What do people mean when they say that a school has a toxic environment?
According to a quick google search, toxic is always associated with poison or toxins. It is harmful and unhealthy. So, when a school’s environment “goes toxic” whose job is is to cure it? Who is responsible for this outcome? How did it get to be that way? And, does it matter why it’s that way or is it more important to figure out what to do to turn things around?
I’ve been in toxic school environments that seem to get worse before they get better. Often, this starts out with teachers feeling that they are not being respected by the administration. Then, teachers start talking to each other because, more often than not, this is the only outlet they have to check their perceptions about what’s going on. Sometimes teachers will feel like they’re alone in their feelings or like there’s something wrong with them. So, one brave soul will test the waters by bringing up a concern in casual conversation. Soon after, another conversation will ensue about the same or a similar topic with the same colleague or a different one. And, then there is a snowball effect.
If administration wants to change this climate then it must first be aware that it’s happening. Otherwise, nothing will change. So, who will be the brave soul to broach this in a meeting or in a private conversation? And will this be enough?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about modelling and its place in the classroom.
I’ve also been thinking about how we often don’t model the behaviours, strategies, etc that we want our students to demonstrate because we are in a rush to move through the curriculum or because we figure they should get it if we tell them what it looks like.
The power of modelling is underrated and I’ve begun to adopt it with a zeal. Well, maybe not with a zeal, but certainly I’ve stopped more often than not to demonstrate and then have students practice while I observe. This helps me to plan next steps.
This may sound like it takes a lot of time but, in the long run, it saves time.
So, I’ve been thinking that by skipping this step we are doing our students a disservice.
In a future post, I will expand on these ruminating thoughts.
I would love to hear how you model desired behaviours and strategies to your students.
At a September back to school session on school culture, our director asked each of us to reflect on the following question: What will be your most important contribution to the culture of our school this year?
I found this question so intriguing at the time that I decided to write a public response on my blog…that I never finished and therefore never made public. In light of recent challenging personal and professional events, it’s time I finish my response to this question and, in turn, reflect on whether or not I’ve been successful in taking up the challenge offered by my director.
At the time and in the space I found myself, the answer to this question was quite simple: be positive. Perhaps, this is too trite and therefore meaningless but after a full year reflecting on what gives me joy in all aspects of my life, I have found that the simplicity inherent in being positive – looking at the bright side – resonates well with the road I’d chosen to travel.
Or, so I thought.
The human mind is highly susceptible to all kinds of influences and it doesn’t take much to distract us from our determination to develop (or maintain) new habits or ways of seeing the world…if we aren’t careful. I don’t think I would be wrong to say that it’s sometimes easier to fall back on old and unproductive habits of mind than to struggle at developing new ways of responding to the world. If we look hard enough, we will always find something to veer us of our course and to break our determination.
So, maybe that’s what happened to me or maybe the circumstances were such that I had no other choice but to hunker down and dig in my heels. The old dichotomy – who is the victim here and does it matter? In the end, we only hurt ourselves when we allow outside events to rule over us or, as my kids used to say, “be the boss of us”.
Which is to say that I lost my resolve to be positive and instead found only negatives to bolster my arguments. Not that the negatives weren’t there but I let them eat at my insides until I became sick, literally and figuratively. Who gained? Who lost? Right now, it doesn’t seem to matter. Suffice it to say that by losing sight of what’s important, I once again find myself picking up the pieces and what seemed oh, so important isn’t so important anymore.
It’s all about perspective
and, yes, it’s about being positive.
I have another opportunity – we always do – and I won’t mess up this time.
Cross-posted at SOL – Two Writing Teachers.