In the first of our three-part webinar series, Positive School Culture in the New Normal, three senior Southeast Asian educators from a diversity of backgrounds shared their ideas on just what constitutes a school culture, as well as their suggestions on how to cultivate one that is positive and nurturing for young learners.
All three speakers brought to the webinar their own unique frameworks for identifying the culture of a school, and how to create positive change through practice. Established educator and former Principal of Peiying Primary School in Singapore, Mr K Govindan, shared his three-tiered strategy for creating a positive school culture: a simple mantra of Purpose, Processes, and People. Similarly Mdm Moliah Hashim, an experienced education officer and Principal of Princess Elizabeth Primary School in Singapore, discussed how we can establish our own rubric for measuring school culture and accurately identify areas of behaviour-values misalignment. Newly-appointed Principal of Magsaysay Elementary School in the Philippines, Ms Shiarell Loida Cruz, elaborated upon how her use of Edgar Schein’s model of organisational culture helped her gain an in-depth understanding of the pre-existing culture in her school. She first understood the physical Artefacts of culture, then the Espoused Values of her staff, and finally identified their Basic Underlying Assumptions.
But how important is it that a school culture be positive, and is it worth the time and effort to build? All three speakers agreed that having a school culture based on mutual support and trust creates a more resilient school ecosystem that adapts well to unprecedented change. Mr Govindan leveraged on pre-existing staff appreciation programmes to ensure his staff were encouraged and supported during the transition to remote learning at the start of the pandemic. At the same time, Mdm Moliah witnessed how having a pre-existing environment of open communication and mutual support encouraged her staff to proactively share their knowledge of the basic digital competencies necessary for remote learning.
Our speakers also touched upon the importance of going deeper to investigate where a school’s culture originates, and how leaders can connect authentically to their staff to bring about positive change. Leading her school through the pandemic, Ms Shiarell quickly instilled a sense of loyalty and proactivity in her staff, by identifying pre-existing sub-cultures amongst staff that promoted bonding and effectiveness, and then emulating them on a school-wide level. Mdm Moliah provided a paradoxical scenario where having healthy common values nonetheless did not authentically translate into a culture of genuine learning and care. With the right conversations pin-pointing areas where her teachers held limiting beliefs and assumptions, she effectively transformed the mentality of her staff to create a culture of holistic learning and growth.
Overall, the approach and attitude of a school leader sets the culture for the rest of the school, and a school’s culture determines how resilient it can be in weathering storms such as the pandemic. By addressing the deeply held attitudes and beliefs of their staff, school leaders can help establish healthy values and behaviours that steer the way towards positive change.
What other aspects of education and school-going are likely to have an impact on the culture of a school? Beyond inherent mindsets and existing approaches, how do successful interpersonal relationships and communication contribute to a positive school culture? What kind of school environment can best nurture learning and development, and how do we work towards this, particularly in this time of change?