Note - As today is the first day of Kwanzaa, I decided to look at each of the "7 Principles of Kwanzaa" and examine how each correlate with classroom teacher success. Today's principle is Unity (UMOJA in the East African language, Kiswahili). I will be posting a short essay each of the seven days of Kwanzaa. Take a read and feel free to comment.
Several years ago, I was invited to conduct a full day professional development workshop at a low performing school in a city located in the northeast region of the U.S. As always, I had done my homework on the school and the surrounding community so I knew what I was walking into. Achievement was low, student behavior and attendance was abysmal, staff turnover and attendance was alarming and there were three different principals over the past four years. When I arrived at the school, the tension in the air was "thick." You could feel it as you walked through the front door with the "coldness" of the security guards that greeted me. When I arrived at the main office, the experience was no different. The secretary that greeted me was both cranky and rude and resultantly, I felt uneasy about being in this school. Already, I couldn't help but think to myself, "How is it possible that this learning environment could produce any more than it is currently producing."
I was asked to sit in the main office and wait for the principal. I waited for what seemed to be an eternity. When the principal finally arrived, I was rushed to the auditorium to set up. I thought to myself, "Wow, we didn't even have an introductory conversation." As the staff was filing into the auditorium, I asked the principal to give me a quick summary of any final thoughts that he might want to share with me before we got started. His main focus was low student achievement and student apathy. I then went on and engaged in my "audience analysis" as I always do. The audience analysis is my way of looking at my audience, listening to my audience, gauging the emotions of my audience and analyzing my overall experience of being in the room with my audience. I consider my audience analysis to be crucial to the success of the workshop.
My computer was now set up and I was ready for a full day of professional development with the staff. My audience analysis however caused me to reach a very troubling conclusion about the staff before I even got started - this staff either didn't know one another or they didn't like one another. There was obvious tension in the room. No one sat together. It was a small staff of about 50 and they were scattered throughout the auditorium. One might say that the auditorium was toxic. It was clear to me that this was going to be a day very much different than the one I had planned.
I decided to open up with an icebreaker...something to get the staff to move closer to one another, talk to one another, and loosen up so that we could have a productive day....I didn't feel it worked though. I therefore asked the staff a question that I had never asked a staff before in my professional life - "Do you guys know one another?" The answer was a loud, resounding, emphatic "No!" In this small space were 50 unconnected, detached staff members. I immediately told the principal that I needed to switch gears....his staff didn't know one another! My focus for the next five hours was assisting them with getting to know one another.
I entitled this blog post, "UNITY in the School Community." My premise here is that children suffer enormously when unity amongst staff is lacking in their school as was the case in the aforementioned school. There's nothing like walking into a school where staff not only know one another, but they like one another, they appreciate one another, they care about one another, they respect one another, they collaborate with one another, they support one another, they learn with, from and for one another, and they're excited about what they do and who they do it for...the students. I call this a "BAM" learning environment. There is UNITY amongst the staff and the learning environment is therefore healthy, vibrant and optimistic. There's energy, excitement and enthusiasm for the work, the students and one another. It's an environment where the entire staff wants to be there daily...because they have a common purpose, mission and vision for their work...they are ONE...they are unified. UNITY abounds through the staff and the overall school community.
What about your school? Does unity abound in your school? Does staff know, like, appreciate, care for, respect, collaborate with, support, learn with, from and for one another? Is there a common purpose, mission and vision for the work? If not, why not? If you are the principal of the school, what role have you played toward forging unity (community) amongst your staff? These are important questions for any school staff to consider. I challenge each of you to do just that toward ensuring that UNITY is a mainstay in your respective schools.