Enviroment, Culture, Ethos

What does it mean when we talk about Environment, Culture and Ethos and how does this impact on pedagogy and ultimately outcomes for children as learners?

It’s about a collective understanding. A togetherness…together in the shared vision that we have for our children. A united approach that puts children and their needs (and only the children and their needs) at the heart of everything that we do. At the heart of every decision that we make. We are all leaders – we lead our children on the right track. Their right track. We all believe it and we do it because it is right. The Environment has to be right. The Culture and Ethos have to be considered, consistent and right.

It is my core belief that whatever area of education you are working in (formal education, sports coaching, mentoring etc.) and whatever age of children you are leading, that the golden thread of Environment, Culture and Ethos is prevalent at all times. In my experience at Windmill Primary School, Raunds, England we have an unrelenting focus on every child as an individual. This can be onerous…hard work…even demoralising at times as it leads you to the core of each and every human being; and we don’t always get it right all of the time. Yet. But we will.

Our drive to secure the best Environment, Culture and Ethos within our school and curriculum at Windmill provides the foundation for our success. Getting the Environment right for the children to learn, flourish and be successful as individuals; promoting a Culture of ambition, respect and resilience and pushing an Ethos of success, celebration and overall awesomeness!

The day-to-day life in a school can be and often is a challenge. We are good at what we do because we are emotive, sensitive, personable…we are good at what we do because we care. Your biggest attribute as a teacher isn’t about how to develop a child’s mathematical understanding through a mastery approach. Yes – this is of course important. Crucial in fact. But your biggest attribute is the fact that you want to work tirelessly to be a champion for each child. When they walk into your classroom each day, view the children as little people who hang on your every word. Try not to get bogged down by your lesson plans…rushing them into the next part of a lesson because that’s what your plan says. Again – really important stuff, but relationships have to and must come first.

Brendan Rodgers (former Liverpool FC and current Celtic manager) said that every football player wants to feel loved and that it is a manager’s job to make that happen.

Likewise, every child has 4 words written on their foreheads. Actually, every adult in your team has the very same 4 words written…

“Make me feel loved.”

We all want this; children and staff alike.

If we allow this to happen…if we insist on it…we are going to see even greater success. Children won’t just develop academically…they’ll develop socially as young people, as learners…and be better for it.

If we view children as sponges (bear with me)…they are often so full up with the things that are going on around them…their home-lives, their interactions (often complicated) with their peers as just two examples – so the challenge I guess is ‘How do we add more ‘water’ to a sponge that might already be full?’ If we can squeeze out the sponge to remove any unnecessary ‘stresses’, pressures or concerns, we can then perhaps free the sponge up to be more receptive to taking on more water…?

The only way to teach young people is to appeal to their own self-worth. When they feel valued, loved, cared for and at the centre of what you are doing – as opposed to you being at the centre of what you are doing – then we will be able to see real progress. Learning is intense. Meaningful learning experiences are likely to be really intense. But learning experiences cannot be tense.

The culture of my school is something that must be here long after all of us are gone. This is crucial for us all to remember; staff and children. The set of values, expectations and beliefs that we have established that really makes us, us. We all set the standard with our culture. So my main question is; Why? Why are we here guys? What is the purpose of us being here? Why are we connected as we are? What does this team mean to us individually, or together as part of Team Windmill? What do we stand for? What do we expect of each other?

We all own and input into this culture. It cannot be prescribed. It is not a nice quote on a wall or on a letterhead…it’s about us all taking pride and being excited to be part of the fabric…part of the Windmill culture.

I was sent a quote from a book a few weeks ago…
It’s a book called 'The Day Before Happiness', by an Italian writer called Erri De Luca. It's described as 'a coming-of-age tale in which a young orphan boy recounts his childhood and his relationship with his adult guardian, powered by a combination of charm, warmth and simplicity...'

"I headed for home, still thinking about the lessons. There was a civic generosity in the state schools, which were free and allowed someone like me to learn. I had grown up within it and wasn't aware of the effort it took for society to fulfil its obligations. Education made something of us poor people. The rich would be taught anyway. School gave weight to those who had nothing and evened things out. It didn't abolish misery, but within its walls it made us equals. Disparity began outside..."

As it resonated with the person who shared it with me, it also resonated with me! Although we are all acutely aware of our children’s differences and starting points, we all focus relentlessly on giving them all ‘equal’ chances to succeed at Windmill. No child is more or less deserving. Every child, as an individual, is given every opportunity based on what is going to work for them. All of our children are people and people come first. Before any policy, process or principles…people and relationships are at the heart of what makes us so proudly successful.

To learn we must take risks, make mistakes, fail...by getting it wrong, we will eventually get it right. It is not an option to say I can’t do it...we must advocate the use of the word ‘yet’. I can’t do it yet.

To learn we must allow our curiosity to get the better of us. However will we find something out if we don’t ask questions? Of ourselves and of each other? We need to develop the passion and desire to challenge ourselves and each other more...risk free, with no judgement.

To learn we must be resilient. The winger who fails to take her full back on successfully. Does she stop and give up? Or does she have the courage and resilience to learn from her past experience and try again? The child attempting a tricky division calculation...gets it wrong. Same questions. Same learning behaviours needed to progress, both in that moment but also as an individual...a human...a person.

A person.

In that word lies so much. We are all people. People with wide-ranging experiences. People who are sensitive...emotive. I choose to surround myself with people that care...and over my time where I have had the privilege of leading at Windmill and beyond, I have been truly honoured to work alongside, spend time with and interact with a whole load of different, amazing people who care!

So as learners too, we must all understand that we all care. Connections at this caring level are more powerful than anything else. “Make me feel loved.” Remember.

Author: Matt Coleman