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Questions for Creating Culture

July 30, 2011

I once heard culture defined as ‘the unseen assumptions’, ‘the stories we tell each other’, and ‘the way we do things around here’.

Who I am: A new teacher in a school with a brand new math department. There is no culture. We are creating it.

Where I am: Closing out a 4-week traveling adventure across the US. I haven’t had the time or focus to really dig into my curriculum or the day-to-day operation of my classroom (nor have I actually seen my classroom). Instead I’ve been meditating on culture and trying to define the overarching, holistic goals of my classroom and the ‘culture’ I want to create.

What I am trying to do: Find the right questions (and answer them) so I will know what the culture of my classroom will be. I need this so I can be consistent in the decisions I make as my classroom develops. Without this base, I will fall into traps of inconsistency, complacency, and arbitrary decisions. I will lose the respect of my students. I’ve created three challenges for me to complete as I make my way back home, which will hopefully help guide me as I begin to structure my day-to-day routines and the ever-important first week of class.

Challenge #1: Answer each question in 3-5 sentences.

What are your beliefs about how students should grow in your class (academically, socially, personally)?

What are your beliefs about the best way for students to learn?

What are your beliefs about your role as an instructor?

What are your beliefs about how students should interact with each other in the classroom?

What are your beliefs about ways to create positive change in struggling/unmotivated students?

What are your beliefs about the purpose of grades in your classroom?

What habits of mind are most important for your students to learn?

Challenge #2: Using the answers above as your base, answer the following questions. This may result in changing/clarifying your answers above

What does it looks like when a student is actively learning in you classroom?

What does your teaching look like so it facilitates your beliefs on learning and instructing?

What does a ‘successful student’ look like in your classroom?

What do the first five minutes of your class look like?

What do the last five minutes of your class look like?

How do you know how well students have understood the material of the day?

How does a student know they’re being successful in your class? How does a student know they are struggling in your class?

Challenge #3: Create the nitty-gritty details of your classroom using Building Our Classroom as a guide of what to consider. Consider how these details contribute to this abstraction that is the ‘culture of your classroom’ – in particular: the physical space, the daily routine of your classroom, decisions about assignments and late work, behavioral management plans, and a structure for interacting with parents.

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