Creating a Positive School Culture

August 24, 2021

What type of school culture or school environment do we want at EARJ? I care about this as a principal because the culture or environment of a school can have an impact on the well-being of students, faculty, staff, and parents.

Many years ago I coordinated a program in a large school district in Washington state. My job included visiting many of the district’s schools on a regular basis. A number of the schools had the same architectural design, including layout and floor plan. But regardless of the almost identical nature of one school building to the next, the difference in school culture and environment I felt by walking through the doors of one school as opposed to another was palpable. In some cases, a school felt warm or welcoming or positive or even joyful, while in other cases walking into another school could feel ominous or sterile or chaotic or just depressing. Every school has a culture and environment, whether the school is intentional about this or not.

Thousands of schools around the world have drawn upon research and practices that grew out of the business context to create the culture and environment they wanted. Marcus Buckingham, in his classic book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, drew upon interviews from more than 80,000 managers and more than one million employees. Among the top 10-12 characteristics he found for a positive and engaging workplace environment were such things as: employees knew what was expected, received recognition each week for good work, had a supervisor who cared and paid attention, received encouragement to contribute and improve, could identify someone at work who is a “best friend”, saw people around them committed to doing a good job, felt they were learning new things and getting better at what they did, and they had the opportunity to do their job well.

Now go back through that same list above, but instead of thinking about managers and employees, think about teachers and students. A positive school culture and environment is created when students know what is expected, receive regular recognition for good work, have teachers who care and pay attention, receive encouragement to contribute and improve, can identify a “best friend” at school, see other students around them committed to doing a good job, feel they are learning new things and getting better at what they do, and have the opportunity to do well as a student.

Schools that have successfully focused on building a positive school culture, have taken the elements list above and summarized them as follows; A positive school culture is created when the school environment is predictable (including a common understanding of expectations for everyone), the school environment is positive (including regular recognition for positive behavior), the school environment is safe (violent and disruptive behavior is not tolerated), and the school environment is consistent (the adults, such as faculty and staff, use similar expectations for students). One simple strategy that I have emphasized with my faculty is to ensure that they are acknowledging positive behavior among their students three times as often as calling out negative behavior. Schools that do this consistently see dramatic improvement in overall positive behavior among students.

While I am pleased that students, faculty, and staff can already enjoy many aspects of a positive culture at EARJ, I look forward to a continual focus on further developing and enhancing a positive school culture and environment, so every day can be a joyful place of working and learning together.

Howard De Leeuw
Gávea Upper School Principal

End of the Year

June 8, 2021

Dear EARJ Community,

On this same day one year ago, we were in full Distance Learning, talking about ending a hectic school year and preparing to start fresh in August. We were hoping that 2020-21 would be more “normal”, and believing that we had learned everything we had to learn about the pandemic.

Little did we know the challenges that awaited us. Challenges that we have overcome together as a community and that have brought us where we are today: finishing another frenetic school year, still in the grip of the pandemic, and ready once again to start fresh in August. Because this is what we do at EARJ. We don’t give up.

At this time last year, we thought we would see the students and teachers back to school in August 2020.  It didn’t happen. We were not able to reopen the campuses until  October, when they returned and we were thrilled to see them on campus. We thought they would come back all together but it had to be on a rotation basis – but they were here! Schools were closed a few times, schools were open, but learning at EARJ never ever stopped.

We thought we would all have been vaccinated by now, children and adults. Not yet, but all education professionals will be vaccinated against Covid-19 next week. Children are starting to be vaccinated in other parts of the world, and we hope that soon they will be vaccinated here. We hoped that there would not be many interruptions to academic life due to Covid-19 cases in our community, but the cases came. Sometimes just a few, sometimes more. We worked hard to balance medical prudence with the desire to minimize disruption, and we tried so hard to get the students impacted back to school in a matter of days, ready to resume their activities. Sadly, we feared there would be tragic losses among our families and loved ones. Despite our fervent hopes and prayers, the past months saw this come true.

Nonetheless, we close the year with heads held high and spirits undimmed. We will be ready to start another school year as we always are. We will work over the break like never before to prepare the school for a brighter future. As writer Arhundati Roy said, “The pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. And it has left us with a choice: We can choose to walk through the portal, …. dragging our old ideas and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

At EARJ, we believe that we need to be forward-thinking, embrace the things that we love, change the things that we don’t, and accept the fact that our culture as we know it has changed forever. And we are ready. Are you?

#staysafe and enjoy your vacations!

Emilia Ferreira
Business Manager

High Hopes: Celebrating Learning and Student Life

June 1, 2021

As we approach the end of the 2020-21 school year, the collective focus of the school and the school community is quite appropriately where it should be: on celebrating what has been a highly successful school year. And is there ever a lot to celebrate! EARJ’s “can-do” approach to learning and student life that has been on full display throughout the entire school year and reaches its growth in the final weeks of the semester.

We look forward to your participation in a number of events (many of which are this week) that showcase student learning over the course of the year including Upper School arts exhibitions, Lower School arts exhibitions (including a drive-thru exhibition at the Barra campus), virtual talent shows and year-end concerts, and G11 Theory of Knowledge exhibitions. Rites of passage promotion celebrations are coming up shortly for our Grade 5 and Grade 8 students as they enter Middle School and High School respectively and we have designed ceremonies for these events that will allow for the participation of students from home and school and the participation of parents from home.

On the academic front, MAP Growth testing continues in both the Lower Schools and Upper Schools this week as a way of measuring student achievement and academic growth. High School exams are being held from June 7th-11th and will provide an opportunity for High School students to demonstrate their learning and mastery of each subject studied. The results of MAP and year-end student achievement for all students will be shared with the community during the final week of school and will provide an opportunity to celebrate where your children are, what they’ve accomplished academically and any next steps to be taken.

On curriculum-related matters, we are in the process of completing our trial implementation of the IB Primary Years Programme(PYP) on both campuses and our first year of instruction of the IB Diploma Programme(DP) on the Barra Campus. To top it all off, we recently had our application to become an IB Middle Years Programme(MYP) candidate school accepted and we will begin the trial implementation of the MYP next school year. It truly has been a remarkable year and we couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved together!

Our ability to accomplish so much this school year highlights our determination, innovation, creativity, and ability to see the upside of adversity. In her book, “The Upside of Stress” by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, Dr. Kelly suggests that taking this approach helps to change the way we cope. According to McGonigal, the net benefit of employing a positive mindset and finding opportunities where others only see obstacles is that it leads us to find a greater purpose in life and hope for the future. Our celebration of the 2020-21 school year is proof-positive of this approach and of the optimism and high hopes that we have for our children and for their future.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Scott Little
Barra Upper School Principal