Keeping Your School Culture From Getting Too Chilly


A question that often comes up in our professional development workshops on climate and culture is “What do you do when the overall culture of a school or school district is not a good one? What can I do about it?” Our immediate response is to validate the feeling of frustration and worry–and then offer some possible strategies to help thrive in a less than perfect culture.  

Worry can be categorized into three different baskets: the first basket, you have no control over, so there is no sense spending energy on it. The second basket contains the things that you have some control; do what you can and then move on to things that will make a positive impact. The third basket is the one you have the most control over, that is precisely where you want to spend most of your energy.

Everyone in a school is pivotal in helping to create a great culture and climate, but there are limitations on what individuals can control. There are many decisions and factors that are out of their hands—or fall into the “no control” or “some control” basket. So what can staff do if they are working in a chilly climate? Bundle up and focus on where they have the most control.  

Ensure that you know what the boundaries are in your role, you know….the do’s and don’ts.

You can’t know what you don’t know, so ask a veteran colleague to help navigate procedures. Make every attempt to follow protocol to the best of your ability. If you make a mistake, be honest and forthright and develop a plan on how to avoid making the same mistake twice.

Create your own version of utopia.

Sad to say that every school doesn’t boast of an incredible school culture where everyone feels a strong sense of belonging, but don’t let that stop you from creating your own version of utopia in your role or in your physical space. Decorate your classroom or space to be inviting. Keep a positive attitude with everyone that you come into contact with—it rubs off–and develop solid relationships with people;it matters!

Enlist the help of others and organize committees.

Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  It’s hard to ignore a group of dedicated, positive and industrious people who want to make a change. In a tough climate, you will surely run into roadblocks when advocating change, but how you introduce new ideas matter. Find the most progressive and positive member of the administration team and ask to meet with him/her to share some thoughts. Make sure you have clear ideas with possible solutions that can help improve the overall climate of the school or district.

Partner up!

Seek community members, parents, students, and other stakeholders to help launch initiatives that promote a positive school culture. Who can argue with wanting the school to be a better place for all?

Celebrate the positive so loud that it drowns out the negative.

Highlight the wonderful things happening in the school and in the classrooms. Nothing builds morale like elevating and celebrating the initiatives,  efforts, and events happening day-in and day-out. Everyone can do this. Don’t wait for permission to write thank you notes or post positive affirmations on a staff bulletin board; it will go a long way!

Look outside.

The advent of social media has made is so easy to create connections with people outside of our own physical organization. The relationship cultivated with other passionate educators will help to fill your bucket by affirming you, sharing great ideas or resources with you– and support your ideas and initiatives so that they may come to fruition. This is a game changer!

Practice mindfulness.

In a tough climate, it is critical that you take time to take care of yourself. Carve out time for mindfulness activities and physical exercise that help to relieve stress and create an overall feeling of Zen. This is absolutely in the basket of “total control”!

Life is so much better when we focus on what really matters—and in education, what matters is our students. Keep a visible reminder of the impact that you have on students to reaffirm your dedication to your profession as an educator. If you don’t lose sight of it, you’ll move mountains, kid!Dr. Seuss

Paul J. Berardelli is a proud principal of Delsea Regional High School. Paul has challenged himself to be a true educational leader by inspiring his staff and students to excel. More recently, Paul has been featured in ASCD Journal for his article “Road Tested / Getting Up to Speed with Speed PD” and “Why Every Administrator Should Team Teach” and “Our Teachers Deserve More Praise”, and numerous blog posts in ASCD InserviceYou can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBerardelli

Michele Hill is a passionate educator who serves as a coordinator of admissions and communications at Burlington County Institute of Technology. Throughout her career as an educator, Michele has been a champion for struggling and impoverished students. Michele has been a guest blogger for ASCD Inservice, McGraw Hill, Principal Leadership, Teacher Tool Kit UK, Edweek and ASCD Road Tested. Michele is the host of DisrupteEdTv Teacher Sparks and producer of DisruptEdTV School Spotlight. You can follow Michele on Twitter @HillMrispo or visit her blog: 

This article is part of a monthly series from Michele Hill and Paul Berardelli where they share their advice and expertise as a classroom teacher and school administrator who demonstrate the importance of working together to help create a school culture of excellence. You can read more from them by clicking on the ‘Dynamic Synergy’ tag or by clicking here.


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