School Culture

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

In order for inclusive education to be realised and sustained in practice, it is crucial that time is spent on establishing shared beliefs and understandings. That is, coming to a collective realisation about education and its purpose, about how students learn, about what constitutes quality and effective teaching, about responsibility, and about the vision for life and communities beyond school.

Time needs to be invested in unpacking theory and research surrounding the above mentioned points, and having staff engage with this content in creative ways that occur both in collaboration and independently. Time should be given for members to question, challenge, debate and reflect; whilst being guided by a moral imperative, legislation and human rights framework.

In practice, culture change can be viewed as impacting the “hearts and minds” of a school and its population.

inclusion culture by loren
Loren Swancutt – 2018

In order for authentic culture change to occur, the majority (80%+) of staff need to reach a point where they believe and understand that quality, evidence-based education should be afforded to all students, and that diversity should be embraced and celebrated. If changes in practice are demanded prior to significant cultural impact, there runs a risk of minimal compliance, tokenistic responses, and the less than desirable outcome of integration. Inclusive school reform is not likely to be scalable and sustained long term.

To assist in the pursuit of culture change, it is suggested to ‘start with the why…’ (Simon Sinek – The Golden Circle as depicted in the graphic above). The why of inclusive schooling is the student. Connect staff with the voices and lived experiences of individuals that form the context. Appeal to the “hearts” by putting a humanistic and moral lens over the work. From here, links can then be made to the how. The “minds” of inclusive schooling that stem from legislation, policy and research. These can be utilised to emphasise the logic behind the motivation and the moral imperative. Finally, exploration of the what can occur with acknowledgement of the value, worth and contribution of every student, and the need to build capability in order to deliver educational experiences that center on high expectations and optimal outcomes for all students within the general education environment.

Additional contributing factors and points of reference relating to influencing school culture are explored below…

Medical Model vs Social Model Approach:

An important aspect of developing inclusive culture is the shift from a medical model way of thinking about disability, to a social model approach.

A medical model way of thinking centres on deficit – that disability is something that needs to be fixed, overcome, or treated; and that the impairments and differences of the individual are responsible for the limitations that they experience.

A social model way of thinking centres on ability – that disability is a natural form of human diversity; and that limitations are experienced as a result of physical, attitudinal and societal barriers, not by impairment or difference.

Challenging mindset and bias is a crucial component of establishing inclusive culture in schools.

Inclusive Language

Working in combination with mindset, the language we use within our schools provides an insight into how and what we actually think. The way we communicate about our students, staff, parents and community members – the phrases we say, the way we describe people and events, the colloquial language and terms that we use, the passing comments that we make…all reflect what the true culture and unconscious bias of a school is.

Take the time to listen to the language of your school. What do you hear?

To avoid marginalisation and dehumanisation the aim is to hear person-first language that depicts a strengths-based focus. This works to eliminate generalisations, assumptions and stereotypes, and it demonstrates a level of respect and value for not only individuals, but the broader representation of diversity.

Check out this presentation from Associate Professor Elizabeth Walton on ‘What is inclusive language and why is it so important.’

Developing Social Capital:

Social capital is the network of relationships within a society that enable it to function effectively. The relationships are reliant on trust and cooperation, and for all members to contribute toward the greater vision and good of the collective group. Social capital is the glue that holds a school together. It complements individual skill and attribute, it enhances individual efforts and outcomes, and it enables collective commitment to bringing about change and improvement.

It is important for a school to be focused on building the social capital of students as a reflection of the desired society beyond its gates. Schools have the opportunity to model and develop relationships that recognise, support, and connect diversity – to build the relational quality between its stakeholders in an effort to bring about a connected, inclusive society.

School’s can assist students to build social capital by:

  • supporting students to understand that relationships are valuable;
  • developing recognition of the ways in which students interact and how that places values upon their different social groups;
  • practicing skills to improve the depth of the relationship with those they know;
  • developing practical skills to connect with those they do not know;
  • creating clear and simple communication strategies that effectively motivate and encourage others;
  • recognising strength and giving everyone a voice.

Growth Mindset:

Growth Mindset challenges presumption and perception that is based on stereotypes, norms and bias. It is a term that represents the scientific evidence that intelligence is not fixed; that through quality instruction, appropriate support, practice and commitment we can all form new brain connections and strengthen existing ones – resulting in the realisation that all students are capable learners and should be afforded opportunities to engage in rigorous learning experiences.

Likewise, all teachers are capable of implementing quality, inclusive pedagogy. With a commitment to reflective practice, professional learning and accesses to support and coaching, teachers can access and implement evidence-based practices that have a positive impact on the experiences and outcomes of all students within general education settings.

Sharing Success:

A great way to nurture an inclusive culture is for success to be acknowledged, shared and celebrated – both the successes of teachers, and of students.

Sharing examples of quality teaching and the impacts of it on learning and student achievement provides context and scales responsibility. It demonstrates a ‘bottom up’ approach to leadership, and highlights the wealth of capability that exists at a classroom level. It demonstrates contextualised achievement, and highlights that commitment to inclusive schooling pays off in real-time opportunity and outcomes for students.

Some examples of how success can be shared include:

  • Having teachers present a short strategy or process at the start of staff meetings
  • Providing teachers the opportunity to observe one another in practice
  • Starting an annotated video/photograph sharing file of inclusive practice in action
  • Sharing student work and achievement on displays in staff rooms
  • Hosting showcase evenings for parents and staff to view student work
  • Sharing teaching and learning experiences on school managed social media pages
  • Providing opportunities for students to talk about and reflect on their schooling experiences

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