I’ve just finished reading a paper from 1998 (Stoll, 1998). This made me feel a little old as, by the time it was published, I’d been teaching a year. In fact, half a decade later I was leading a science faculty at JRCS in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. This was a learning focussed Local Education Authority (LEA) and really did support with teaching and learning.
Stoll’s paper discusses culture in schools. I certainly recognise the different categories. At JRCS there was (is) a very definite culture of working together to improve the outcomes of students in one of the poorer Borough’s of London. But I also recognised the other cultures mentioned in the article from the other schools I worked in. For example, I have worked in schools that do things in a particular way: ‘we don’t need to change’. That can actually be a little soul destroying for a young teacher (Note to self- try to remember that when I have new, excited staff wanting to make their mark on the school).
Using NZ’s ‘wonderful’ decile rating, MBC is a 6. This does not tell the whole story, however. Blenheim has students from the whole range of deciles, 1 to 10. We have students from very poor backgrounds who struggle to feed and clothe their families. We have students whose families are extremely well off and, if they chose, could send their sons to private school. We also have an increasing Maori and Pasifika population. We also have to take into account the fact that some students are from rural locations, whilst others live centrally in town.
That being said, there is a definite ‘feel’ to the school. I have no problems sending my son to it, nor my daughter to the girls’ college. Part of this comes from the age of the school. The school itself is very old (for New Zealand) and appears very grand.
The current culture is very interesting. I joined MBC not long after the current Principal had been appointed, in 2012. I have seen him change the school- (re)introducing the house system, overseeing PB4L etc. In addition, we have made the move to BYOD and are currently preparing for being collocated to a new school site with the Girl’s College. This has meant that, for the past few years, we have had a far greater focus on teaching and learning than in previous years. The new school needs to be built with a complete understanding of the students who will come to learn, as well as the pedagogies to support them.
There are still changes that should, need to be addressed. When I worked at JRCS the staff was very young (I remember when the head teacher had his fortieth birthday, he was one of the oldest members of staff). At an older school and being in Blenheim there is a propensity for staff to stay in one place. This also leads to staff not necessarily being amenable to change. Revisiting Stoll, he indicates that one of the reasons why new strategies fail is because of the different culture in place at a school. This reminds me of Dylan William when he said-
It is important that change management takes account of the prevailing culture. Otherwise it may be doomed to fail.
I predict that 2021 (the date the new school opens) will mean that it is not only the school structures that will have changed but, through necessity, the culture will have to as well. In the meantime, we will have to work on refining what each school’s culture is and what we want to emphasise. Starting on a new school site is an opportunity too good to miss.
Stoll (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London.