What’s Your School’s Kool-Aid Factor?

glass with red drink

If you’re in the market for a new teaching job, you might be considering a no excuses school. The option can be tempting, especially if you are coming from a school that might be better described as a “pick your battles” school.

Who among us hasn’t sighed as we imagined students sitting in S.L.A.N.T. position, tracking their teacher’s movements like a line of seagulls eyeing a sandwich, and hurrying to class instead of banging lockers and yelling in the hallway after the bell rings?

It’s important to remember, however, that the no excuses model doesn’t just require buy-in from students. It also requires teachers to drink the Kool-Aid that flavors the school’s culture. This often means strictly complying with someone else’s definition of good teaching.

A school’s “Kool-Aid Factor” is the degree to which everyone in the building must share the same beliefs and behaviors. If you’re in the process of looking for a new teaching job, it’s worth thinking about where you’d like your school to fall on this spectrum. A strong emphasis on school culture may be just what you’re looking for – or it may require more Kool-Aid than you can metabolize without developing health problems.

Here are some signs of a school with a high Kool-Aid factor and some of the tradeoffs they may represent.

An emphasis on mindset and coach-ability over training or experience

Most workplaces look for candidates that are a good fit, and a smart interviewer will ask questions meant to check how well you respond to feedback. Be on guard, however, if a job description or interviewer downplays the value of teaching experience and leans too heavily on terms like coach-abilitymindset, and alignment with the school’s core values. A school that treats teaching experience as a liability is not likely to leave much room for professional judgment, and may see teachers as having a short shelf life.

Excessive team building

Schools with lots of forced fun requirements are likely to have fewer negative teachers on staff. After all, the biggest complainer in your current school’s hallway would never make it through the first professional development conga line or alliteration name game. The problem is… you might not, either. If ice-breakers like making up cheers or playing “never have I ever” with other grownups make you want to run screaming from the room, you probably won’t be happy at a school where faculty meetings start with spirit checks. What’s that? I can’t heeeeaaaar youuuuu!

Similar-sounding communication from everyone on staff

If every single person you’ve communicated with by email begins their response with the phrase “Thanks for reaching out!” or if language from the school’s mission statement finds its way into almost every conversation, you’re probably dealing with a school that either directly or indirectly encourages this. This means a few months into the job, you may find yourself “sharing out” an idea that “piggy backs” on what your colleague just said. If this is an environment where you’ll feel comfortable “pushing back a little” and “sharing your truth,” you may be a good fit for the school. If it’s a deal-breaker, you’ll probably want to “maximize your time” by finding a school where you don’t have to sound like your boss to be considered good at your job.

A.N.I.M.A.L.O.A. (Acronyms. No, I mean a LOT of acronyms!)

Teaching is an acronym-heavy profession to begin with. The question to consider is how you’ll feel if, in addition to being told that your E.L.L. students have to make A.Y.P. on this year’s C.C.S.S test, they should also be sitting in Ready To Learn Position (R.T.L.P) as you deliver your lesson at the Front of The Learning Space (F.O.T.L.S). At a Strong-Culture/High-Koolaid (S.C/H.K.) School, you may realize that O.M.G.! You can really O.D. on the acronym thing.

Their own language. Literally.

New terms for common concepts are an invitation to reconsider the meaning of the concept themselves. So, they’re not students: they’re scholars. It’s not a test: it’s an assessment with an eye toward improvement (A.W.A.E.T.I.). Before signing on with an S.C/H.K. school, think about how you’d feel about being cheerfully reprimanded for saying “cafeteria” instead of mental refueling center. Sorry… not “reprimanded.” Verbally re-embraced on the shining path toward encouraging excellence and grit in the college graduation class of 2045! Just don’t let it happen again.

Policies that might change your relationships with students

Certainly there are benefits to having a playbook for classroom basics and school-wide expectations. Strict instructional guidelines may even add to your bag of teaching tricks and keep from wasting class time. On the other hand, they can also cramp your teaching style. If you feel like you’re being straitjacketed into a set of interactions with students that doesn’t feel natural, like making students repeat perfectly good answers because they weren’t in complete sentences, or obsessing about whether ten seconds of wasted class time will keep your students out of college, you’re likely to spend a lot of time frustrated.

Spoiler alert: Sometimes, great teaching means following strict guidelines. Sometimes, it means being willing to think for yourself.

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