The Importance of Culture

By: Katelyn Donnelly
There is a popular saying “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  The phrase has spread far because the message about conformity to group standards resonates.  The people you spend time with matter – because groups of people establish a culture and a set of standards for behavior that shapes the actions and thoughts of individuals within the group. In cities we see this phenomena particularly strongly – we laud the innovative, fail-fast culture of Silicon Valley and San Francisco and remark about the fast-paced dynamic nature of New York City.
Similarly companies and professions have distinct cultures – Apple is known for design and perfection for consumers, Google for its focus on engineering and McKinsey for it’s professionalism.  Individual schools and broader school districts have distinct cultures too, as do large groups of people in a given profession, say teachers and doctors. Therefore, when considering change in large education systems we need to look within the culture of the institutions and professional bodies that govern education.  We should ask:  What does the group value?  What are people rewarded for? What are the standards for behavior within the group?  Who sets those standards?  How have standards be changed over time?  How can culture and standards be changed?
Taking a deep examination of community culture and the behavior standards is critical to extracting the potential learning achievement gains made possible by new technologies and tools.  Teachers, parents, students and the community will need to learn to engage each other in a new way and there will be a set of standards, expectations and culture that will guide these interactions.  There should be active reflection and iteration of the culture of communication and interaction that we find in our education system to ensure that they are truly focused on ensuring success for the learner.
The Smart Cities blog series catalogs innovations in learning in America’s great cities.  We’re writing a book about what we’re learning–and you can help.
Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 10.32.49 PMKatelyn Donnelly is managing director of the Pearson Affordable Learning fund, a venture fund that invests in early-stage companies serving low-cost schools and services to schools and learners in the developing world.         A former McKinsey and Company consultant and Duke University graduate with a high distinction in economics, Katelyn also: actively advises on Pearson’s global strategy, research and innovation agenda; offers consultancy services to governments on education system transformation and delivery; and serves as a non-executive director and strategic advisor to several start-up companies across Europe, Asia and Africa.

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