Commiserate with me a moment. We are several weeks into the school year, and our fearless leader calls an unplanned before school staff meeting. She only needs 5 minutes of our time.. We crowd the teacher’s lounge, caffeine in hand, wardrobe, hygiene, and various last-minute aesthetic adjustments abounding. With neither fanfare nor introduction, the announcement: it’s the bathrooms again. Graffiti etchings. Urine sprayings. Feces smearings. And unkind shoutings. We tried, she announces, but they can’t handle the privilege. You know what’s coming next. A new bathroom policy.
And every one of us in the room (fearless leader included) is groaning. And upon the policy’s announcement every student and parent is also groaning.
Because despite the frustration and hassle and however much good intention, it’s not going to work.
It’s a culture thing
If you are familiar with the work of John Hattie and Visible Learning, then you will not be surprised by the profound connection between school culture and academic success. In fact, John Hattie has been known to say that culture trumps instructional strategies, his ultimate point being that a positive impact begins with assessing students’ needs from a broad perspective.
In a similar vein, Dave Stuart, Jr. writes about what he calls our Five Key Beliefs and the reality that most problems that arise behaviorally and culturally begin with students’ perspectives (about themselves and their teachers).
My point with these examples is that a significant volume of sound writing and research indicates that the specific policies and strategies we employ are always less important than the culture and perceptions we cultivate.
We know the truth in this, yet we spend most of our time and effort putting bandages on broken bones.
Want that bathroom misbehavior to stop? Honestly evaluate your culture and move actively and urgently to transform it. And don’t make excuses like “Home life is…” or “Our clientele are…” Life changing experiences happen every day in classrooms where whatever they are outside those walls, students flourish beneath the guidance of profound teachers who make classroom culture the priority. So scale it up and watch change happen.
Not sure how to begin?
The most important first step is evaluating the current culture while ensuring that student, parent, and teacher voices are all heard. Try something like this School Culture Triage Survey for staff and some combination of anonymous surveys as well as in-person interviews for parents and students.
Leave no voice unheard and no rock unturned!