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Bruno: Measuring a School's 'Kool-Aid Factor' Can Be Hard to Do

3915876764_41642f63daAs the teacher job search season begins to warm up, Roxanna Elden suggests teachers consider a school's "Kool-Aid Factor": "the degree to which everyone in the building must share the same beliefs and behaviors".

This is sound advice, particularly for elementary and middle school teachers who already have some experience teaching and have settled into a style that they're comfortable with.

Something that makes measuring a Kool-Aid Factor (KAF) difficult is that many schools claim or aspire to a level of consistency that they do not possess in practice.

My sense is that schools with very high KAFs are rare, and concentrated in the larger chains of the charter sector (e.g., KIPP).

If teachers were to try to assess schools using interactions with administrators, however, they might come away with the perception that most schools have relatively high KAFs.

This is because administrators often want to increase their school's KAF - in part by selecting for new teachers who are prepared to "drink the Kool-Aid", so to speak  - and because principals may wish to contribute to the perception that their school's KAF is high, as this can make a school seem more "together" and "effective".

 The reality at most schools, though, is that attaining high levels of consistency across an entire staff is extremely difficult to accomplish. Teachers generally like to do things their own way and administrators usually do not have enough time - or enough freedom - to make sure school-wide expectations are enforced.

This means that, for better or worse, individual teachers will tend to have more autonomy than they may think when a rule or expectation is first introduced to them.

By all means, teachers should try to assess a school's Kool-Aid Factor before deciding to work there. And the "flavor" of the Kool-Aid matters, too! A school that strictly enforces rules you don't like is going to be a miserable place for you to work.

At the same time, though, teachers - and new teachers in particular - should adjust their perceptions of a school's KAF for the reality that running a school is a complicated business. What your supervisors and coworkers want to achieve is not always what happens. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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For nearly a decade, I wondered what was really meant when the weekly Kool-Aid craziness would be proclaimed. Finally, my principal said to me in exasperation, "you don't really think I believe what I say, do you?"

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