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June 12, 2017

Culture Matters

Fostering Community

 

I think it was the collection of “goat poetry” that first made me realize this was no ordinary learning showcase.  There was also the science experiment testing the impact of alpha waves on focus and attention, the video infomercial on the School (presented en français), and the thoughtful discussion I had with a student about the lasting impact of the fur trade on Canada’s First Nations.  The creativity, depth and diversity of the learning that was on display last Friday afternoon would have impressed me at many grade levels, but the fact that these girls were in grades 5 and 6 was remarkable.  Watching excited and proud students presenting their learning to excited and proud parents was a wonderful way to end the week, and a rewarding way to culminate the academic year for these young students.

At the Castle, we value the learning and laughter that goes on each and every day, and know how important both are to our families.  In a recent survey of our parents, 100% of respondents reported that the strength of our academics as well as our warm and welcoming environment were key factors in choosing Trafalgar Castle for their daughter.   Based on the survey results, our parents also report that we are delivering exceptionally well on both measures.

The combination of high academics within a warm and welcoming environment is actually what makes learning at Trafalgar effective.  It’s the warmth and safety of our school culture that fosters and contributes to our students’ academic success.  Oftentimes schools try to improve student learning by addressing academics in isolation, and when I see schools focusing on new curriculum or programs without giving consideration to school context, the researcher in me knows that all of that effort is likely for naught.

Much of my graduate work was focused on school improvement and program evaluation, and I can attest to the fact that school culture matters.  Research has shown time and again that “schools with higher student achievement consistently exhibited healthier school climates,” and that “[improvements] in student achievement … happen in schools with positive and professional cultures that reflect a positive school climate.”[1]  This tells us that academic achievement and school culture go hand in hand, and that improving student learning outcomes is unlikely in a school culture that isn’t healthy.

At the Castle, we understand that building and sustaining a positive school culture is ongoing work that involves commitment from the entire community.  When school leaders’ attempts at school improvement fail, it’s often because they don’t understand the multi-faceted and cascading nature of how school culture operates.  There are many moving pieces that contribute to the overall environment within a school, yet it’s not uncommon for school improvement initiatives to focus on separate and disparate pieces.  Schools often tinker away, making changes here and modifications there, looking only at the parts and ignoring the whole.  But any school that truly wants to improve has to consider the whole.

We are proud of our academic program and value the warmth and support found inside the walls of the Castle.  We are also committed to sustaining both, not because we read the research and understand the relationship between learning and school culture.  No. We are committed to both because that’s who we truly are as a school community.  We work to provide excellence in academics, to foster trust, to model respect, encourage empathy, expect honesty, and welcome silliness (at the right time and in the right place).  It’s who we are, it’s part of our ethos, and it’s authentic.  And if all that results in a book of poetry about goats, we couldn’t be more proud!

[1] MacNeil A. J., Prater, D. L. and Busch, S. (2009).  The effects of school culture and climate on student achievement. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 12(1), 73-84.

 

 

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