Anne Coster – Culture shifts

In this story, Anne Coster discusses her belief in developing a culture of learning that involves the whole school community and considers the diversity of learners within the school. She grapples with the challenge of quantifying and measuring this kind of change in a school.



In terms of how I know things have been successful, I had discussions with my mentor at the beginning of the project before I started because he said, “This is huge, how do you measure the outcomes of this?” And I think I go back to those leadership qualities and the Kiwi Leadership for Principals document and there are many things.

If we have a belief in the sort of learning culture that we want to scaffold, a culture that’s inclusive, that takes into account the needs of diverse learners, learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. If we want to create a culture that’s responsive to everyone, then we have to engage in big thinking around learning dynamics and that relationship between teacher and learner. If you want to shift the hearts and minds of the people you work with (and I include teachers, support staff and students and parents, whānau, community in that whole learning culture shift), then you have to operate at an aspirational level. These shifts in terms of the locus of control for learning are critical. It may well be if we’re looking at outcomes, if we want to measure specific benefits, then that might be further down the track, in terms of looking at outcomes for individuals and specific groups of students who have been underperforming in terms of what we know that they’re capable of or in terms of their potential. We might not be able to quantify the benefits for those individuals or groups of students until further down the track, but you also need to know that focusing on curriculum, effective pedagogy, key competencies and then on student voice is the next logical step.

That’s not the only thing that’s been happening in the school. We’ve also had a school-wide focus based on diagnostic testing in the junior school, school-wide focus on improving writing across the curriculum. So you can quantify results from initiatives like that. We can quantify shifts in, (I mean, this is a high performing school) so we’ve got to really target groups if we want to show significant shift in achievement, in external measures like NCEA. We can quantify shifts in those areas, but when you’re looking at shifts in student engagement, teacher engagement, connection to school it’s a different matter. But you still have to be guided and I’m very much guided by that sense of moral purpose and that sense of the need to include everybody in identifying issues and solutions. Where we might not have an issue with our learning culture we can still continue to review and refine and challenge ourselves to develop even better ways of interacting with each other and learning together, alongside, and with each other.

Discussion starters

These discussion starters invite school staff and learners to think about how to measure the impact of shifts in school culture.

  1. What does it mean to be a learner in our school? What does student ownership of learning mean in the context of our school?
  2. How might we measure shifts in student engagement and ownership of learning?
  3. How might we measure shifts in staff engagement?
  4. What does success look like? Who decides what it looks like?
  5. What role might students, teaching staff and support staff play in identifying areas for improvement in the learning culture of our school? What say do these groups have in developing and implementing solutions and analysing outcomes?
  6. What role do parents, family, whānau and the wider community play in influencing and supporting the learning culture of the school?
  7. How might we challenge ourselves to develop different ways of working and learning together, and different ways of working and learning alongside our students? Why might we do this?

Tags: Leadership and NCEA

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