The Power of School Culture - Mid-Pacific Institute

High School Principal's Blog

The Power of School Culture

Posted on October 8, 2017

by Thomas McManus on October 8, 2017


Andrew Chiang '19 soothes the chapel crowd with his beautiful tribute to disaster victims.

Our students are talking every day about those in need around the world. Natural disasters and violent acts touch them deeply, and they look for ways to understand and support even those who may be thousands of miles away. Later this month, several of those efforts will coincide with our already scheduled Aloha United Way week. In addition to our traditional AUW activities and giving, we will have a special focus on the on-going needs of Puerto Rico.

I am always so happy when our students stand up and take action for what they care about. Caring and action are indicators of our "school culture," a term educators use to describe aspects of school life that seem ingrained and self-generating. Any dedicated teacher, administrator, or parent has at some point wondered to what extent positive outcomes--such as students caring about a larger world and taking action--can be created or whether they simply occur. I am here to tell you that those outcomes are true reflections of what the adults invest in the lives of the children.

In his book, Creating Cultures of Thinking, Ron Ritchhart writes, "I define the culture of schools as a group of people enacting a story. The story concerns the relationship between teachers, students, and the art of learning. Everyone is a player in this story, acting in a way that reinforces the story and makes it reality."

The parents who send their students to our school tell and reinforce a story. As a parent myself, I stand on sidelines, bring treats for cast parties, and wear lots of t-shirts. By the time students come to us in high school, they have had countless models of caring and action in their lives. Just last week, a few of us from school spent an evening at a parent social hosted and organized by the Na 'Ohana Pueo parent association.

Thumbnail image for IMG_6447-1.JPG

Above: The NOP celebrates the Pueo parents beginning their final flight!

Thumbnail image for IMG_6446.JPG

Above: Assistant Principal Christel McGuigan and NOP Officer Annie Yokoyama present a special prize drawing.

Thumbnail image for IMG_6445-1.JPG

Above: Parents socialize at Medici's.

In addition to making and renewing friendships, this event was a powerful transmission of school culture. We honor and support one another. The story of the parent community at this event was clear--we are in this together and we believe strong connections with each other will ultimately make a better school for our children.

On Friday, as students began a four-day weekend, our teachers continued a now long-standing tradition of gathering together as one school faculty. Teachers from pre-school through 12th grade met in groups they helped create to talk about what is most meaningful to them. This was the first of the four "Professional Learning" days I wrote about in an earlier blog. And it was marvelous...


Above: teachers designing their own peer-visitation protocol.


Above: teachers participate in a "conflict resolution" simulation on international relations and discuss how it applies to other situations.


Above: a peek at the teacher-generated sessions for our afternoon "Un-Conference."

Our faculty are telling and living the story of learning as models and participants. Their culture joins with the parent and student culture to make our "school culture" a powerful one.

When measuring the impact of parents and teachers, Ritchhart quotes one of our prominent educational theorists, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky: "Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them." As a community, we model for our keiki a life of caring, collaboration, and action. The beautiful young people who emerge from that culture are why we all do what we do!