How Educators Can Culturize Their Schools
Reviewed by Reid Heller
Jimmy Casas’ book Culturize gives examples and ideas on how educators can positively impact their school culture and climate. From my experience in the classroom and working closely with administrators, I have seen how being a champion for students will positively impact a school community.
This book puts student support in the forefront. Casas calls for us to constantly think about student needs and how we as educators and leaders can help. He calls for all staff to be examples of caring and empathy – and to be positive by having engaging conversations and building strong relationships.
The Four Core Principles of Positive School Culture
The first of these principles is being a champion for students. School leaders need to listen to students. Teachers need to have positive intentions and understand how their actions affect the culture of the building. In my mind the most important piece of advice is that teachers treat students with equity. By having equitable decision-making processes – shaped by the understanding that there are always reasons behind the behaviors students choose to exhibit – we create a culture that is inviting and inclusive for all.
The second core principle is expecting excellence. Casas argues that leaders are not just “the administration” but members of the school community. He calls for leaders to be accountable, to model what they expect from others, and to be open to differences of opinion.
My favorite analogy is found on page 59. Casas describes a scene from “A Few Good Men” where Tom Cruise’s character says you don’t need a patch on your arm to show you have honor. Then he describes how helpful leaders can be found across every building – they are the people who we gravitate toward, who have a positive infectious personality that helps energize the whole school. Having a nameplate on your desk and a nice parking spot does not make you a leader.
The third principle is to carry the banner for our students by being role models and leading by example. Casas stresses the importance of understanding the built-in negativity that lurks in every school building. He describes these negative forces as “awfulizers.” Awfulizers are the people who bash the school they work for and bring down the culture, but if schools have “awesomizers” then the talk becomes more positive and inviting to all.
Part of being an awesomizer is honoring and valuing others. I appreciate the importance Casas gives to positive talk and attitudes among both students and staff. A school environment is a tough place to work when negative talk and attitudes dominate the spaces.
The final principle from the book is to be a merchant of hope. Casas calls on the leadership team to have high expectations and goals for students and staff. This final principle also encompasses the understanding that equitable discipline decisions are not inflexible rules but responses tailored to the needs of each student. This is a huge issue in education today, and we must continue to work on it if we are to have equity.
A book of powerful insights
I absolutely loved Culturize and the ideas and philosophies portrayed in it. Casas includes “culture builders” who offer suggestions to get started in making a more positive impact on school culture. Readers will find quotes from education leaders and dialogue from current administrators who are working on improving school culture. The background knowledge and experiences of these individuals provide context and power to the work Casas is trying to get educators to be a part of.
Every teacher and school can benefit from the insights Casas brings to these pages. Using Culturize as a book study in professional learning teams would be a great way to get started in making a positive impact on the culture in your building. This book is a one-stop shop!
Reid Heller is a middle school wellness teacher. He has been teaching for 8 years and holds Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Northwest Missouri State University. He is obtaining an EdD from the University of Colorado Denver in Educational Equity with aspirations of being a future superintendent. He is dedicated to making a difference and positively impacting as many students as possible.