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The Role of Culture Brokers in Schools

September 15, 2015 / by Bobbie Turner

The Big Tent #anewkindofPDHave you ever watched comedies like Meet the Fockers or Medea's Family Reunion, when two families tackle the painstaking task of trying to become one family unit? It's an insightful peek into how difficult it can be for an outsider to adopt a new set of family customs, beliefs, and ways of "being."

This same journey occurs every year across the country when teachers join a new school community. Whether it's a new teacher's first job or a veteran transitioning into a new organization, joining a new faculty can be as anxiety-ridden as newlyweds meeting the in-laws for the first time.

At Gestalt Community Schools in Memphis, Tennessee, our D3 Teacher Leadership Program designed the role of the Culture Broker, someone who sets out to create opportunities for staff members to share in positive experiences, to assist in eliminating the added stress of being the "new person" in the building. One of the ways we're doing that is by using Teaching Channel Teams to share practice.

Culture is intangible, but it's an essential element of any organization. You can walk into a school and know immediately whether you want to be there or not. We define "culture" as a shared sense of purpose and values, norms of continuous learning and improvement, and collaborative collegial relationships. To build that community and trust, each school selects three to four Culture Brokers who are passionate about creating a positive and collaborative workplace. They are "brokers" of our community (family), selling the vision of their school and network.

Here are a few examples of how these leaders support new teachers:

New Hires: Welcome to the Family

New teachers receive an email, text, or note from a Culture Broker when they are hired. Oftentimes, when teachers are hired at the end of a school year or early summer, they have very little communication with their school community. Culture Brokers communicate with new hires throughout the summer, answering questions ranging from where to find an apartment, to what to wear on the first day of school.

School Tours

On the first day of new teacher training, Culture Brokers from each school host a three-hour tour of their school sites. Smiling faces and banners welcome teachers to their campuses. Culture Brokers walk them through every inch of the building, providing information on such things as where to park their cars, who to contact for office supplies, and to how to operate the temperamental copy machine. The tour also includes a walk through of a model classroom (the must haves and essentials of an organized learning space). It ends with a Q&A session and greetings from the administrative staff.

Summer Training and Pre-Service

During the summer, Culture Brokers assist our network team in demonstrating our unique culture strategies. They coach our teachers on how to implement morning meeting protocol, threshold greetings, hallway transitions, classroom entrances/exits, and much more. They are a great support to our professional learning community.

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

Our high school Culture Brokers hosted a mock 90-minute demonstration lesson. The session was filled with scenarios that teachers might experience. Culture Brokers, along with the assistant principals, acted out "What would you do?" scenes. These scenarios were highly effective in providing teachers with a safe, experimental space to practice responses and receive feedback. This format helped guide teachers practice new skills before the first day of school.

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Data Collection

The initial work of the Culture Brokers happens during the first six weeks of school, when the culture is taught. During this time, they complete daily and weekly walk-throughs of their schools to gauge how effectively strategies are being implemented school wide. They use the Teaching Channel Teams platform to capture videos of our seven signature strategies for cultural practices in action. These videos and observations are shared during grade level PLCs and faculty meetings, as a tool for continuous improvement and norming with new administrators, new teachers, teacher leaders, and central office staff. We use the note taking tools to analyze the videos for "glow" and "grow" areas. The grow areas are used to develop goals for schools, grade levels, and/or individual teachers. Culture Brokers provide a safe form of feedback that supports the school leaders' work in establishing a positive culture within the school and across our campuses.

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Learning the culture of a new community doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, the modeling of deliberate practice, and tons of encouragement from supportive staff. It sure helps if you have a Culture Broker on your hallway, and Teams to document the process.

Topics: Professional Learning, Class Culture, Motivation, Leadership

Bobbie Turner

Written by Bobbie Turner

Bobbie Turner is Managing Director of Teacher Development at Gestalt Community Schools in Memphis, TN. Bobbie has close to 20 years in education, where she has served as a middle school principal, instructional facilitator, and classroom teacher.

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