Creating a Thriving School Climate

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By Rachael George

As we enter into the winter months, this is the perfect time for teacher leaders and administers to fall back and focus on the climate of your school. Think about it: you just returned from holiday vacation, teachers are digging in and doing some amazing teaching, students have a significant period of uninterrupted time before spring break, and state testing is a few months away. There really is no better time during the school year to reiterate expectations and focus on the climate as you seek to ensure a successful restart. While you work to reinvigorate, maintain, or improve the climate of your building, an entire makeover isn’t necessary.  In fact, look for small changes that have a big impact on the overall school climate.

Wondering how make your first small move? Try making one (or more!) of these small interpersonal changes to get started.

Focus on the People

Especially for administrators new to a building or position, it is vital to focus on establishing forthright yet compassionate relationships with students, staff, and parents. You need to foster connections that are focused on high expectations while also taking individual circumstances and growth into consideration. Regie Routman is a strong proponent of this; she frequently advocates and encourages principals to build a solid foundation of trust so they are welcomed into the classroom as a coteacher and coach instead of just an evaluator. During her time at Sandy Grade School, Routman helped develop this kind of culture by training staff and administrators to notice what is going well in the classroom and commenting on it right away. Teachers need to know in the moment if they are doing a good job or if another strategy might be more appropriate.

Communicate

Communicate, communicate, communicate . . . and then communicate some more! Just like teachers need to communicate in the classroom, administrators need to communicate about their purpose and vision for the school. Purpose and vision should shine through in all communication with all stakeholders. A wise superintendent told me that in order for administrators to effectively get their message out to families and stakeholders, they need to communicate it in five different ways. So . . . get your message out and repeat it in all that you do. At both the elementary and middle school levels, I have found it extremely effective to put out weekly e-mails to staff about upcoming events and meetings and weekly and monthly newsletters to families. I also believe in maintaining an active online presence for families, so I try to post daily on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (which can all be accessed via the school website). What a school stands for and is focusing on shouldn’t be a mystery to parents, students, staff, or the community.

 Get out of Your Office

You are the captain of a ship, and you can’t drive it while sitting behind your desk! While it might be easy to stay in your office answering e-mails, writing observations, or processing disciplinary write-ups, it is imperative that you are also present in the rest of the building! The real work and climate of a school exists outside of the principal’s office, and the only way to know what’s going on is to get out and move around. Talk to people, ask them questions, eat lunch in the staff room with the teachers—anything that lets you interact with students and staff. They really do want to see you!

Celebrate

Good teaching is hard; there is no other way to describe the demands of being an educator. However, it is one of the most rewarding jobs around—so remember to celebrate it. As Eric Sheninger believes, you should be looking for three things a day to celebrate. As you find these three things, post them on social media via whatever platform your school uses to communicate to the majority of your stakeholders. We all should be shouting praise from the rooftops for the great work students and staffs are doing, especially those examples of work that connect back to your purpose and vision.

Small changes administrators make can have a big impact on a school’s climate. If you are not sure where to start, check out these resources on ASCD’s website.

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Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and currently serves as the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School,” as recognized by the State of Oregon. George specializes in curriculum development and instructional improvement, working with at-risk students, and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.