When asked to describe the components of schooling, we often begin with the physical building or start to describe the roles and responsibilities of the teachers and staff. More recently, research has started to provide language to describe how the school impacts instruction and relationships in the building which inform the culture of the school.
Schools must create a positive climate and culture to improve learning opportunities for students. The benefits of positive school culture include highly engaged students and staff, fewer disciplinary actions, improved attendance and increase in levels of student achievement.
When improving school culture, leaders have to be clear about the values and traditions that are central to the school community. If these are positive elements, then these elements should not be lost but included in the vision for the school. Long-term change should include policy opportunities, developing new and existing relationships and clearly identifying actionable next steps.
Here are 5 ways you can change and improve your school climate and culture.
Use school data to set a goal
Effective leadership practices are driven by data that informs policies and practices within the school. The more a leadership team knows about the students’ needs and current performance, the better they can create structures and implement plans that build the desired school climate.
To plan for school culture change, leaders can analyze data on school attendance, discipline, academic performance and perceptions of the school community. This information can help determine areas where leadership could use different tactics to address students. School leaders and teachers can use these data points to provide additional supports that could ensure high engagement for students and their families. Identify the key datasets and set an explicit, measurable goal for the culture change you want to achieve.
Engage teachers and administrators
Teacher buy-in is critical for school culture change. Allow teachers to have input into school decisions. This is a way for teachers to increase their leadership capacity as well as inform their instruction. They are innovative in their practices and invigorate excitement amongst the students. The relationship between teacher and administrator is important for communicating within the school. It is evident that having involved leadership influences how others in the school building are able to connect and relate to the culture change being implemented.
Advocate for parental involvement
Parents are essential to the learning process. Recognizing that not every student will have a traditional parent or family structure, it is important to welcome guardians and other student advocates to be a valued part of the school community. Leadership can leverage parental ideas that could help inform school culture. Parental involvement speaks volumes about the relationship between the school and the community. It is an inclusive way to show students how much they are valued.
Students are very important stakeholders in the school community. Their voice is critical to the decisions and plans of the school. There are a number of ways to involve students in shaping the school culture. Students may have ideas about community norms, incentives for positive behaviors, expectations about their learning and ways to advance their learning experiences. Leadership teams must be willing to listen and actively respond to the ideas and concerns that students contribute. Not only is this a way to build relationships but allows for students to have agency over their learning.
Clear clear expectations
Leadership should identify clear expectations about the school environment. Being able to articulate policies and procedures to ensure high quality learning is important in developing a positive culture. Expectations should be clear for students and staff. This holds each person accountable to making progress and learning possible. Policies around behavior, instruction, and additional expectations are important for students and families. These clear expectations keep everyone aligned to the overall mission and vision of the school.
Think about where your school is on their culture journey. How are you using data to inform practices? Are there ways you are involving students or advocating for parental involvement? If so, take note of those and continue to develop ways to improve the culture and climate of the school. As you are adjusting your practice, really look at the data to see how changes in your school structure impact outcomes. Administration is responsible for aligning any new instruction or practices to the vision of the school. Be collaborative in your efforts so that all of the school community can speak to the evolving culture of the building.