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Creating a Positive Culture Within the Smaller Context
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When a student interacts with a City Year AmeriCorps Member, it is very likely that student will also come into contact with aspects of the City Year culture – growth mindset, the importance of self-care, and maybe even the core value, “It Takes A Village.” I know each of those came up at least a few times in my coaching conversations with my students last year and with my teammates this year. Hopefully throughout they year, the student and their “City Year” will get to know each other and get a feel for the other’s personality.

While the chances of the above cultures interacting hinge on a number of different variables, there is no doubt that throughout the course of working together, both the student and AmeriCorps Member will undoubtedly be influenced by the culture of their school. Each school has a set of assumed values, attitudes, beliefs, and norms that are held by administration, faculty, staff, and students. You see it in the way people communicate and in the expectations administration holds of teachers and students. How does one establish a culture at a school? Just like in any organization, the person at the top is responsible for establishing a positive culture. Principals of schools are responsible for creating an environment at their school for student achievement.

For those schools lacking a positive culture, how is a teacher or AmeriCorps Member to work around low expectations for students, little to no collaboration amongst administrators and teachers, or an environment that values punishing students for their mistakes rather than teaching them? While it may difficult to navigate such a culture, individuals can do their best to create a positive culture with their own students and in their classrooms.

Here are some ways they can start to do that:

  • Collaborate with students to develop a group agreement that sets the expectations for everyone in the classroom: these include expectations for making the environment safe and inclusive for everyone
  • Develop procedures for your students and enforce those procedures – they’ll know what to do what they come into the classroom and there won’t be any confusion
  • Learn your students' names – it shows you care for them more than just as a student
  • Celebrate success and normalize mistakes – post student work, explicitly mention when a good deed is done within the classroom, and let the students know that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world
  • Get to know your students beyond your classroom – what are their interests? How is life at home?
  • Be vulnerable with your students – opening up to them will help build trust
  • Admit when you are wrong – it is something students respect and builds trust
  • Joke around with them – it only helps to further humanize educators

Sergio Plaza is serving as Team Leader with City Year San Antonio. He attended the University of Texas, majoring in sociology and government. This is his second year with City Year. He has been accepted to Teach for America in San Antonio and believes he has a responsibility to pull his students through the door of opportunity he himself was able to walk through.