I have read a few books on school climate, how to change it and how to create it, but it was this one sentence written by the author, Peter M. DeWitt, that finally brought it all together for me:
As educators and leaders we have many goals, responsibilities and initiatives that we want to successfully implement, but regardless of our best intentions, none of our efforts will matter if we do not have a school culture that works and learns together and supports our best efforts with the one end in mind: the success of our students.
School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy written by Peter M. DeWitt (@PeterMDewitt) is a relevant and thought-provoking read for anyone hoping to make a positive change in their school culture. DeWitt uses a collection of educator/leader experiences and questions designed for the reader to reflect on and to challenge the reader’s perception of what school climate is and why it is essential to all we do.
DeWitt refers to the collaborative leadership framework throughout the book as an opportunity for reflection and as a tool to support the growth of all – including the leader. Together with the resources provided, the reader can determine where they are in the framework in various scenarios and understand how and why a shift might be needed to truly engage all stakeholders.
The power of collective efficacy, “…the collective self-perception that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities (Tschannen -Moran and Barr 2004), requires strong collaborative leadership to empower each and every stakeholder in the school community. The leadership framework supports leader reflection and feedback as leaders assess their leadership style for moving forward.
Throughout this book, I kept reading the book through the lens of both a leader and a learner, and I particularly enjoyed the topic of parent efficacy. Recently tasked with supporting the rollout of a family engagement tool, I found DeWitt’s ideas of building parent self-efficacy engaging and relevant. When we talk about a truly collaborative approach to educating our learners, we need to pause and reflect on the role assigned, if at all, to our families and consider what part of the leadership framework we are at when communicating with our families. We need to ask ourselves, “are we communicating with them or at them”? We are rolling out the platform as a consistent and convenient communication tool for families and schools but it is not the silver bullet for our family engagement challenges: “…we have hundreds of ways to communicate ….but the increased volume of the possible tools doesn’t mean we communicate any better. What we have to do is understand why we are communicating in the first place” (Dewitt, School Climate:Leading with Collective Efficacy, 146-147). By building both our collective efficacy and our parent efficacy we can all do better at working together to meet the needs of the learners we serve.
To be honest I have always wondered how any educator could not possess collective efficacy and make the decision to enter into education. After reading this book, I truly get now that it doesn’t matter what my belief about efficacy-self, collaborative or otherwise because unless our school teams support and demonstrate collective efficacy, our well-intentioned efforts will not gain traction and have a lasting and sustainable impact. Moving forward without collective efficacy would like be building your dream home on an unstable foundation. Outwardly the home may be beautiful, but eventually, the cracks will show and the building itself will shift and lean and be unable to support its intended goal of being your dream home. As educators, we need to have a solid foundation for all we do. A positive, supportive school climate is our foundation. It doesn’t matter if our focus is curricular, technology-enabled learning, well-being, experiential learning, family engagement or any other education goal we want for our students, without a positive school climate that opens our hearts and our minds to collective efficacy and collaborative leadership our efforts will not be as purposeful regardless our best intentions.
As Dewitt, stated, “ a positive and inclusive school climate can engage the unengaged and can maximize authentic learning experiences as opposed to compliant ones. (Dewitt 176) and in the end that is all we want for ALL our learners.Throughout the book, DeWitt makes it clear that real change and purposeful leading and learning cannot rest on one person alone and this book will support leaders willing to undertake the steps necessary to create an inclusive learning environment. A positive school culture belongs to all us and begins the minute we belong to a school community and continues long past the bell.
If you are a leader and learner and want to create an open and supportive environment in which all welcome, all are equal and all are working together towards common goals than I highly recommend reading School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy.
Please feel free to read other reviews of resources of other school climate resources that I have had the opportunity to read:
School Culture Recharged By Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker
Innovtaor’s Mindset: By George Couros