Knowing the way towards growth-minded change culture is about building cultural focus. This involves establishing and enhancing the role of aspiration and performance within the community: does the school understand how to make 21C learning the core of its strategic intent?
The building of cultural focus plays out in three significant domains: cultural standards that focus, shared expectations about the student potential for success, and the development of propensity towards continuous improvement in the school’s community of inquiry and practice.
Standards: The school community and everyone in it needs to set high expectations and high standards; the assumption that this is being done is too frequently revealed to be inconsistent within schools of all types. A school needs to have clear and ambitious standards for students and teachers, ideally involving students and teachers in setting these standards, and systems of clear communication, review and feedback on achievement.
The most significant cultural shift we observe in many schools is one that requires everyone in a school to move from opaqueness and siloed practice to transparent and collaborative practice. In other words, we do things together and observe what is done, not to catch people out, but to help us all to improve outcomes for our students. To do this, we need to collect data and find a way for us to organise this in a meaningful way. James P Spillane in ‘Data in practice: Conceptualising the data-based decision-making phenomenon’ notes that data do not objectively guide decisions on their own, people do, and to do so they select particular pieces of data to negotiate arguments about the nature of problems as well as potential solutions. The study of effective practice “involves more than telling tales or relaying stories about practice”; those studying practice need an explicit framework to guide their data collection and focus their analysis. At CIRCLE, we believe that we have reached the point now where we might successfully assemble the six corridors of a set of standards that can help a school to identify, understand, and agree on a shared vision and framework that aligned to desired graduate outcomes based on 21C civic, performance, and moral character competencies. The corridors of this framework can be organised as follows:
Each school has its own context and heritage that will influence the priorities that their community will wish to afford certain aspects of the character for a 21C life and the nuances of how this will play out in their own educational space.
Student Potential for Success: The expectation for student achievement should be based on the belief that all children are capable of success – children should be supported to set goals and achieve them regardless of their background and socioeconomic situation.
If standards in a school are going to be achieved, then we need to have matching aspirations for the children educated within them. Some years ago, Dr Philip SA Cummins wrote in ‘The retreat into meaning – an architecture of learning for our times’ that “education without aspiration is like being trapped in Year 9 forever: demotivating, disempowering and alienating … There is little point doing things without some sense of a goal, an image, an idea of that for which we aim … Aspiration feeds a vision for society built on values and an educational process that is transforming itself from the transmission of fixed knowledge to meaning that is constructed in context by the learner.” In other words, building an imperative for student character and competency is also about amplifying the character of the school in which students are educated and the society which the school serves. At the same time, we also need to make sure that school is personal for each child, for each learner. Andrew Martin made this clear in ‘Engagement in Motivation and Engagement of Boys’ when he noted that learners must feel that “School is for me”, “School is a place that ‘works’ for me”, and “Education is a resource that I can employ successfully now and in the future”. If character development is about people making their mark and measure through their lives to attain a sense of belonging, reach their potential, and develop a set of fundamental beliefs about what is good and right to do, then school itself needs to provide a corresponding place that is founded on the premise that each student has the potential to succeed.
Community of Inquiry and Practice: At the same time, the school needs to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work in making its cultural standards realisable. In defining and pursuing a vision, the school should attend to acquiring a propensity towards continuous improvement through an evidence-based and research-driven community of inquiry and practice (drawing on exemplars of successful education both locally and internationally), pay close attention to measuring success and feedback loops, and understand the current state and needs of the systems that support learning and innovation.
We need to feel the same way about our staff as we do our students. Growing the faculty within a supportive professional learning culture is a given of contemporary schooling. As J Fleming and E Keinhenz argue in ‘Towards a moving school, Developing a professional learning and performance culture’, “there is now little or no doubt that schooling is improved when teachers collectively examine new conceptions about teaching, question ineffective practices and actively support each other’s professional growth”. This is as much about collective disposition as it is about action. This combination of purpose and practice to be achieved within research-driven and evidence-based knowledge engines in schools that focus on improved student outcomes which are themselves linked directly to graduate outcomes and their related competencies. All of this is, in turn, about developing and deepening the teacher’s body of knowledge through working with others in an ongoing process of research and inquiry that we can characterise as an authentic community of inquiry and practice.
Knowing the way of cultural strategy is about focusing on the right things that make a difference: the right standards, assumptions about student potential and the community of inquiry and practice that supports these.