Each school is different. Each has its own set of normal procedures, values, and beliefs. One institution’s rituals and ceremonies may differ from an institution in the neighboring district. Each school has prized symbols and stories that give the school its unique personality.
All of this combined makes up school culture. A school’s culture reflects the quality and character of life at school. A positive school culture and climate encourages positive youth development and supports the learning necessary for a student to grow into a productive, contributing, and satisfied member of a democratic society.
Why School Culture Matters
The simple fact is that no one thrives in an atmosphere of constant negativity. In a negative school environment, kids don’t want to come to school, teachers don’t want to be there, and administrators may lock themselves away in their offices. This type of atmosphere sets everyone up to fail.
When a school culture focuses on positivity, everyone prospers. Students are happy to be there, teachers look forward to opening their classrooms each morning and administrators engage and interact with staff and students. This, in turn, enhances learning, minimizes teacher turn-over and helps administrators relax.
The result? Everyone enjoys their time at school.
Creating Positive School Culture
Most children see change as something exciting. For a school to move to a positive school culture, it is absolutely essential to have all school staff members willing to make the changes needed. This challenge falls to the teachers, principals, superintendents, and other administrators. There are actions administrators, specifically, can take to encourage and support a positive school culture in their schools:
Look for positivity.
Take a stroll around your school or campus, looking specifically for signs of positive self-identity and positive student or teacher self-expression. Determine what message your school is sending with these positive signs.
What is your school’s language saying?
Study the signs, posters, and banners displayed around your school. Do your school’s messages foster acceptance or support division? The language the school puts on display should help build relationships, not just list strict rules for everyone to follow.
Know your stakeholders.
Understand that a successful school culture requires that everyone involved — students, parents, faculty, staff, school board members, and community leaders — actively participates in establishing and maintaining a positive atmosphere.
Seize every opportunity to project positivity into the school day. For example, when a student is referred for disciplinary action, take the time to talk to the child, one-on-one, about the behavior. Assist the child with self-reflection on why the behavior is unacceptable and work together to find a solution to prevent future infractions. Productive conversations and self-reflection take the place of punitive disciplinary measures in this scenario.
Birds of a feather.
No one can change a school’s culture alone. Enlist the aid of like-minded administrators to develop a plan to bring teachers and other staff on board.
Calling All Principals
A positive school culture needs a solid foundation on which to build. That foundation is a reflection of the principal. A principal’s attitude has a ripple effect, moving through the teachers, support staff and students, and on to parents.
When the principal exudes a positive attitude, teachers feel supported, like their principal has their back. They feel motivated and become invested in the school. A principal’s positive attitude encourages participation among parents, individually, and through organizations such as the PTA or PTO.
Change Isn’t Easy
When the principal steps up to embrace a positive school culture, everyone else involved has an easier time with getting on board. It isn’t an easy or quick process, but it can happen by viewing the school as a valuable member of a community. Once the community embraces the positive school culture, the possibilities are endless.