Walk into Director of Studies Dr. Sidra Smith's office, and you'll see these words displayed on the wall: "Be the reason someone feels welcome, seen, heard, valued, and supported." They are a reminder of the impact we have on those around us, and they speak to our work in creating a culture of belonging at Severn. But how do we do this work with intention? How do we keep our students at the center of the conversation? And how do we make it last? We talked about all of this and more as we explored this year's Faculty Summer Read The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by author Daniel Coyle.
Culture is Something You Do
The Culture Code analyzes successfully functioning groups — from schools to design firms to professional athletic teams — and offers practical strategies for positive change through learning, collaboration, and building trust. Coyle emphasizes that "Culture is not something you are—it's something you do." From signals and cues that foster creativity and belonging to common pitfalls and how to transform a toxic culture, Coyle shares insights to foster an environment in which any group can thrive.
Safety and Vulnerability
The Faculty Summer Read is a cornerstone of our professional development program each year. Over the summer, every faculty and staff member reads the same book or selection of books. Just before the school year begins, we gather to dive into the reading. Our goal is to discuss big ideas in education and create actionable ways to improve the lived experience of our students.
To examine The Culture Code, the Professional Development Committee (Dr. Smith, Ms. Vicki Dabrowka, Ms. Sherri Hoyt, Ms. JoAnna Josey, Ms. Julia Maxey, and Mr. Jason Salinas) planned large and small group sessions for faculty throughout the day. Each session centered on the themes "Building Safety" and "Sharing Vulnerability." The groups talked about these ideas with regard to our relationships with colleagues and students, as well as our teaching practices. With these considered perspectives, the adults in our community can model and foster healthy dynamics in the classroom, advisory, co-curricular activities, and within our school as a whole. Sample discussion questions included:
How would you distinguish between feeling safe and feeling a sense of belonging at Severn? Is there a difference?
How do we, as educators, balance comfort in our classes with challenging students to stretch themselves beyond comfort at all times?
How do the tactics of building or showing vulnerability with adults differ from the tactics used with students? What does vulnerability look like when done well with students? Adults?
Taking It Further
The day ended with an "unconference" session. During this last group, teachers submitted ideas they would like to explore further and chose groups that aligned with their interests. Sample unconference topics included:
Is there a difference between the purpose of school and the purpose of an individual class? Would alignment be useful?
How can we individually help to create the culture we want? What can "I" do to create or change the culture?
In terms of building and sustaining culture, what is the value in knowing what’s happening in other divisions? How do we share what we’re doing with each other?
To what extent does the lack of gender and racial diversity in the book discredit Coyle’s argument?
"We designed the activities in a way that we thought could help strengthen our culture here at Severn. As an English teacher, I am always thrilled to discuss books and ideas. But more importantly, I think this day is about coming together. It’s about having the entire faculty and staff on one campus talking, questioning, laughing, learning from each other, and eating together. Ultimately, the committee endeavored to facilitate individual and collective growth so that we can better serve our students." — Dr. Sidra Smith
Our Professional Development Philosophy
As a student-centered institution, we believe that we should model the qualities we wish to see in our students. To that end, we engage in professional development as a community of learners. Adults learn best in collaborative situations where professional growth is valued. We provide built-in professional development opportunities throughout the school year and summer, support faculty travel to conferences, and offer grants for personal and professional growth. We hope that faculty will engage frequently in professional development to remain nimble for change in our evolving world.