The goal of every school must be to create and maintain a true culture for growth and instructional improvement. A culture of growth and instructional improvement has its foundations in a "culture for change." A definition for a culture of change permeates within an environment where individuals throughout the system contribute to a plan designed to improve student learning. The plan is flexible and has room to evolve, as determined by student needs. In order to meet the challenge of a culture for change, the teachers, administration and support staff must adapt decisions and behaviors with one question in mind: What will best fit the needs of students? This takes a commitment to all areas of school improvement, ranging from professional development and curriculum to discipline and agreed-upon values. It, most importantly, requires a plan, as well as a leader willing to take the first step towards developing a culture for change. People will be involved in the school’s progress at different levels and in different ways, but everyone will contribute to the process. A culture of changes will come to the school as learning goals are met by individuals, groups and by the system as whole.
The plan, however, is useless unless all staff members believe it is important to support and to contribute to the changing culture. A true culture for change allows its stakeholders to contribute to the process, as well as to the school’s vision. Essentially, the teachers “own” the culture of change, and therefore make a commitment to its every-changing improvement. The principal must make a conscience effort to foster this environment of ownership, pride and unity. In any school across America, one would find a staff comprised of individuals with different beliefs, values, education levels and talents. The individual teachers have developed their own classroom and teaching philosophies, whether on their own or through the help of another educator or mentor. In a culture where growth is continuous , the teachers support and compliment one another’s efforts –despite their diverse personal and professional philosophies. They overcome their differences through trust and communication, as well as through their unified commitment to their students. Throughout the school year, the teachers, together, will tackle common – and uncommon – student and curriculum issues.
When situations or outcomes require changes, the staff – as well as their plan – must be flexible. Schools, and their staff members, must be willing to be progressive and anticipate needed changes. A culture of change is proactive in every aspect of school life, especially curriculum. A learning school strives to never be reactive and very much favors a site-based management plan.
For example, when we look at future growth models for education, what we want to obtain is the ability to stretch the learning curve every time the teacher sets foot into the classroom. In order to accomplish this task we must bring the fundamentals of professional pedagogy to the forefront of how instructional interaction supports leaning. To accomplish this task, teachers must know with crystal clarity, the effects they have on student learning through questioning, checking for student understanding, providing meaningful feedback and designing high engaging lessons; and definitely knowing and understanding the principles of constructivism through the Zone of Proximal Development.
The key to a successful learning experience is not at the standalone knowledge level which in many cases classrooms of today formulate through mastery of concepts and to a lesser degree on the idea of scaffolding for reasoning. To ensure that students are prepared for the 21st Century we must continue to revisit these practices and grow with experience. The professionalism is in the language, and in the language we define practice and in practice we experience tipping points of growth in pedagogy. The science is clear.
Nothing within these definitions of instructional practices should be mandated or insisted upon by a school or district through the art of standardization. Regulating schools under the art of standardization is a way to control how individuals behave, think, and act indirectly by standardizing the work they do. Those who practice the art of standardization rely on their ability to be direct supervisors, although in many schools this methodology is found to be a less effective way to educate students. This type of methodology has its basis from the old school of Fredric Taylor. If one applies Taylor's management theories, decisions about school effectiveness are based on standardizing all teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, and management.
The art of standardization, or the "assembly line" approach, encourages the development of instructional expectations with measurable outcomes that are identified and tightly aligned to a set curriculum and to specific methods of teaching. Once instructional delivery systems are in place, teachers are closely supervised to ensure that the mandated curriculum and methods of teaching are being implemented. Students are tested to ensure that the approved outcomes are achieved. However, the "assembly line" theory works clumsily at best.
What we do know about the culture of instructional improvement is that there must be a focus on how to develop the teaching skills required to help all students meet more rigorous standards and master the curriculum. Unless school districts focus on instructional improvement student achievement is unlikely to improve more than marginally. To accomplish this task there must be a common professional language developed within each school that fosters a clear understanding of pedagogical practices that are understood by all practitioners.