Strategies to Transform & Improve School Culture

Strategies to Transform & Improve School Culture

Shaping school culture through rituals, stories, and celebrations as teachers and staff return to school is a key building block for the entire year.

The return of staff is one of the quintessential times on the school calendar. Following months of other activities and events, adults re-immerse themselves into the complex, exciting, and demanding world of education. Entering the hallways and classrooms they left behind in the late spring, returning staff are emotionally and cognitively alert. For new staff who will be joining a different culture and organization, they enter with wonder, excitement and perhaps trepidation.

It is crucial for leaders to use this reentry as a time to celebrate, share, and reconnect staff to the culture of the school. Staff are at a heightened sense of awareness at this time. Cultural events are key to connecting them to their commitment as educators and their bond with the school and its students.

Strategies for Shaping the Culture

Leaders—both administrators and staff—can choose from these strategies to shape the culture at the beginning of the year.

Consider having new teachers introduced by their mentors or colleagues with a 2-minute slide show and stories of their lives. Have returning staff share their professional lives as teachers.

Celebrate stories of recent successes such as implementing new software, examples of staff collaboration, data on reduced absenteeism and suspensions, descriptions of new positive classroom behavior strategies, and improvements in student learning from the past several years. Stories nurture the culture in powerful ways.

Consider one or more team building activities (treasure hunts, escape room games, ropes courses, truth or lies, and so forth). Make them fun and non-threatening to build relationships and trust.

Conduct a meaningful membership or affiliation ritual for new staff and a recognition of those who have enjoyed many years in the school.

Provide time for new and returning staff to share their stories of summer adventures, new family members, or professional learning opportunities. These events build connections and trust.

Recount the history of the school, complete with challenges overcome, successes achieved, and advances that served students and teachers. New staff will like to hear about the school and experienced staff are reminded of the good they have done.

Plan time for staff to come together over food and beverages, with time to converse, meet each other, and share hopes for the year. Encourage everyone to meet someone they do not know or have not talked with recently.

Finally, leaders should share their goals for the coming year, with a deep and authentic commentary on the importance of the calling of education and service to students. These words can cement core values and reinforce the deeper purpose of school.

Make the most of this early time with staff!


By Kent Peterson  |  Co-author of Shaping School Culture (2016)

Emeritus Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison  |  Kickboard Advisory Board Member



See Shaping School Culture by Deal and Peterson, 2016 and the Shaping School Culture Fieldbook by Peterson and Deal, 2009 for more examples of ways to shape the culture. See other blogs on building school culture on the Kickboard for Schools website.

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