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Putting Culture First at Dar es Salaam International Academy

By Noel Mzese and Natasha Haque
Putting Culture First at Dar es Salaam International Academy

As an IB school, we talk a lot about culture. We include appreciation of one’s own culture and inquiry into foreign cultures in our curricula and we promote sensitivity and international-mindedness. But sometimes schools overlook a very important culture, namely that of the school environment itself. Every group of people working closely together develops its own culture, including in schools.
This year the Dar es Salaam International Academy (DIA) has taken steps to recognize and develop that culture. Here are some ways we have done this:
Professional Development for Creating Culture - At the very beginning of the school year, before new teachers arrived for orientation, the Pedagogical Team met for a full-day training from an external coach based on the Service Quality Institute’s “Coaching for Success” program. While many schools make great investments in Professional Development focused on curriculum development and delivery, we at DIA made the discovery that training our teacher-leaders to develop their confidence and skill set in leadership has been a worthwhile investment which is now allowing those teachers to effectively share best practices and guide their teams.
Goal-focused - DIA has taken explicit steps to ensure that we have a goal-focused approach to our work at all levels of management and teaching. MYP and PYP Coordinators created goals with their Pedagogical team members, who then in turn worked with smaller teams of teachers to set half-termly goals. These goals were all SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) that were in-line with the larger strategic goals of the department and school as a whole. As expected, the existence of such goals allows for a clear way forward for the team. The surprise benefit of spending the time creating goals together at the beginning of the year was the great discussions about personal and professional aspirations, fears, and skill gaps that were uncovered in a safe and positive environment. This was a great foundation for developing our “Coaching Culture”.
Coaching Rather Than Evaluating - Teacher evaluation is always a hot topic and no one school or school district can claim to have the best approach. However, through recent years of research there are many findings on best-practices. DIA has made significant changes this year in its approach to evaluating teachers, based on many of these best-practices and with a goal of creating a culture of ongoing mentoring and coaching. All teachers are aware of how and when they will be evaluated, what tools will be used and how they can achieve. Evaluator-coaches look for multiple-data sources to holistically look at teacher achievement, including input from self-assessment, peer-assessment, student input and portfolios of work. Most importantly, the pre-determined personal and professional goals of the teacher are included in the evaluation process. Feedback is given face-to-face in a timely manner and points for going forward are mutually agreed upon.
Pointing out the Positive - While, as an IB school, reflection and feedback have always been an important part of DIA’s culture, this year has seen an increase in the timeliness of feedback, with an explicit focus on “pointing out the positive.” All of us, as teachers, managers of teachers, and human beings for that matter, can slip easily into pointing out when others make mistakes and not noticing when things go well. This year, DIA has created teacher and student “Shout-Out” boards which are open to any members of staff and students to recognize small, everyday successes of their colleagues and peers. They have also introduced “DIA Appreciates You” blank cards that can be filled in by any person in the community for another.
Looking ahead, we know we have to continue to embed this culture within the school more deeply. This process has predominantly begun with teachers and teacher-leaders. The remainder of this school year and going forward, DIA plans to extend and involve all stakeholders in the community, including students and parents, in order that this becomes an integral part of the teaching and learning culture of the school.

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