Creating a culture for high learning and achievement. How can schools be designed to help create high levels of learning among students that increase individual opportunity? How can schools help children become citizens for democracy, providing social, business, and community leadership to develop innovations and solve important problems. We must pay very close attention to what helps, and what hurts in reaching these important ends.

Many schools, too many, use practices that assure that many children fail and are left behind. It is as if such schools systemically and explicitly developed a school deform plan, to use the language of James Kauffman. What are the principles that guide practices of such schools? They include:

1. Demanding compliance and obedience of staff and students.
2. Segregating, tracking, and ability grouping.
3. Teaching to the middle using one size fits all instruction.
4. Creating a culture of pressure, tension, and competition.
5. Isolating adults from one another and assuring professional turf.
6. Parents and educators blaming each other.

These practices work together to create conditions that hamper the learning process. Once such cultures become imbedded, they are difficult to change. But change can and must occur if we are to meet the promise to our children and create future citizen leaders for our communities. What are the principles that describe a school culture that supports high levels of learning for all?

After several years of work, we developed Six Principles that represent a simple but comprehensive synthesis of a broad range of scientific research on practices regarding schooling and classroom practices designed to maximize learning at high levels. Each of these principles, we have found, is interactive and mutually reinforcing. They include:

1. Empowering citizens for democracy.
2. Including all.
3. Authentic, multilevel instruction.
4. Building community.
5. Supporting learning.
6. Partnering with parents and the community.

Schools spend most of their time on #3 -- instruction. That's as it should be. However, it's also very clear from research and time spent in classrooms, that unless a culture and environment is built in the school and classroom that encourages a sense of exploration, provides a sense of safety and welcome, allows students to work at their own level of challenge that students will shut down and learning simply won't occur. However, the other principles provide a foundation for cognitive and academic learning to occur (as illustrated in the graphic).

These Six Principles of Whole Schooling create a culture and set of practices in schools and classrooms that learning and growth. We know that for learning to occur, a foundation must be laid upon which cognitive development can be built. Such a foundation centers in having a place where the child feels safe, accepted, a sense of belonging, and cared for. Including heterogeneous students in classes together is a critical component as is the practice of democracy, systematic sharing of power within the school and classroom. Support to teachers and students and partnering with parents and the community helps fill out the picture of social, emotional, physical and cognitive support needed for high levels of achievement. While the language of school focuses primarily on instruction and the academic subjects of school – reading, writing, math, science and more, without attention to these foundation building blocks, learning will falter. These relationships are illustrated in the graphic. Following, we describe how each of these principles play out in concrete situations in schools.

Michael Peterson, 2004