Does your school’s/district instructional ecosystem support student achievement?

Highly regarded, of ill repute, or lackluster, all schools/districts have a culture; however few schools/districts have a clearly understood, agreed upon, consistently communicated, and strategically supported culture of instruction.

So, you might ask, “Why is it important for schools/districts to have a clearly understood, agreed upon, consistently communicated, and strategically supported culture of instruction?”

Well, it is the culture of instruction of a school or district that members of the learning community, either consciously or unconsciously reinforce or undermine through their thoughts, words, and behavior.

The culture of instruction is the proverbial goal post or standard of service by which each member of the learning community (mature and immature) must judge the impact of their contribution to the realization of the mission and vision of the local school(s), but also their contribution to the broader, aspirational goals of the organization as a unit.

It is a clear understanding of the culture of instruction for every individual that comprises the organization that allows for collaboration and reflective practices. It is agreement regarding standards of engagement among the leadership, followership, and end user of the education that we produce for children to consume that allows for instructional norms and expectations to be established and institutionalized. It is consistent, multi-tiered communication of the elements of the culture of instruction that drives the long-term professional development agenda and variances in structure, function, frequency, and duration of growth opportunities. Lastly, it is the strategic support of the culture of instruction that precludes members of the organization from being overexposed to the doom loop (start this, stop this, start that, stop that) approach to organizational development and school improvement.

So what is the epiphany? This week’s epiphany comes in the form of a pair of rhetorical questions.

Do children in your school/district believe that every adult whom they encounter is knowledgeable enough to be of support to them instructionally? Or do they hear adults utter these deleterious words, “Don’t ask me about math…English is not my thing?” These utterances and the spirit (philosophy) behind them have a negative impact on your school and district to accomplish its academic goals. When we step out of the classroom teacher role and into a teacher leader or administrator role (site-based or central office) we are not absolved of the responsibility of knowing content and direct service to children!

What makes this discussion timely and relevant to you as a conscientious educator?

Last week, I had an opportunity, as I regularly do, observe teachers in schools implementing my ideas for promoting student achievement and school improvement. As I entered a sixth grade math classroom, a student looked at me in a peculiar way, as to size up my content knowledge and said without pause, “Do you know math?” I replied, “Yes.” Then she said, “Well come here and help me.” Happy to be of service, I approached her desk hoping that I had the knowledge necessary to be of support to her acquisition of new knowledge and ability. And thank heavens, I was. She was having difficulty with the order of operations and the distributive property. We worked a few problems together and I gradually released her from dependence upon my knowledge of the order of operations and the distributive property to dependence upon her own knowledge and capacity. She dismissed me by saying, “thank you” after she realized that she didn’t need me anymore.

What is the epiphany?  

With so many of your children struggling to reach the proficiency finish line, we must take an all-hands-on-deck approach to teaching and learning. Your culture of instruction must be reinforced by a clear understanding that each member of the learning community must view himself/herself as a part of students’ instructional ecosystem. Your culture of instruction must be built upon the premise that all new and returning members of the community must agree to a relentless focus of “what’s strong in the organization,” rather than lamenting about “what’s wrong.”  Your culture of instruction must be continuously strengthened by a commitment to developing capacity and recognizing merit. Your culture of instruction must be stabilized by the constructive effect of strategic planning that artfully employs systems and structures to forecast the future and readies the organization for its impact.

Children rise to the level of our expectations and our support.

Does your culture of instruction promote a thirst for knowledge? Does your culture of instruction celebrate inquiry and intellectual curiosity? Do children see instructional leaders as teachers or managers of people and stuff? Public education (traditional, charter, and parochial) as we know it is on life support and we must act now to preserve our future as a nation. In order to improve the future of public education, we must act now by providing children with schooling experiences born out of a clearly understood, agreed upon, consistently communicated, and strategically supported culture of instruction designed not to build the capacity of students to memorize content specific facts, rather to teach children to use their content knowledge to build their capacity to become independent readers, writers, thinkers, problem solvers, and creators of information for others to consume.

For more of my thoughts on building a school-wide/district-wide culture of instruction, read chapter two of The Integrated Approach to Student Achievement – Second Edition. The book is available exclusively on our website

Donyall D. Dickey, Ed.D.

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