The underlying beliefs and norm values that administrators, teachers and students hold about their school creates a culture. Numerous educators, writers and researchers have written about school culture that is normally divided into two basic forms: positive and negative. Of course, every school district and school leader wishes that their school fall into the positive camp, but it takes more than wishing. Most of the responsibility and accountability has been placed on members of the school administration, but truly, school culture is shaped by everyone who is part of a school; it takes a village!
Thes best administrators know that a positive school culture is based upon the overall satisfaction and safety of the students, staff, and community members–and they also know that if they don’t intentionally lead the shaping of the school culture, others will!
So how can you build a culture where everyone is beating down the doors to get in? It all begins with relationships! Creating positive relationships where everyone feels a strong sense of belonging and a vibe of trust is central to an atmosphere of positivity. Once established, watch the magic happen.
There Is No “I” in Team
Build a team of people who are committed to upholding the set norms and values of your school. Interviews are the perfect opportunities to “hand pick” the perfect candidates who are willing to work alongside of administrators and carry out the vision for the school. On a team, everyone is important–make sure that the staff feels valued and appreciated. Solicit input from all stakeholders about school decisions that affect them directly or indirectly Give them a voice and honor it. Failure to communicate efficiently and effectively can be deadly in any organization; make time for communication with all stakeholders to recognize their contributions or concerns. The best schools have administrators who not only support and appreciate their staff, they roll up their sleeves and join them in student learning. Administrators should be part of the excellence happening everywhere in your school.
Let Them Shine
Great leaders know that the secret to their success is helping others to become leaders.
Staff and administrators in a positive school culture believe that they have the ability to achieve and succeed together. Try spotlighting the great initiatives that staff and students are leading in your school. Encourage students and staff to lead professional development, develop new programs, lead extracurricular clubs or activities and share best practices. Publicly praise and acknowledge the accomplishments of everyone.
Be Firm, Fair and Consistent
In every school there are people who don’t follow the rules or meet their obligations– and it becomes necessary to have the hard conversation about accountability. We call those “eating the frog” conversations. While certainly difficult, they are very important to all stakeholders. People respect that inequity or unacceptable acts are being addressed– and those being challenged can grow from these organic conversations. Students and staff must be held accountable in a dignified and respectful way that seeks a win-win resolution.
The Fabric of Your School
Intentionally plan to honor diversity in your school. Every student and staff member should feel that what makes them different is a reason to celebrate. Your school should beam with pride of cultural proficiency. Create a committee that seeks ways to imbed culture in every aspect of the school. Ensure that staff receives professional development on creating a culturally responsive school and classroom.
Judge a Book By Its Cover
What does your school campus say about your school? First impressions last a long time. Your campus should reflect the pride that you have in your school. Redesign spaces that scream innovation and progress. Display student work and art throughout the building. Provide opportunities to staff and students to participate in beautification projects. Take a page out of Walt Disney World Park’s appearance motto and ensure that grounds and buildings are “show ready”.
Develop strong ties to people who are outside of the school. Ideally, community members and businesses should be invested in the success in schools, so look for ways to include them into the activities and events of the school. Parents are a critical piece to the success of the students and the school. Keep them in the loop with up-to-date information of the wonderful happenings in your school and important calendar events. Don’t forget to include the wrap-around social service programs that strengthen and support families in the community.
Create a School Nation
Branding your school is everyone’s job. Encourage all parties to share positive and public praise for the incredible things happening in your school. Don’t be afraid to tell your school’s story–if you don’t, someone else will! Make the positive so loud that it drowns out the negative. Create a unique hashtag for social media for your school. Market your school with your brand. Spirit gear that shouts school pride is walking advertisement for your school. Be loud and proud about your school!
Strong school culture requires an “all hands on deck” approach; culture is not created, changed or maintained by one person. Create relationships with students, staff and community members that all share the common vision of excellence in your school, and in return, your school culture will be one of excellence.
Paul J. Berardelli is a the 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”.
Michele Hill is a passionate educator in her 25th year of teaching–students first, curriculum second. 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 and ASCD Road Tested