Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Classrooms As Subcultures

It seems everyone wants create a unique culture.  There's corporate culture, an Apple culture, a Google culture, a military culture, the political culture of Washington D.C.  Every teacher tries to create a classroom culture.

Last evening Stephen Colbert interviewed Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO about Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.
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Zappos corporate culture rests on 10 core values:
1. Deliver Wow Through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More with Less

9. Be Passionate and Determined

10. Be Humble
I may wish to quibble that these are goals not values, but no one will argue that one should strive toward achieving or possessing these qualities. They certainly apply to the classroom. Teachers want their students to turn in work that contains a "WOW." We want all of our students to become passionate, determined, lifelong learners.  Humility has been absent from the American landscape for far too long.  That being said,I have a few fears and questions about trying to apply these to a classroom setting.

First, these values sprang organically from the Hsieh and his employees.  They were not imposed from the top.  I'm not sure that any teacher can create a culture by imposing these values and goals.

Second, people choose to work at Zappos.  Granted, people may work because they need to pay bills, but Zappos provided at worst "a least bad job situation."  Students have little choice about school.  The law says they have to be in school.  Their parents chose the community.  A voluntary association creates a different culture than school.

Third, there's the time factor.  Students are in my classroom about one hour a day for a semester.  In short, I have them for about 90 hours for one of my classes.  That's less than three weeks at a workplace.  If someone stays at Zappos for only a year, they will have lived about 2000 hours within the culture.

Fourth, there's a certain exclusivity about a job that's not available in a high school classroom.  High schoolers experience 4 or 5 different classroom cultures during that day.

High school classrooms probably need to be seen as subcultures, a Star Trek convention, band camp, or dungeons and dragons marathon. (Yeah, I probably should have added some non- geek subcultures, but what the heck, but I'm a comic book guy, so I'll write what I know.)  We're united for a single purpose for a brief time and then return to the dominate culture. 

A subculture is going to have a different set of values than the dominate culture to be successful. That set of values will also have to be more limited that Zappos's list.  When my students and I get my classroom's figured out, I'll post them even if I won't get a book deal.

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