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August 30, 2015
by: Ted Hamm

Creating Space and Time to Establish a School Culture

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The first week of school is an opportunity to convey our beliefs and expectations not only through our words, but by what we do. Since the inception of the Étude High School, we have put a great deal of time and thought into how we start the school year - involving students in the processes of creating our school culture and engaging in the intellectual work we expect of them. It is through these actions that we initiate a strong school culture and an in depth intellectual culture.

In preparation for the start of the year, there are a few key components about the start of the school year I would like to share with students and families:

Welcoming Mosaic School Students
It is essential for us to ensure that the students who are new to Mosaic feel comfortable making the transition from elementary other or other middle schools. To do this, we ask our IDEAS Academy students to arrive at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday. This provides our Mosaic School students, who will arrive to hours earlier, the opportunity to get acquainted with the building, their advisors, and their classmates in a small environment.

Establishing an Advisory Culture
Secondly, we use the first days to begin building our advisory culture. Students spend much of the first week in their advisory groups getting to know the names and people who will become much like family for the year. Developing a safe environment within advisory is necessary for students to feel comfortable sharing thoughts, engaging in reflection, and eventually moving that comfort to a vocally supportive advisory that offers assistance and advice to each other. This is a remarkable transition to watch and it shapes the community that makes our schools strong.

Establishing a Culture of Thinking and Innovation
Our first week of school is unique in that students spend little time in their actual classes; this is intentional. From the start of the Étude High School we looked for ways to start the school year that engaged kids intellectually. In order to do this, we turned to our partners at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the engaging exhibits that showcase to our students how professional artists represent ideas and answer big questions about the world. We then ask our students to communicate their ideas through creating a product in a discipline such as the arts, engineering, math or science. Our approach is to take students through a process of responding to essential questions by observing professional models, collaborating in teams to discuss the question posed to them, and presenting ideas to their peers for feedback. Gone were the days of sitting quietly while the teacher read the rules, expectations and syllabus to the class. Now these challenges are met with an eager focus to engage in our intellectual culture.

Establishing a Democratic Culture
The last aspect of our school to be set up is our democratic culture. Each year we write a Declaration of Education. The DoE, as it is referred to, is the foundational document for our school culture. It documents why we are here and what we agree to as a community. If issues occur in our community throughout the year, it is what we refer to in order to guide our decision making as a whole school (including and often led by our student body). The DoE is revisited throughout the school year to ensure its validity. In some respects it is our version of the Constitution. This year we will be turning to our juniors and seniors to lead this process. They will be working with IDEAS 9th and 10th graders, along with Mosaic students to identify our vision for our Professional Culture, as identified by our Habits of Professionalism; our Intellectual Culture, as identified by our Habits of Mind; and our Culture of Decency & Trust. The DoE will be ratified by our student body and posted throughout the school when written.

It is action that we use to show what we value as a school community. A first week of classes and schedule as normal, does not provide us with the time and space to build the intellectual, advisory, and democratic cultures necessary to move forward as an engaged community of learners.

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