Last Friday we began our afternoon staff meeting with our customary check-in. This is a ritual in which each person in the circle shares about something happening in his or her life, in or outside of school.
Tom, our 8th-grade humanities teacher, announced that he was both excited and nervous because he was getting his engagement photos taken the next day. This generated ooohs and ahhhs and some good-natured ribbing about what Tom might wear for the photos.
People who are new to our school often find our sharing tradition surprising. Taking precious minutes from our limited meeting time to talk about someone’s sick cat or someone else’s plan to go to a Red Sox game can seem questionable; after all, we have plenty to talk about that is directly related to student learning. But these moments of authentic personal interaction among our staff go a very long way to help us better serve our students.
One of the Developmental Designs principles is “Trust among adults is a fundamental necessity for academic and social success in a learning community.”
For as long as I have been at Paul Cuffee School, the administrators have fostered the adult relationships that we carry close to our hearts as we serve our students each day. We meet in a circle, so we are all equal, and everyone is expected to contribute and to listen. We share and we play games together, and we acknowledge each other in informal but very meaningful ways. Our staff has developed an adult Social Contract in the same way we create the rules with our students. Our principal does not merely assume that the staff will all just get along without any thoughtful planning, any more than we assume our students will be able to manage that.
I believe that our positive relationships have a trickle-down effect for our students. Administrator-faculty, faculty-staff, faculty-faculty, and faculty-student interactions all have a major impact on student-student relations, which are at the heart of any school culture. A negative staff dynamic quickly oozes out into the general culture.
If you are looking to improve student culture, begin by taking an honest look at your school’s adult culture. Cooperative and positive teachers who truly know one another are very likely to work in unison to create a school full of students with those very same qualities.
Eric Charlesworth is a sixth-grade mathematics teacher and advisor at Paul Cuffee Charter School in Providence, Rhode Island. Recently, he obtained principal certification. He has practiced the Developmental Designs approach in middle school for eight years.
Posted March 2014