As teachers, we sometimes need reminders that there are others out there that are doing what we are doing, either a little bit different, or a little bit better. It’s our job to be reflective of our practice and to use our experiences with our students and our material to conjure up ways to improve the craft of our teaching. All good teaching, inevitably, is about building great culture around learning. Like the students sometimes ask in the beginning of a class, “does count toward our grade?” I myself ask, “Does this count as professional development?”
Recently Dan Coyle came and spoke with our students at YSC Academy. He spoke about his most recent book The Culture Code, a novel which explores three main questions:
- Where does great culture come from?
- How do you build and sustain great culture in your group?
- How do you strengthen a culture that needs fixing?
Take a moment to think about the people that helped you learn what makes great culture. … 3…. 2…. 1….
I know that my parents and my school helped shape my understanding of culture. There was an element of trust which held our community together. As the youngest brother of three, I gathered that culture was a mixture of what my parents said and did compared and contrasted with what my brothers said and did in response. Crossing boundaries and setting them up again, and, most importantly, maintaining a space for there to be learning about why those little moments of infractions and building were important, were also essential to my upbringing. For that, I believe that great culture comes from clearly articulating where your understanding of great culture comes from.
As for school, I was always a good student, but not the best student; however, I used what I didn’t know and how my grades compared to others as motivation to succeed and get better. That only took me so far; as I got older, I needed to learn that in order for me to appreciate learning, I needed to get better for my own sake. English classes became an opportunity for me to learn that better than other disciplines because in English class, there was nuance, there were words that permit me to say what I wanted to say as best as possible. Finally, when I came to Creative Writing, and especially poetry, the experimentation with sound, imagery, and format granted a passport into a world of design. The English-speaking and English-writing worlds combined to give me passport into shades of meaning. I found that I favored implicitness over explicitness any way possible.
This brings me back to Dan Coyle’s talk. Through a Power Point and sporty storytelling, Dan Coyle weaved together a palace that answers the three questions above. The pillars that hold this palace together are:
Again, the question is how do enterprises, organizations, and/or teams use these three pillars to build culture?
What struck me the most about his talk was that most of it dealt with adults, for adults. As we left the talk, we had to think about how we apply his doctrines to our own practices. My biggest take-away from the talk is how we generate and follow through with Professional Development for our teachers.
Don’t get me wrong. The talk was informative and inspiring. His video of the starlings and Game 7 of the Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians World Series demonstrated two remarkable moments about ideals and the pinnacles of great culture, respectively. However, what I am left wanting is a way in to get my hands dirty with the culture stuff.
Maybe, that’s all it is. Culture is a constant ebb and flow between the cacophony of collaboration and the silence of self-reflection. As teachers, we are here to remind our classrooms full of impulsive teenagers that our spaces are safe, where your learning happens gradually on emotional and cognitive issues, and where the purpose is just one or two goals: to get us together to places we dream of, and to overcome challenges to develop our growth.