Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Week 26 - My Professional Context

We are a decile 6 school with just over 50% of the school that are not Pakeha. We have a large Tongan and Filipino community within our school. We have families from a range of different backgrounds, different socioeconomic groups and a range of values. We have a very varied community. We also have a lot of children come and leave us which changes the needs within the school. We have meetings with our different cultures and do a lot of consultation to ensure everything is working for everyone. We are transparent and an open environment which helps different people to communicate with us in different ways. These trends we are seeing in our school are similar to other schools of the same socioeconomic spread as us in our area. Through our COL we are able to address some of the issues that come from this wide range of backgrounds and work together to support our community.

We are a Catholic school so this is the core of our school and we want our children to ‘Reach for the stars as lifelong learners in the Catholic faith’. We foster this through weaving the key special character of our school through everything we do and modelling how Jesus would act in all of our lives. However a lot of our community are not actually Catholic and we are currently in the process of cutting down of non-preference children to return our school to the Catholic culture that we want to be central to the school. We have noticed from this decline in Catholic families our school's culture has been changing and we have been noticing some behaviour differences and a different feel to the school. We want parents to bring their children to our school for the special character not just because ‘Catholic schools are good schools’.

We are a high performing school and like to be very up to date with the latest pedagogy, this makes it a forward thinking professional environment. We have had large changes in staff which has changed our professional environment over time. This has been hard to keep the school culture the same through these changes. From this high performing status and always being reflective it can put pressure on staff and people are often stressed due to high expectations and high workload, especially when big changes are made to how we do things as a school. Senior leadership are understanding of this and extra release can be asked for when needed, also timelines for achieving certain things are flexible to allow time for those who need it. We are also very collaborative and communicate well which helps us to all get through times of change.

Looking at Stoll’s (1998) 10 influencing cultural norms of school improvement I feel like we do shared goals, continuous improvement, lifelong learning, support, celebration and humour well. I think because of our change in staff some of the norms take longer to develop and I feel like we are definitely working on responsibility for success, collegiality, risk taking, mutual respect and openness.

After watching Mark Wilson’s talk (2013) his three key aspects of vision, unity and empowerment for creating a culture of success are definitely a part of our school's culture and as we work towards keeping staff and developing our culture I definitely think all three would be very evident in our school.


Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture
TEdEd(2013, Jun 21). Building a culture of success- Mark Wilson. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_8Bjz-OCD8


  1. Hi Morgan, I enjoyed reading this post. I found it interesting about the Catholic culture and the process you are going through to getting it back. I have also been through large changes in staff recently, it certainly changes the culture of the school, it sounds like you have a supportive school though.

  2. Morgan, You have summed it up really well. I think the staff have to take responsibility for the maintenance of the school Culture and to do that everyone has to be on board with what that Culture is. We have done quite a lot of work on this in the last 12 months! So from the Culture we project as Staff the School Climate should at once reflect Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga, Ako, and Mahi Tahi flowing seamlessly through our Catholic Dominican Culture.

  3. I couldn't agree more Morgan. Our school has a very strong underlying culture but its not something we can take for granted. When i came back to the school as principal at the end of last year and the board did major community consultation and it was clear that we had lost a lot of what made us, us. We had to make the decision whether to "start again" or to carry on and build back what we believed was still there at the core. We decided to build back and this year has been a rebuild year. For some staff what we've done this year would look like a big change because they had only seen the school without these things. But its actually a reclaiming (slightly different formats, more digital etc but the basic element's the same). Difficult for me and perhaps most frustrating is when the culture was more coherent, a critical mass of people understood WHY we do things the way we do. But now the critical mass do not understand why. So its been a reclaiming of the whole WHY, HOW and WHAT we do. And there have been times when I've wondered if it wouldn't have been easier to start again. Up to now, because I think we've made it now, I think we've climbed a big hill and reached some level land. The line's firmly drawn. We are a high performing Catholic school - according to our Dominican tradition (and the latest ERO mantra) we believe in excellence and equity for all of our students.

    I also agree with what you say about the need for everyone to be on board and pulling their weight equally. There is still some professional inequity in the school, particularly around openness. Maybe some staff feel threatened by the call to excellence and the high performance of some other staff?? Don't know. One of the things I want to ensure for our culture going forward is that we limit PRTs. One in the school we can manage well. Perhaps one per syndicate at a push if we have to. We also have to be really careful with induction systems for new staff so they get the hang of WHY we do things. That's why I've been keeping the professional development site and will plan an induction program around this for new staff - with release time and accountability to do the program.

    The other thing your post made me think about was behaviour. I have worked in Catholic schools that are a lot more "sedate" than our's is. But I don't think its about being ivory-tower Catholic. I think its about having a similar culture that we can all align to. Thinking about some of the children who give us behaviour problems, there's an inherent conflict in culture, they don't see the intrinsic value in being at our school. They don't align with it in themselves and feel proud to be part of it. So they have nothing bigger to align to to give them strength and courage. Their parents want them at the school for a variety of reasons but underlying is a mismatch with our culture. When things go wrong we can hear them clearly express this. Our special character committee has made strategic-level plans to make our culture much more explicit in the future and I think this is a very good idea. It might put some people off but actually being out of kilter with the prevailing culture around you is a very alienating place to be. Your comments about this have made me think more about what it must be like for the children who feel culturally mis-aligned.

  4. I found this journal entry really interesting. While I am aware of the specific changes leadership is making around the school, it was great to understand more about the specific reasoning why e.g smaller non catholic numbers to support and restrengthen our Special Character. Being new to the school I can already see massive differences due to the changes you are making as a Leadership Team member and now I have a great level of understanding about why, and can see the positive outcomes! Being new to COL is was also helpful to read how we are transparent and working together with other schools as a community to solve problems and discuss ideas. Thanks for sharing Morgan!