To clarify, my students earned pajama day by making a school fundraiser goal. Did I set up the goals? You bet! I love pajama day! But not just pj day…
Occasionally, I wear my “Teacher by day, Jedi by night” t-shirt on Fridays, especially if I want to match with our music teacher, Randy, another Star Wars fan. Randy and I are not alone in our wardrobe choices.
Recently during a video conference call, I noticed my friend Amber, a high school teacher, decked out in bright neon colors and large plastic hoop earrings. Knowing she is heavily involved in Student Council, I assumed the outfit was related. With a large smile, she explained that it was spirit week and that day was decade day.
Just as my days are never the same when working with young human beings, my wardrobe is never the same either. I may wear a dress and heels for Parent/Teacher conferences one day and my tie-dyed class spirit shirt the next. And you’d better believe those are just the ordinary outfit days. I wear a lab coat and stethoscope for a “Fair vs. Equal” differentiation lesson, and various history and space related t-shirts (“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing”, “RIP Planet Pluto”, and “Mars is for Rovers” are my favorites) as we move along the curriculum in any given year. Did I mention the costumes? The powdered wig for a lesson on King George III is always a hit and I’ll use any excuse to wear my Space Camp flight suit. My students love to get in on the action, too.
Although the outside observer may see this as “fluff” or “fun,” I believe fun is an essential element in learning. It is also embedded in my school culture that we understand and utilize brain research. An emotional event, like your teacher dressing as a pioneer and simulating walking the Oregon Trail with you on the school field, stimulates the amygdala, which releases dopamine into the limbic system. Dopamine helps decide where information is stored and processed. Neuroscientists (and teachers) know that emotions create meaning, focus attention, and control memory paths.
Additionally, the importance of school culture is well researched and documented – no fluff there, either. Charlotte Danielson notes in Teacher Leadership That Strengthens Professional Practice (p.45) “The school’s culture affects how individuals treat one another, the expectations people have for their own and others’ behavior, and the belief structure underlying school practices. The culture of the school has an important influence on how the school operates and the extent to which it can achieve positive results for its students. Schools have a certain feel to them, an electricity almost, that is evident to anyone walking in the door” (p. 45-46).
I love that I work in a place where my colleagues are unlikely to bat an eyelash when I walk down the hall in slippers or my pioneer outfit, complete with sun bonnet. Either they know I’m dressed as a detective for my “CSI: Boston Massacre” lesson because of the crime scene tape adorning our hallway, or just as likely, they are wearing a cape for Superhero day or wearing a shirt with 100 buttons (for the 100th day of school, of course).
To the rest of the world, I may look like a goofy adult in slippers. But to the trained eye, I’m a ninja with a working knowledge of how emotions affect student learning and the importance of school culture.
How does culture manifest itself at your school? How important is school culture to you?