Changing The Culture In and About Schools - The Green School Bali Perspective

There needs to be a focus on culture-building in schools. When a community lives a set of agreed-upon values, when the community learns, shares and celebrates together, when a community of learners’ activities make the world a better place – that’s how you build culture. At Green School, this is who we are … culture builders. But there is a next step. There’s more (so much more). As schools change, as education systems change, we have an opportunity for education to have a greater impact on the future by changing the culture about schools.

 

Students work with parents to harvest organic rice as part of a ‘Green Studies’ subject

What is the purpose of a School? 

Answers to this question normally include words like: knowledge, life-skills (like creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking), values (like social responsibility, community, kindness), happiness and success in life. I offer another way to think about it: the purpose of education is to build culture. Our culture is our ‘Way of Life’ (or as a wise friend says: “How we do things around here”) – and our education systems, all the way to the micro-level of individual student experience, curate that culture. Schools aren’t separate from communities, they are central to them. A school is the hub of its community – schools have a massive impact on ‘how we do things around here’..

We (that’s the big ‘Human We’) are responsible to ensure our education systems not just fit the purpose, but are designed to ensure they build ‘good culture’. Head in the sand, it’s got nothing to do with me – obviously hasn’t worked in our favour. As a direct result, we have a disconnection between the purpose of education and the system designed to achieve that purpose. A big part of this is the disconnection between what is happening inside schools with what happens in the ‘real world’ – underlying this is the lost ideal that schools are a crucial part of our culture. We need to change this.

Green School students, parents, and teachers stand in solidarity to end all gender-based violence during the annual V-Day event

Changing cultural norms and perceptions ABOUT schools sounds like a huge mountain to climb. But the actions required are entwined with how schools can change cultures from within. Here’s a few points to help you take action:

Students collect used cooking oil (UC) from local restaurants for the school BioBus that runs on 100% biodiesel from UCO

1. Schools should be places that make the world a better place.
Building a culture of learning towards a sustainable future requires schools to rethink curriculum and pedagogy – learning (that common denominator of every school) has to be relevant to the real-world and impactful now. How do you do this? Answer: bring the real world into your school and learning program. Outcome: changing the culture IN and ABOUT schools.

Students perform Balinese traditional dance during the Saraswati Day ceremony, in homage to the Goddess of Knowledge and Wisdom in Balinese Culture

2. Schools should be Learning and Celebration centers in their community 
By finding opportunities to learn and celebrate together, within a school and by opening the doors to the community to share these celebrations, we not only widen the impact of the experience, but we also start changing the culture IN and ABOUT schools.

Green School alumna, Melati Wijsen, founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Youthtopia, advocates to ban single-use plastic bags in Bali

3. Create meaningful, real-world learning experiences that impact the school and wider community
When school provides opportunities for students to activate and create impact with their learning – and when this impact is seen and felt in our wider community – not only do we see real learning, and that awesome spark of lifetime learning in each individual student, but this activated learning experienced in the community can change the culture IN and ABOUT schools.

Green School Students connect with and help tutor at a local school

4. Focus on Building Relationships
Nothing new here – knowing your students and building strong learner-relationships is standard good classroom practice. But it’s just as important to build relationships outside of the classroom; to the natural environment, to local organisations, global communities. Being explicit with the relationships we build, with empathy, intelligence, creativity and collaboration – this helps build culture IN and ABOUT schools.

There’s nothing more important to the future of the planet than accepting and meeting education’s obligation to build culture. Whether the purpose of education is defined as culture-building or not, this is the reality: Education systems create our cultures. For us to move forward in creating meaningful learning experiences for our students, educators are tasked with the responsibility to build culture IN their classroom and IN their school – this is crucial if we are ever going to change the culture in society ABOUT school.

This article was written by Sal Gordon, Head of Teaching & Learning and Principal of the Green School Bali. Join Sal at the upcoming Outstanding Schools Europe Conference to explore the role of international schools in driving the Global Sustainability Agenda forward. 

This article was originally published on the Green School Bali blog