Cultural Analysis and Communication Audit of Hastings Education Centre

The success of Hastings Education Centre (Hastings) is commonly attributed to the caring staff that is willing and empowered to advocate for individual students. This tailored response is facilitated by extensive face-to-face two-way communication, collaboration, as well as an informal and welcoming social climate. This paper will investigate connections between the culture and communication at Hastings and recommend actions for improving this relationship.

MA ELM 550, April 2013

Cultural Analysis

Hastings is located in a culturally and economically diverse inner city neighbourhood in Vancouver, BC. The school is housed in a complex that includes a high school, an elementary school, a library, and a community centre with a pool and a skating rink. It. The complex was opened in 1969 and its pedestrian friendly design means that its hub is directed away from the local and busy street life. This can make Hastings a bit difficult to find initially. Once found, you will be greeted by a display of rudimentary signs photocopied on coloured paper. The effect is unintimidating, and this tone is reinforced should you turn up the unobtrusive staircase and enter the school proper.

Once in the school, you will be at the reception desk, which is at the corner of two perpendicular hallways. The halls are decorated with bulletin boards with school and community information; a sign with pictures and first names of staff members; formal pictures of students at convocation; snapshots of smiling faces at Student Appreciation Day; a large West Coast First Nations button blanket; and displays of student work. The carpet is patched and drab and cinder block walls are painted off white. People walk single file in hallways which house two food and drink machines, three park benches, a small table with a microwave and a kettle, a small fridge, a large recycling bin, and some random desk chairs.

With the exception of the reception area, the architecture does not support the school’s attempts to be welcoming because classrooms and offices appear closed off. The staff addresses this drawback by engaging with students who are in the hallway. These interactions range from a simple nod and a smile, to an offer of practical assistance, to academic and/or personal guidance, to lively joking conversations. The social atmosphere is helpful, accepting, and jovial.

Current communications practices

            The teacher’s union influences communication at Hastings, ensuring that teachers have the option to be involved in school planning through a variety of advisory committees, all of which are required to take and publish minutes. Each committee has a chairperson who, in consultation with other teachers, is responsible for setting the agenda and meeting time, usually by means of a sign-up sheet posted for a week or two before the scheduled meeting. It is considered best practice to employ Roberts Rules at these meetings, but this communication flow is rarely employed because meetings are often used as a forum for problem solving as well as information sharing. Discussions are generally conversational: tangential topics are addressed when deemed relevant by the group, and tabled or delegated when time does not permit resolution. The principal fully engages in the exploratory nature of this process, so input is offered openly and is often based in intuition and personal experience.

Minutes from these meeting have no set format and are not verbatim. They report decisions made, or if no decision is made, they may report the topic of the discussion. Before they are distributed to each employee’s mailbox, the principal likes to look them over for a final edit and to clarify understanding. The principal is a guest at these meetings, so this review is not in accordance with union protocol. Nevertheless, an established relationship based in reciprocal acts of good faith ensures that this final edit often improves transmission.

Occasionally, announcements are made by the principal via email. Although everyone has a school board email account, some do not use it. As a result, all emailed announcements are often duplicated on paper and delivered to mailboxes. The secretary often chooses to distribute information about practical matters on a single page affixed to the staff table. This uses fewer resources than the duplicated announcements, but neither strategy fully achieves its goal.

By far, the most common form of communication is face-to-face conversation. This direct interaction serves to increase relevance and efficiency of communication. The drawback is that information is unevenly distributed and difficult to control.

Analysis

Hastings manifests its inviting and helpful social climate by being amenable to meeting the individualized learning and social advocacy needs of students who are diverse in age, culture, socio-economic status, education, experience, and ability. The prevalence of reliable, face-to-face, two-way communication among teachers and between teachers and students enables the school to be responsive to individuals. Furthermore, the transparency with which processes are developed facilitates flexible solutions because staff is informed about the complexity of possible interpretations of policy and definitions of success in learning. In this way the connections between the school’s culture and communication are considered earmarks of success. The gap between culture and communication is one of omission. If more were communicated in more ways, the espoused value of individualized learning and advocacy could be better served. If decisions made use of data, results could be measured.

Recommendations

  • Increase inclusive communication networks.
  • Increase proficiency and acceptance of data use
  • Increase value of communication.
  • Increase the frequency of communication.

Conclusion

Hastings is good at collaboration and meeting real demands; nevertheless, the school could be improved if style, content, and frequency of communication were altered. The current practice of efficient and relevant face-to-face communication ensures that the school can address individual concerns as they arise but does not support the creation of long-term school goals or a strong community presence. Although the school is effective in addressing specific student need, it pays little attention to specific teacher need for professional development. This communication focus does not take full advantage of teacher expertise as a tool for student empowerment. A plan for improving academic achievement could be created if staff met more often.

 

 

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