On first visiting Waimea Collage, I was impressed by the leafy grounds and natural ambience. Students were playing happily in the yard, the sun was shining… you get the picture. Others have shared my experience, but this is just atmosphere and what created it is our school culture. Stoll defines a school culture as being, ‘shaped by its history, context and people in it’. It is the ‘glue’ that holds everything down and it can be summed up in the expression, ‘it’s the way we do things around here’ (Stoll). In Waicol’s case, it can be summed up by our Deputy Principal’s favourite saying: ‘This is a good school’. There isn’t a single one of our 1600 students who hasn’t heard him say that, and what’s more, I would most certainly agree with him.
So how would I define our culture? It is one built upon success, celebration and the constant affirmation: ‘this is a good school’. There is a positive ‘can do’ belief that has students and staff striving to ‘reach beyond’ (this year’s slogan). Easy for a decile 8 school in a leafy suburb? Possibly, but it is also about embracing the diversity in our school through our centre for students with high learning needs, our growing international student programme, our GLBT group, our PTA and our Runanga Matua. It is about inclusivity and equity. On Stoll and Fink’s ‘Norms of Improving Schools’ I would say we cover all ten points, putting us into the ‘moving’ category as we continue to find ways to improve.
Do we get this right? Yes, most of the time, but there is always room for improvement. Like Gargiulo’s school, we have focus literacy programs, student achievement conferences, student tracking, mentoring and Trades programmes. In consultation with the community and whanau, we have revamped our curriculum. In order to innovate a solution to the problem of students becoming life-long, independent learners we have set up working parties to develop new and exciting courses for students to opt into. But I feel that at the heart of our culture is our charity towards others. Mark Wilson’s Ted Talk outlined: ‘vision, unity and empowerment’ as the core factors in developing a successful culture. His whole-school approach to charity where school works together as ‘one’, impressed me with its sense of communal purpose. I remember the best charitable event held in our school (to my mind) was the few days we spent organising a welcome for refugee families. Teams of students were set up to restore bikes, knit blankets, produce picture books on Kiwiana and a host of other useful and caring things. The sense of collective purpose was tangible. At the end, students presented their gifts to the families in a special pōwhiri, which was incredibly moving. Real empathy for the plight of others was developed through that exercise. As the school continues to grow beyond its current 1600, it is important that we maintain our culture of ‘one’ and the sense that we are ‘in it together’.
I embrace Waimea College culture. I believe in its power and actively support it. As an individual, I am encouraged to develop my pedagogy, hence my inclusion in the Mindlab programme. I am empowered to disseminate what I have learned to the rest of the staff through formal and informal PD. Through teaching others, I am learning a lot by evaluating what works and what doesn’t as I try new things. Stepping out of my comfort zone is becoming the daily norm! Luckily, the culture I work within is inclusive and supportive. This is a good school.
Gargiulo, S. (2014). Principal sabbatical report. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Leadership-development/Professional-information/Principals-sabbatical-reports/Report-archives-for-2007-2014/Secondary-award-recipients-2014/Gargiulo-Salvatore
Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-CultureMark Wilson