads us to inspire, recognizes multiple options based upon each persons current circumstances, acknowledges ebb and flow of life's events, values flexibility."
I'm certain I will read back on these points throughout the summer and fall as I prep and plan for the year ahead. Thanks Jimmy Casas for inspiring the good work ahead.