Posted on August 26, 2012
Last week I wrote briefly about "school culture." To extend this idea, a culture is determined by ways of thinking and knowing, speaking and behaving that are understood and practiced by its members, the culture itself the phenomenon of humans and their capacity to represent experience and its beliefs through language, customs, symbols, etc. Applied to the school context, we can see the learned behaviors, attitudes, values, artifacts, and ways in which we communicate (a school "language").
This notion of culture is even more heightened when we step into the classroom, a microcosm teeming with action, where knowledge is constructed together. Let's take a brief walk together into a few classrooms and take a look at this cultural phenomenon.
So you think classrooms rules are handed down from teacher to students? Not in our classrooms. Every year with a new classroom community being formed, one of the most important practices is negotiating behavior expectations as a class. This task occurs the first few days of school, even among entering kindergartners. In this poster image, "home court rules" refers to the idea that when games are played on home court, the home team performs at its best when playing for the home crowd. When students are part of the "home team" and "perform" in their own classroom, they have the advantage of learning among friends who will cheer them on. (Go to M 3-4 Lucy Sanders' blog for another explanation of "home court advantage," an idea from Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels' Inquiry Circles in Action: Comprehension and Collaboration, 2009). If you visit any MPI elementary classroom, it's likely you'll see a poster with classroom expectations, generated by students themselves. Somewhat different rules of behavior, but all emerging from an understanding about respect for self, others, and the environment.
These next two photos convey another aspect of MPI's school culture -- collaboration. Students are grouped in pairs or small clusters for many reasons -- to problem solve together, to gain different perspectives, to test ideas with a peer, or to model a skill as in a mentor/apprentice relationship. Not one day goes by in the classroom when learning moves along a continuum of experiences working alone to working with others.
In the classroom, student and teacher engage in public dialogue about a variety of topics. This classroom "discourse" consists of probing questions intended to elicit more speculation, even some theory-making responses that draw upon a student's prior knowledge or past experience. Cultural practice is mostly modeling behaviors that are valued by the classroom community, such as being able to stand in front of peers to demonstrate a skill.
Before ending this cultural tour, we pause at one more stop -- a school assembly. Amazing sharing of learning transpires here. Students take center stage to explain a practice, to speak about school artifacts such as works of art, student-authored writing, or, as shown in the photo, a Keynote slide presentation using an iPad.
Parents will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in classroom culture on August 29 and September 5, Open House events for kindergarten through second grade and for grades three through five, respectively, 6:30-8:00pm. The gathering begins in the dining room at 6:30pm for introductions of parent leaders and the faculty, followed by the Open House meetings in each classroom. Parents will be receiving email "artifacts" of the class curriculum prior to the Open House so that they can read the information and be more prepared for the classroom "experience."
One more school cultural event: The Welcome BBQ! September 9 at the elementary school. Look for more information to come. Your children are in a unique school environment steeped in many practices that contribute to a continuously growing culture of learning.
For our children,
Edna L. Hussey