teaching environment and school culture

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					                                                                              Frederikssund 10-11-2011

Teaching-environment and school-culture

This article opens op for the possibility of seeing the teaching-environment as an element of
the whole “school-culture”. It takes its point of departure in the work with small children –
but all of the mentioned subjects can be carried out at other levels than primary school.

By Per Kristensen, Chairman of the Independent Schools Joint Council.

To identify the good educational environment it is an open-and-shut case to take a look at the
school, the teaching, the leisure time, the classmates, the teachers and everything which together
consists in a child-friendly school.
      Even though the children do not see their educational environment at school as divided in the
dimensions of psychological, physical and aesthetic environment, it still makes sense to use these
three dimensions while showing ways to improve the educational environment.
      Therefore: ask the children about their experiences and wishes. Listen to the diversity of their
ideas and make use of this knowledge while working together creating the good learning

Knowledge about school-culture is built upon the good stories
The concept of “school-culture” is a cross-over term for the various circumstances which, alone or –
especially – in correlation with each other, is the fundament for the learning environment in a
group, a class or a school. My knowledge about school-culture – how to found it and how to make it
a key to the schools work and quality, is entirely built upon experiences at numerous conversations
with the children, their parents and their teachers. It is built upon a great number of good stories,
which are accounts from classes where by far the greatest number of children learn, develop and

Values understandable and largely accepted
A school-culture should be based upon a set of values. A school-cultures foundation is that the
school, and consequently also the particular class, can lean on some basic values which are common
for the entire school in everyday life. It is in connection to and respect for this entirety that “part-

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cultures” sort out in the particular groups and classes. To get impact, the set of values needs to be
accepted by parents and by the staff of the school. The children should be able to understand it.
Therefore it may be a good idea to spread out to the entire school the process of creating this set of
values – also among parents and staff.
- The set of values can for example consist in values like: honesty, mutual respect, responsibility,
humour, courage, open-mindedness and curiosity
- Each value can be developed further and explained in the way one finds suitable and feels the need

A perceptible and living school-culture
In a school-culture which is living, those values translate themselves into the patterns of behaviour
among the children and in their relationships with adults, as well as their behaviour within the
physical environment (playgrounds, materials etc.).
       “School-culture” can be explained as a comprehensive and gathering concept. One needs to
require from the “good school-culture” that it is locally founded, accepted and wanted, that it leaves
prints which can be felt all over the school and in the class - even when the class is at an excursion.
It needs to be sensed when new parents and pupils meet the school for the first time. It should be
seen in the schools traditions, buildings, furnishing, in the construction of the playground etc. It
should be recognized in the working environment of the employees of the school.

       Below are some examples of the fields where the school-culture must be perceptible.

       When the adults are meeting: At parents’ meetings, in the dialogues in the staff room, between
headmaster and parents and between different groups of employees etc. It is crucial that the adults
undertake to be role models because they are the frame of the children’s school. This must shine
through in the way that the adults talk to - and about each other.

       When the adults meet the children: On the playground, in the teaching, in the leisure-time
facilities at school. That the adults are attentive, that they “see” what is going on, take stand on it,
participate or intervene, that they show themselves as dedicated when it comes to attending the set
of values of the school-culture.

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                                                                              Frederikssund 10-11-2011

      The children’s approach to learning: Their understanding of what learning is which
“benefice” they can have from teachers, classmates, materials etc.

      The teacher’s approach to teaching: There must not be discrepancy between values and
norms in respectively a lesson of mathematics or a lesson of art, but this should not be confused
with a demand of the teachers to act identically vis-à-vis the children.

      The children’s manners towards each other: While playing and in the different ways of
organizing the learning-situation. A guiding set of norms for each age group, which is formulated
taking basis in the set of values of the school, will prove a good support for the children’s as well as
the adult’s dealings with each other.

Focus on the interaction between the players of the school
The direction of the school is ahead of these processes of cultural development, partly by taking
care of that the dialogues about values and aims are extended to the whole school, partly by making
sure that decision are actually taken – and finally by being active in the daily implementation of
those decisions, especially through being in close contact with the staff (teachers and educators). In
the real world there are various ways of organizing a school life and the education.
      It is striking how alike schools are in their organization. It is a challenge for a modern school-
management to confront the history-induced conception of how a school should be and take the
organizational consequences in order to ensure that the school’s constitution supports a good
      To advance learning and the good school-culture focus must be set on the interaction between
the players of the school: the management, the children, the parents and the employed. This
correlation is the unique characteristic of the school – and this correlation is not the same that we
find in a private enterprise. A school does not have customers. Neither is teaching a service.
Teaching is teaching. However this does not hinder that many of the aims and methods which are
applied in modern enterprises can inspire and challenge our school-cultures.

The Teaching-environment evaluation (TEE) can indicate if the school-culture attends to all the
aspects of the teaching-environment. Are there any gaps or failures – any fields one is not aware of?

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                                                                           Frederikssund 10-11-2011

      In addition TEE can help maintain focus on the fundamental: that each school is made to offer
the good teaching and education, to give the best possible foundation to every child’s personal and
social development through many, many years…

Per Kristensen is chairman of the Independent Schools Joint Council,
Secretary General of ECNAIS
Member of the board of the DCUM (since the centre was started)
and previously Headmaster at Holbæk lille Skole from 1989 - 2004

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