The Strength of a Unified School Culture System

On a blustery winter mid-morning in February, I tentatively took my first steps into Impact Public School. I had no idea what to expect or what this school was going to be like. Part of me was anxious about whether colleagues and students would be welcoming to a newcomer, a stranger that they didn’t know. However, although I was nervous to join a school faculty in the middle of the school year, I was also excited to be part of a school-wide community again. I missed teaching, I missed the camaraderie with colleagues, and most of all, I missed the opportunity to build relationships with scholars every day. 

My name is Jasmine Zhu (Ms. Zhu is my teacher name) and I am a Teaching Fellow in K1 at Impact Public School. I joined the Impact staff as a part-time Reading Interventionist in February and then joined full time as the new Teaching Fellow in K1 in mid-March. 

I truly believe that every scholar wants to learn. Kids have an inherent love of learning. You don’t need to teach children to want to learn. They already come to school hungry to acquire knowledge, to grow their brains. At Impact, you can see this by observing how scholars love to “kiss their brains” when they learn something new. (“Kissing their brains” is a hand motion scholars make where they kiss their hand and then touch their head to show self-pride in their learning). 

As much as I believe all students want to learn, I also believe that a structured environment must be set in place so that all students are able to learn. Students must clearly know what happens when they do something right, and what happens when they make a mistake. And they must be confident that these classroom management systems and supports are consistent. 

One of the first aspects at Impact that immediately stood out to me as different was how respectful and engaged in learning scholars at Impact were, which was a stark contrast to other experiences I’ve had in the past. I was blown away by the way scholars followed directions and showed excitement about their education. These students actually craved learning and viewed it as the most fun part of their day! As a teacher, I knew that this couldn’t be a coincidence, but rather the result of weeks and months of hard preparation by teachers, administration, and school leadership. What appeared an effortless, healthy, and happy school culture was actually the result of carefully curated school-wide culture systems. I wondered, what structures are in place to keep scholars accountable for their own learning while positively motivating them to do their best? 

When I sat down with Ms. Bean and Mrs. Baumer to orient myself to school structures and policies, I soon found out what these structures were. As I was clicking through an onboarding Powerpoint slideshow, I noticed a slide with different steps. “What are these?” I asked Ms. Bean. She responded that they were the school-wide redirection steps that all classrooms followed for behavior management. I was shocked. Devising both a positive and responsive behavior management system was my responsibility at the previous school where I taught, and if it didn’t work out, well, I was accountable. I immediately loved the idea of a school-wide culture system because of the support it offered to teachers and the equity it provided for students. If a scholar was on a Step 1, 2, or 3, everyone immediately knew what that meant. Gone was the need to explain and justify how you managed your classroom to peers and school leadership, and instead was the stability of knowing that every teacher had positive incentives in their classroom and used the 8 step culture system that is rooted in restorative practices. Furthermore, I believe this centralized management system builds trust between staff members at the school. When a teacher requests support, I have seen administrators and other teachers happy to help within a matter of minutes, which does not happen at every school. 

That is the beauty of Impact’s strong school culture system. Every day, scholars, staff, and families know exactly why, when, and how a redirection or incentive happens. There is no guessing. Because of this, I have seen so much passion in scholars for learning and so much pride in upholding the core school values of having Bold Ambitions, Brave Solidarity, Team WA, Everyone Grows, Play Big, and Intention. When I greet scholars every morning, I see their bright faces excited for another day of school, learning, and being with their friends. That atmosphere of enthusiasm cannot be found at every school, and is an aspect of Impact that I will never take for granted. 

I came to Impact a burnt out and disillusioned teacher. As a novice teacher, I had not received the support I needed at my previous school to best serve a challenging class dynamic. I had been doing everything I could, but I wasn’t sure that teaching was the right profession for me, and I didn’t think I could sustainably remain a teacher. Because of the strong school-wide culture system at Impact, I decided to give teaching another shot. At Impact, I fell in love with teaching again because of the scholars who inspire me to become a better educator every day. Their hard work, kindness and love, and eagerness to learn is what brings joy and light to the classroom. My scholars may never know how important they are to me, but they will always hold a very special place in my heart.