How trusting is the staff in your school? Do they collaborate freely and effectively? How innovative are they? Do they feel empowered to participate in the decisions that impact them the most? Are they committed to your school’s vision, or just compliant? Are these things getting better or worse, and how do you know?
In my new book, The Chemistry of Culture, available now on Amazon, I introduce and describe the 3 components of The Culture Framework: Trust, Empowerment, and Collaboration. And why Trust is the essential foundation of any effective culture. But first, in chapter 4 we examine the rapidly accumulating data pointing to the dramatic decline in social emotional skills like empathy across all demographic groups in our society, but most markedly among the young.
As educators, the time has come to better understand that empathy is one of the essential skills for building trust and creating a more effective culture. An empathetic school is one that recognizes and helps teachers achieve their professional goals, career needs, and personal priorities outside of school. In other words, the whole person. To put it simply, we must emphasize and exercise empathy, and in Part 2 of The Chemistry of Culture, we examine specific strategies to do just that.
The hard truth is that, for the past 2 decades many of the major educational trends impacting our schools have been moving us away from the idea of creating a culture that nurtures empathy. The relentless focus on testing, data, and accountability while arguably necessary and well-intended, too often meant there was little time left over for culture or relationship building.
As school leaders we must face the fact that the measurable declines in our soft skills like empathy and all the related inter-personal skills are not just confined to our students. They are having an equal impact on the younger teachers and administrators entering our profession. There is a growing mountain of scientific evidence confirming these declines are real. We must face the fact that they will not reverse themselves on their own. We must act.
The rapid increase of instructional technology in our classrooms and schools brings with it a difficult dilemma. Many school leaders have pushed for more, faster integration of technology for the past 20 years. While at the same time more teachers are seeing and thinking about, its negative impact on their students and their classroom culture. The supporters of ideas like Blended Learning are growing. But as ICLE Senior Fellow, Wes Kieschnick, reminds us in his book, Bold School… “Technology is awesome. Teachers are better!”. But what is the role of the teacher?
In Chapter 13 you will meet Sean Witwer, a Special Education teacher at Farrington HS in Honolulu, HI who’s been following Wes Kieschnick’s Bold School lead by using a #BoldSchool Blended Learning strategy that allows him to use technology to deliver more personalized instruction. By using computers, he can deliver course content through direct instruction and differentiate according to each student’s individual needs. Mr. Witwer has totally re-invented his classroom, and empowered students with greater responsibility for their own learning. In so doing, he has found the time to build better relationships and a more caring culture.
Individual teachers have been experimenting with different forms of technology like the “flipped class” for years. Master flippers, like Bozeman High School’s Paul Andersen have achieved remarkable success. Using technology, Paul totally re-invented his science classroom, raised test scores, and was named Montana’s Teacher of the Year. Paul even did what many educators dream about. Using Game Theory, he turned his science class into a video game! You can see how on his YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/4qlYGX0H6Ec
But here’s the essential question: How does empathy develop in a technology-driven learning environment? How can we use it to create better relationships? While it’s most certainly true that technology can be one of a teacher’s most useful tools… But at what cost to our students’ interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence? We often feel stuck on the horns of a giant dilemma.
We need much more research to fully understand what is lost when our students learn online. Are we directly contributing to the decline of empathy? And if the culture surrounding us does in fact shape our brain’s capacity for trust, then we need to be providing our students and schools with as many opportunities as possible for exercising empathy.
At Farrington HS, everyone is teaching and learning. Teachers learn from teachers, students learn from students and teachers, and teachers regularly collaborate to create interdisciplinary, real-world lessons. At Farrington, teachers have the autonomy to experiment freely without fear of failure. They are entrusted to lead professional learning for their peers, because they trust teachers to know their students best and have the experience, expertise, and heart to move the school forward.
Farrington is a Model School because they’ve created a “learning culture” where everyone is both teaching and learning. This is a culture that has chosen to emphasize empathy, a culture where every Professional Development session begins with empathy exercises where teachers build relationships, practice reading body language, hearing voices, making eye contact, and reading facial expressions. At Farrington they do not leave empathy to chance.
The Chemistry of Culture introduces The Culture Framework® which can be used by school leaders as a map to guide the process of creating the 3 things needed for building a culture of learning and innovation: Trust, empowerment, and collaboration. It’s now at amazon.com/author/jimwarford or you can get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: www.rowman.com using promo code RLEGEN19