Community, culture, and environment.
Despite a healthy decile rating from the Ministry of Education, there are considerable gaps between “the haves” and “the have nots” that my school endeavours to bridge in a variety of ways on a daily basis. We have a discrete foodbank for hungry students; a multitude of clubs and support groups, which are often student-led; we have an outstanding pastoral guidance suite that provides holistic support for all students who need help.
The school’s vision on being a community of lifelong learners who are empowered, engaged and successful drives our culture. Staff and students alike promote respect, resilience, reflection and responsibility through their interactions. There is a strong school-wide focus on inclusion and celebrating diversity. Gluing this environment together is the popular school-wide theme of mana wāhine that encourages students to become young women of courage and service to others.
What happens when we do not get it right?
The introduction of BYOD (“bring your own device”) classes undermined our aforementioned utopia. Concealed beneath they hype that occasionally clouds new educational initiatives, BYOD revealed – with startling lucidity – the socioeconomic divide between rich and poor. Some rightly labelled it as discriminatory. APA (2016) state that students from higher socioeconomic status enjoy higher educational achievement. It is no surprise that the educational achievement of the BYOD classes are better than their “pen and paper” equivalent.
Did the school set out to discriminate by implementing BYOD? Of course not. Rather, this issue of inequity was an unfortunate by-product of an initiative intended to enhance learning culture.
So, what went wrong?
Arguably, more thorough planning and foresight would have enabled the school to avert the issue in the first instance. Evidence of the digital divide in society is well documented (Zickuhr & Smith, 2012). Moreover, a school up the road faced a community revolt after telling parents that they had to fund the cost of a device for their child to support their learning at school. Perhaps, instead of a thorough preparation process with careful consideration for how the initiative might affect our culture and environment, other issues, like trying to sort out decent Wi-Fi, and new pedagogical strategies that accompany BYOD distracted us from what seems like an obvious issue in hindsight.
Yet, the school culture is resilient. When measured against the norms of improving schools outlined by Stoll and Fink (cited in Stoll, 1998), I can honestly say we do pretty well against the 10 indicators. Albeit, some indicators are more evident and stronger than others listed. Staff are encouraged to take risks and learn from making mistakes. Though we did not get the implementation of BYOD right initially for our community, the school has funded devices to loan students who cannot afford to buy one to reduce inequity. This demonstrates commitment to inclusive education and commitment to improvement to support all learners in our community.
In summary, having a responsive school culture is important to help resolve inequity caused by socioeconomic status. What I hope this reflection iterates is a simple, but important caveat for others: When launching new initiatives, carefully consider the impact change might have on your community and culture. Do not get caught up in the ‘hype’.
APA. (2016). Education and Socioeconomic Status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/education.aspx
Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-culture
Zickuhr, K., & Smith, A. (2012). Digital differences. Retrieved from http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/482/482readings/PEW_Class.pdf