Molly McCloskey

Best Questions: School Culture

We live in a parallel universe. Here at ASCD, we are committed to ensuring that each child, in each school and in each community, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. And one of the things we know for sure is that for that to happen for kids, the adults around them must also be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. That parallel need is particularly striking this month as we consider the best questions about school culture.

Culture—school, community, workplace, political, and so on—is a direct reflection of adult behaviors. Where adults bully, children will bully. Where adults cheat, children will cheat. Where adults feel and act helpless, children will feel and act helpless. Where adults are motivated to work hard, children will work hard. Where adults are supported by supervisors and colleagues, neighbors and friends, children will be supported. It's exactly that simple and exactly that complex.

From the Indicators of a Whole Child Approach

  • Healthy: Our school addresses the health and well-being of each staff member.

  • Safe: Our school teaches, models, and provides opportunities to practice social-emotional skills, including effective listening, conflict resolution, problem solving, personal reflection and responsibility, and ethical decision making.

  • Supported: All adults who interact with students both within the school and through extracurricular, cocurricular, and community-based experiences teach and model prosocial behavior.

Kids sniff out hypocrisy with near-perfect accuracy. Check the behavior of the class whose teacher grades papers throughout the "important" assembly. Check the attendance of students who regularly face substitute teachers. Check the words of the young people featured on our podcasts this month. Adult behavior and adult modeling, whether good, bad, or indifferent, is reflected nearly action for action, word for word. Ann Coulter, we're looking at you!

Educators often say they believe "all children can learn." I believe all children do learn every day through what adults say and do, even when we think they are not looking. The best question for this month's focus on school culture is, therefore, "what have you taught your students today?"

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