Creating a Welcoming Culture
January 17, 2011 at 2:10 PM
My husband Frank and I strive to make our living environment as pleasing as we can, for ourselves and for those we welcome into our home. We want our guests to feel cherished and appreciated. We attempt to create spaces that are beautiful, whether it be a vase of fresh flowers or a carefully set table for dining. We cook with the freshest ingredients whether it's for a homemade fruit tart or a simple, tossed green salad. Cooking, in particular, is one way I show family and friends how much they matter to me.
A few weeks ago my eleven-year-old granddaughter Katie stayed overnight and we did some cooking together. I told her that the reason I like to cook for people is it's a way of showing love. Taking special care and time with how you prepare and serve food is one way I let people know they are important to me. It's a lesson I learned from my mom. I don't ever recall her serving a store-bought dessert. I want to pass that lovely, caring tradition down to my grandchildren. Especially today when life seems to move so fast, it's fun and relaxing to slow down and cook at leisure, and to put a wonderful meal together for others.
All of this gets me thinking about the parallels to the classroom and school environment and making it welcoming for all those who work and visit there. What is the culture we want to create? How do we influence the culture of our workplace? What can we do to ensure it is welcoming, a place for risk taking, beautiful, and safe? How do we make everyone feel valued? I will never forget my many years working as a literacy coach when I was in a different building each day of the week, supporting teachers. Sometimes we had after-school meetings where all the teachers worked late. The district would provide dinner and it was, almost always, pizza on paper plates. Yet when I reported monthly at the principals' meeting with the superintendent, those lunchtime meetings always included a catered lunch on real china. I felt then, as I do now, that it would have been wonderful to show teachers appreciation for their extra efforts with a wonderful meal on real plates, at least occasionally.
The first thing I notice when I enter a school is how welcoming it feels to visitors. I look for authenticity and real-world purposes in literacy tasks, collaboration by teachers and students, conversations that go beyond test-taking and skills, a beautiful, clean, and safe environment. I notice what's in the hallways and on classroom walls and whether what's posted is truly meant to be read by readers or is just posted to fill space. I look at the way desks are arranged in classrooms and the opportunities for students to work together. I notice the quality of the literacy resources and whether or not they're first-rate, worthy of the students' time and respectful of their interests and cultures. I notice how teachers are dressed as dressing professionally also imparts a sense of caring about the profession and sets a good example for children. I look for first-rate classroom libraries and comfortable areas for voluntary reading. I notice how respectfully adults talk to each other and to children and who's doing most of the talking. I listen for a commitment to high expectations and a belief that students can be high achievers. And, always, I look for a sense of enjoyment in teaching and learning and whether or not people are glad to be there.
What I've learned over many years of working in classrooms and schools is that a welcoming and caring culture is a necessity for high, schoolwide achievement and that we all have the opportunity and responsibility to work to make the culture a positive one for learning and for living. The little things do matter—greeting each other warmly, refusing to participate in gossip, having fresh coffee available, taking the time to remember staff members' birthdays, and doing whatever we can to create a more trusting and joyous environment, one where everyone feels appreciated and cherished.
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