I love using this clip as a way to spur people to think about the unspoken rules, policies and procedures that exist in schools.
The overwhelming majority of schools have a student handbook, codes of conduct, etc… but often, those are only the stated policies, and often, the unstated policies are as much what govern the school as anything else.
And while it’s my contention that we don’t want to create schools where every last behavior / idea / action is regulated by some 400 page handbook of student and teacher behavior, we also want to be aware of — and reflective about — the unspoken rules and practices of our schools. When we are, we create more intentional schools where the ideas and systems that power our communities are transparent and understood.
It’s worth noting, as well, another reason it is so very important to unpack unspoken policies. Schools live in the world – and that world is one where issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism continue to do great harm. One very powerful way to combat the inequities of our world is through intentionality. When we examine the unspoken practices of our schools, we can unpack the questions, “Who is benefiting from this behavior? Who is harmed by it? And how can we ensure that the practices of our school are equitable?”
And, for me, this practice starts with adult behaviors and practices. It’s why I care so deeply about the relationship between a school’s mission and vision and the systems and structures that enable that mission. When mission and vision are shared and deeply understood and believed by everyone, and when the systems and structures that govern the school are aligned with that mission, then the practices – both those in the handbook and those that are not – can align and be understood by all.
There are ways to unpack the invisible or unspoken policies. Some questions a faculty can ask itself to spur the process:
- How are “everyday” decisions made at the school?
- Who is tapped to get work done when it falls outside the scope of an established job description?
- What voices are around the table when an issue arises?
- What is our first reaction to student behavioral issues?
- How are parents involved in the decisions of our school?
- Do we examine the mission of the school when we make big decisions? Small decisions?
And, inside the individual classroom, teachers can do this work as well with questions such as this (and these can be asked school-wide as well):
- How is the mission of the school made manifest in my class?
- Who does my grading policy benefit?
- How do students figure out how to succeed in my class?
- Why are the seats arranged in my classroom the way they are?
- Where is there space for students to influence the governance of my classroom?
- How does every student find space for their voice in my classroom?
And so on… I’m sure everyone can think of more questions to add to the list.
The purpose is that every school can be intentional in their process. We can unpack the unspoken (and spoken) rules such that we can create schools that more purposeful and more equitable in the ways in which they function.
[Oh… and I promise not to go months without writing again…]