Changing a Culture of a School



If we stop and think for a minute, what is it that we need? What is it that our students need? Why is self-care brought up so much in conversations, lately? Our well being as educators has started to play a key role in how we interact with our students. There has been so much talk of how students are coming to us, with so many needs and parent expectations. Have our students really changed over the years? I am beginning to realize it is how our society is changing, and at the same time our roles as educators has changed, or shall I dare say increased.

For myself, this year has been a test for me. I decided early on, that I need to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone, family, friends, colleagues, and students.   This is the year I have learned to say no, and instead of solving a problem, I give advice and suggestions on where to find solutions or guidance. This year I have been spread too thin, with expectations from others and expectations I put on myself. It was around January when I realized what affect my well-being had on my students.

I was drawn to the three articles because I have started to dive into the First Peoples Learning Principles.  I am also a strong advocate for the importance of relationships in the school and with our students. I believe when we teach to the heart, understanding our students, their interests, their strengths, we can then teach to their minds, their wonderings, their interests, and curriculum. My focus has been on how I can create safe places for my students to express their emotions, feel their emotions, and dive into their learning and curiosities. Van Bockern’s articles have reminded me where I first wanted to start my inquiry, with teachers well being.

“Emotionally competent adults are the foundation of schools that matter,” (Van Brokern, 2014). When the adults are feeling safe to feel, to question, to wonder, to build on their capacities then we can begin to create a strong foundation to the school culture. When you think of the Circle of Courage it needs to relate to the adults as well as the students. Van Brokern and McDonald speak of how we should not be getting through a day, but to be grounded in what we are doing, and to get there we need to take care of ourselves. For myself this hits home, it takes so much energy our of me when I feel the need to survive the day. When I am fully engaged and feeling empowered with my students I am more actively engaged in what we are doing, and they are too. We are building on our relationships, giving back, accomplishing something together, and at the same time we are building on our confidences.

Van Brokern and McDonald speak about the five pillars in Martin Seligman’s research in 2011. “Seligman, a past president of the American Psychological Association, promotes the idea of thriving rather than merely surviving as human beings. His positive approach is grounded in what research suggests are the five pillars or factors od well-being: happiness or positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment” (2012). One can see how the pillars or factors can connect with the four segments of the Circle of Courage; independence, belonging, generosity, and mastery.

Espiner and Guild’s article speaks of drastic change the New Zealand schools took on because of they saw the need for change as their populations were changing. The decided to build a framework for creating a new school culture, embedded in the Circle of Courage.  Building a new culture would take time, and a great deal of professional development. The schools used the Response Ability Pathways for staff development. The program was a way for the teachers be a part of the change, the development, and it applied to ‘real’ situations. The training sessions focused on, connecting, clarifying and restoring all of which connect to the Circle of Courage.

Looking at the Circle of Courage now, I am not only beginning to see its value for students I am now seeing its value to me and to the educators we all work with.  If we take time and listen to why teachers are becoming frustrated, overly tired, stressed, and not present maybe we can begin to focus on creating a caring place for not only students, but our teachers as well. We need to support one another, and encourage each other for ourselves and our students.



Espiner, Deborah & Guild, Diane. (2010). Growing a circle of courage culture: one school’s journey.

Reclaiming Children and Youth 19(2), 21-27.


Van Bockern, Steve & Mcdonald, Tim. (2012) Creating circle of courage schools. Reclaiming Children and

Youth, 20(4), 13-17.


Van Bockern, Steve. (2014). School Life That Matters: Building circle of courage schools.  Reclaiming

Children and Youth 22(4), 14-16.


Student Engagement and Empowerment

Dack, H., & Tomlinson, C. (2014). Searching for the irresistible. Phi Delta Kappan

Magazine 95(8), 43-47.

Dack, Hilary, & Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (2015). Inviting all students to learn. Educational

Leadership 72(6), 10-15.


What is our goal as educators? I know for a fact it isn’t to get through the content of the curriculum, and it certainly is not a check list of what we need to get through. When I first started teaching I was given the IRP’s, for some I had to purchase, and I was told that these massive piles of text were the curriculum and I had to get through it all.  As a new teacher, I believed I had to get master it and ensure my kids got a glimpse of it to be the best teacher I could be. Once I had my own classroom, I realized that was not where my heart as a teacher was, and it certainly was not something I was about to follow.

In the two articles Dack and Tomlinson speak of knowing and understanding the students. I believe we need to see students as individuals, we need to know who they are and what are their strengths and their struggles. We need to understand the students place. Place being where they are at emotionally, academically, physically, and mentally. Dack and Tomlinson explain that when planning curriculum, we need to think of if as a way to ” guide learners to see interconnectedness of knowledge and human experience over time and across places.” (Dack and Tomlinson 2015).

We must also ensure that we see that the students are all different in a variety of ways and that we need to put our assumptions aside and work towards creating a place where students and educators are all understanding of one another. We need to model to our students that we will all see what we are learning through many lenses, and as teachers we need to embrace that. “Differention is essential to the academic growth and motivation of students from all cultural backgrounds.” (Dack and Tomlinson 2015). We need to see that differention is not just about learning abilities, but more about who the students are and where they come from.

When planning with kids in mind the curriculum becomes a part of them, we need think of each student as we use multiple learning processes, strategies, and curricular competencies to plan our lessons.  It tells the kids that we care about who they are, we care about their learning and development, we care and want to create a safe place where they can continue with their learning journey after they leave us, and we want the kids to know that what we do is because they matter.

I am again drawn back to the Circle of Courage when I read the articles. I connected what Dack and Tomlinson say about knowing the students and with what the Circle of Courage represents, independence, mastery, belonging, and generosity. I see how they all connect with each other, and how what connects us to our students is all relational. We need to let go of the check lists and getting through the content and focus on getting to the child. Finding and giving the students we work with hope, confidence, empowerment, and a safe sense of place. Our re-designed curriculum is a wonderful tool to help guide teachers into the unknown and the explore and embrace what the students bring to our classrooms each day.

Teacher Efficacy

Donohoo, Jenni, & Katz, Steven. (2017). When teachers believe, students achieve:Collaborative inquiry builds teacher efficacy for better student outcomes. Learning Professional 38(6), 20-21.

Cherkowski, S., & Schnellert, L. (2018). Teacher, team, and school change throughreciprocal learning. Teacher Development 22(2), 229-248.


Teaching and learning are the center of the teaching profession. Lately I have been doing a lot of wondering around how teaching and learning are connected to the teacher and student achievement and happiness. Over the past few years I have seen a shift in our profession, to a movement away from professional development towards a closed door approach to teaching.

Donohoo and Katz talk a lot about school culture and how it relates to teacher efficacy. How collective efficacy is the “constellation of productive patterns of behavior on the part of the adults in the building.” As teachers, and the adults, it is our responsibility to create a more positive attitude towards professional development, implement different instructional strategies, focus on academic pursuits, and this will all help to create a culture of learning and hopefully happiness.

If we teachers are not putting our best foot forward we are lowering expectations on ourselves and this results in lowering our expectations on our students.(Donohoo & Katz)  The students need to see us as learners and to see us a advocates for their learning. We must practice reflect and refine when working with our students. We need to be vulnerable to take risks and have those tough discussions with our colleagues on what is right for our kids.

I hear it in the staff room, the kids just don’t get it, I give up, and they just don’t care. We need to turn this around and become more reflective. We need to move towards understanding and seeking out what the students don’t get  and inquire how we can change our lessons, our teaching, our understanding to meet the needs of all our learners. We need to seek each other our for support and guidance.

Teacher efficacy is something I struggle with in my school. I am a learner, a ponderer, and a risk taker. I struggle with encouraging others to “buy in.”  I have found that many are still stuck on the external attributions, the things in our students lives we can not change and the policies we have in our districts. Where the focus needs to shift is to the internal attributions, the things we can change in our practice. I am often left wondering how can I model and empower others to collaborate and create inquiry?

I have tried a variety of strategies to promote teacher learning. I find that many educators are hesitant to look inwards into their own practice to see what they can change. I find that people are tired and discouraged with change. I often hear, this is just another fad to try.  For myself, I seek out my own team of learners. I have been  a part of and social and emotional learning focus group for the past four years. Being a part of this amazing group has done wonders for me to strive deeper into my practice.

I am now working towards my master’s in educational practices, and it is to gain a deeper understanding of what I want to better understand myself as an educator. I want to feel grounded and I want to embed reflection and analyzing into my everyday practice. As educators we are lucky that we can change and try different things every year, to challenge ourselves to encourage learning and to stretch our thinking.

Our students change every year, so our practice needs to change with them.  As school communities shift, we need to support one another. It would be wonderful to foster a community of collaboration and inquiry for student and teacher achievement and happiness. Like Donohoo and Katz said, ” students get better when teachers get better.” It is our duty to create trust in learning, to have ownership over what we do in the classroom, to build relationships with who we work with, students and colleagues, and to build our capacities as educators.

Reflection on “Comprehension at the Core,” but Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudis

Goudvis, Anne, & Harvey, Stephanie. (2013). Comprehension at the core. The Reading Teacher 66 (6), .


Teaching for understanding is where we need to focus on when we plan units, lessons, and activities for our students. I am feeling frustrated watching students leave my grade to go to the next only to go back to tests on comprehension, and all in written form. We see that teaching for understanding is what our jobs are. I believe with the re-designed curriculum our job is cleat,  we need to teach strategies to build on skill in thinking for students.

Goudis and Harvey write, “Comprehension instruction is most effective when students integrate and flexibly use reading and thinking strategies across a wide variety of texts and in context of a challenging, engaging curriculum.”(pg. 3) Our curriculum is engaging and challenging for students and for teachers. I feel that opening up the curriculum to allow more variety in topics may be a huge challenge for teachers who are already overwhelmed. However, in my mind I truly believe as professionals we need to stay with the times and embrace our own learning to benefit our students.

I had a conversation the other day, with a fellow colleague who was giving one of my previous students an “I” on his report card for Socials. I asked her why and the response was he did not complete his written assignment. I was confused, I know that this student’s goal was to show up to school.  He has many demands on him at home and it was a success when he participated in lessons and was present.

When I taught this student, he often shied away from written assignments, as he told me he could not get what was in his head onto the paper fast enough. I began using conversations with him about the topics and, and he was able to demonstrate his comprehension completely often taking his questions and reflections deeper.I spoke to his next year’s teachers and shared with them how he demonstrated his learning.

As I read this article, all I could think about are all the students who embrace deep thinking, who want to learn to understand not to ace a test. If our goal for our students is “to become critical, curious, and strategic readers.” (Goudis and Harvey) why are we not embracing ways to teach understanding? Comprehension is all about thinking, not about the test on a poem or novel. Comprehension is understanding our thinking, our learning, and ourselves as thinkers across the curriculum, isn’t this what teaching is all about to ignite the understanding?

Reflection on “Teaching for Historical Literacy” by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey

Goudvis, Anne, & Harvey, Stephanie. (2012). Teaching for historical literacy. Educational

Leadership 69(6), 52-57.


Our BC curriculum has made an amazing shift from teaching and learning content to facilitating and understanding student competencies. More importantly, the curriculum promotes teaching skills and strategies to enhance student understanding. Goudvis and Harvey speak about moving from learning to understanding by developing thinking strategies so students are better equipped to understand what they are learning, not just memorize it for the quiz of the week.

Reading through Goudvis and Harvey I could not help but connect with Peter Seixas and Tom Morton’s, “The Big Six; Historical Thinking Concepts.”   These two resources combine to make up what the BC curriculum has for social studies.  Seixas and Morton break down historical thinking into six areas; historical significance, cause and consequence, ethical dimensions of history, historical perspectives, continuity and change, and primary source evidence.

I have found that I am instilling the Big Six throughout my socials lessons, and I have seen a shift in my students understanding of the topics. Through the Big Six and Goudvis and Harvey’s thinking strategies the students have begun to see that socials is not about memorization. It is about their perspectives, their wonders, their inferences, their understanding of sources, and their opinions. They have been given ownership of what they are learning, allowing their questions to guide where we go next.

I myself, am a advocate for cross curricular learning and understanding. I have always used fictional books to help with the learning in socials as well as other areas. The students are given the opportunity to look and or play with the knowledge in different venues. When students are immersed into s topic, they begin to see it across other areas. Many times, I have started a unit in one subject only to find that the students begin to make the connections before I do.

Picture books have a way of bringing it all together for some students, and for engaging others. Collaborating with our school librarians have always benefited student understanding, and it is imperative to utilize the resource. Creating units and lessons that are engaging, empowering, and encourage exploration will help foster empowerment and confidence in student thinking.

Cross curricular planning allows the the students to connect the learning we teachers are are the facilitators providing them with multiple resources, skills, and strategies to help them move from learning to understanding. Making thinking visible strategies are also a key in historical thinking. It allows the students find and try out multiple ways to think about their topic and their own thinking.  If we are able to combine all these ideas and concepts just think how we can make what we teach meaningful.

Reflection on Vicky Kelly’s “Finding Face, Finding Heart, and Finding Foundation.”

Kelly, Vicky (2010). Finding face, finding heart, and finding foundation: Life writing and
the transformation of educational practice. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry 7(2).


When I first say this article, I thought it would be something completely different. I wondered if it would be how we, as educators, can change our curriculum and practice. As I started to read I became moved at how honest and forthcoming Kelly was in her reflection of her pivotal life moments. I appreciated how descriptive her language was and how she was able to transport me into her stories.

I love to learn through stories. I love to develop understandings of new things through story. I often will use picture books fiction and non-fiction to transport my students in their learning to understand new concepts and ideas. I have noticed in my practice there are moments in a lesson where I will stop and tell the students of a connection I have with topic we are learning, and I will share a story of who I am.

Reading Kelly’s article I realized that when I tell stories, I am showing vulnerability to my students, I am demonstrating trust, and I am sharing a part of me with them. I have noticed when I do tell stories the students remember and bring them up often. I wonder how I can incorporate my students story telling in more of their learning. The re-designed curriculum is a great jumping board for us to plan.

The stories of ourselves is rooted in the curriculum, we have opportunity to encourage our students to share and connect through stories. We have the ability to connect the content and curricular competencies through story telling whatever the subject. I am inspired to by Kelly’s stories.

Another connection I am having with Kelly’s article is to Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage. Belonging: Being seen (Finding Face), Independence: My Creation Story (Finding Heart)., Mastery and Generosity: Communion with the Creator (Finding Foundation). I am inspired to read more of Kelly’s articles, to see if I can able to gain a deeper understanding to our First People’s Learning Principles.

Reflection on Brookefield’s “Teaching our own Racism”

Brookfield, Stephen. (2014). Teaching our own racism: Incorporating personal

narratives of whiteness into anti-racist practice. Adult Learning 25(3), 89-95.


When I began reading this article, I kept thinking this has nothing to do with my practice. I am much younger than Brookefield so I was not brought up in a time when racist jokes were the norm, or when discrimination was acceptable.  As I read on, I realized that yes, I was brought up in a time of change I still was brought up by people who were raised during a time of assumptions and stereo types.

I remember growing up and constantly correcting my uncles or family friends when they would say a racist comment. It became a joke to them, they would go out of their way to get a rise out of me. I felt that I was doing good by trying to instil higher moral around our world.

I do wonder how I am as an educator when it comes to discrimination. I began to reflect on my own practice to see if I too, like Brookefield would be easier on certain races.  I believe, in my early years I may have been. Now, after working with multicultural classes I have more of an understanding that I treat everyone the same. However, when Brookefield began speaking of “micro-agressions,” I had to stop and ponder.

I think we need to let go of our assumptions of people all around, not just in race. Being an educator we need to let go of assumptions of our learners and their parents and guardians. I believe I will be more conscience of how I react or how I say things amongst my class, my peers, and my world. I am curious to see if those “micro-aggressions” are present in my day to day interactions and in my practice. I am also curious to see why and how I can change it.