Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Culture of Connection

“Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The ability to feel connected is neurobiologically – it’s how we’re wired – it’s why we’re here.” -- Brene Brown

We had the privilege of listening to George Couros this summer at the Indiana DOE regional eQuip conference held at Plymouth High School.  George’s message is a powerful one that validates many of the ideas we have discussed moving forward with our small learning community.  As high school teachers, yes we still teach part time, we understand the culture in a high school is not always conducive to the holistic learning environment that is present in the elementary years.  At our school, students change classes every 12 weeks and rotate in and out of 5 classes per day. Some teachers may have more that 100 students in any trimester only to have a new set of 100 students the next trimester.  Add to that challenge, the need to navigate quickly through curriculum and standards, many of which culminate in a state mandated end of course assessment.  

Furthermore, the nature of high school content is to create silos of discipline specific instructors.  Not the ideal environment for creating that holistic base that is so important for both teacher and student growth.  There is power in partnerships and purposeful collaboration.  Fortunately, many schools, including PHS, are recognizing these challenges and taking proactive steps to reimagine a connected interdisciplinary staff and student culture.  So when George talked about the need to humanize  ourselves to our learners, we knew that journey we had started with our staff placed us on the right path.

SO how do you create an environment full of human connection, where both learners and facilitators feel so comfortable they can be truly authentic and vulnerable?  Short answer it takes a lot of intentional work.  The focus of our work started with staff culture and connection this summer.  At NTAC, this summer we had the pleasure of hearing Jim May speak on the importance of staff culture.  One of Mr. May’s quotes that has really driven our focus is “The adult culture and performance of the school will function as the ceiling for the student culture and performance of the school.”

With this in mind, we set out to increase the awareness of our own personalities by taking the Myers Briggs Test.  With so many integrated courses we felt it would be very important for the new combination of facilitators to become aware of both their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of their partners.  We both have found this to incredibly helpful in our Collaborleading efforts.  Learning to appreciate your own personality quirks as well as those you work with on a daily basis is extremely important to creating a community of connected and caring individuals who respect and value their differences.  

One of our favorite Ted Talks is BrenĂ© Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability”  What does it mean to humanize yourself to your peers and students?  As we continue to cultivate a culture of connection, we would love for you to share your ideas on how you are creating creating a strong staff/student culture by encouraging connection and humanization.