By Baruti K. Kafele
I have always found the topic of school culture to be a rather fascinating subject relative to meeting the goal of high academic performance. Ideally, we all want to function within a school that has a culture conducive to high academic performance. After all, a positive school culture is a prerequisite to high academic performance. When the school’s culture is conducive to high academic performance, the probability for student success in that school increases exponentially. On the other hand, when the school’s culture is subpar or even toxic, the probability for student success diminishes exponentially. School culture must therefore be given maximum attention by all stakeholders as the school strives for success.
What does “school culture” mean? In my book, Closing the Attitude Gap, I defined school culture with one word. I said that school culture is simply the “lifestyle” of the school. It’s the way things are done at the school. It’s the way that everyone’s “living” at the school. It’s the way of life of the school. As it relates to student performance, the lifestyle of the school matters. How the people in the school—both students and staff—are living while in the building matters. If academic excellence is the standard that the school is seeking, it must have the ability to function within a culture of excellence.
Often, people within and outside of education ask me what I consider to be the most important variable to school success. My answer jumps off of my tongue easily—“School climate and culture!” The school’s climate is simply the “mood” of the school while the school’s culture is the “lifestyle” of the school as stated above. Within the school’s culture are a myriad of variables that range from the start of the school day all the way to dismissal and beyond. As a former middle and high school principal, the beginning of the day was of paramount importance relative to the culture of the school. The beginning of the school day meant morning greetings or the way we greeted one another. I have been to a tremendous number of schools where morning greetings just didn’t exist. Students and staff simply walked into the school and proceeded to their first stops. This translated into a very “cold” learning environment. On the other hand, in schools where morning greetings do exist, these gestures help cultivate a very warm and even familial learning environment. The morning greetings become the standard for how the school day begins.
Looking further at the morning greeting, I mean literally everyone saying good morning to one another, starting with the principal at the front door greeting all students; teachers greeting all students as they see them coming into the building, hallways, cafeteria, classrooms, etc.; and students greeting one another. This then culminates with the principal’s formal greeting to the entire school collectively either over the PA system or in a morning convocation. When this occurs, it is powerful indeed. Bonds are created within the school, reducing feelings of tension, hostility, and isolation. The intentionality behind the morning greetings occurring in the school is also important.. Administration and staff greeting students every morning, and students greeting one another every morning, is not necessarily an organic occurrence. It must be intentional. It must be a very deliberate behavior that starts with the leadership, but does not end with the leadership. It is intentional across the entire building, where everyone strives to say good morning to one another.
Schools that have intentional morning greetings are much warmer and consequently in a better position to develop an overall culture of excellence than schools where morning greetings do not exist. Morning greetings are the foundation and the springboard for all of the other variables of school culture. In other words, if the school is serious about creating a culture of excellence, then the intentionality of how the day starts matters!