Many schools seek to have a positive school culture that will support student success. School culture is a set of norms, values, beliefs and practices that make up the identity of the school. Culture itself can be defined as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. If schools are prioritizing school culture, can this identity be separate from the cultural practices of the students and their community?
Together, groups with a unified purpose can develop a unique culture while accomplishing common goals. But, working towards a mission doesn’t have to reject the values, traditions, and desires of individuals that make up the collective. Schools should consider if the culture they are working towards embraces or neglects the cultural identity of the students.
Being conscious of cultural competencies can help schools elevate their cultural goals and practices. Cultural competence in schools is the ability to effectively deliver educational services that meet the social, emotional and cultural needs of students. Building cultural competency requires studying the traditions and values of a community, seeking to understand through authentic community engagement, intentionally building trust within a community, and considering their contributions and ideas. It can be intrusive and disrespectful to assume who a community is and what they need to succeed without adequate research and input from community members.
Starting as learners in a community can equip schools to better develop their school culture. Diversity training is a good way for schools to gain cultural awareness, challenge mindsets and inform school practices. This is especially important if teachers and leaders within a school have separate racial backgrounds and cultural identities as the students. When working across lines of difference, one must assess the ideas and biases they have about particular groups of people because those thoughts influence behavior and impact decision-making.
Engaging in diversity training helps schools clarify the type of culture they want to maintain and better equips staff to positively contribute to the desired environment. Prioritizing school culture without taking into consideration cultural competencies could cause school priorities to conflict with students’ identity. When schools fail to acknowledge the cultural traditions, contributions, accomplishments and oppression of communities, they deny students an equitable school experience.
What is believed about students influences how they are treated. The way teachers and leaders act towards students influences how students behave. Developing a culturally responsive school culture through research and applied practice will ensure that students learn in an environment that is nurturing, positive and productive.
Here at Kickboard, we value culture responsive teaching and leading. Since our founding, Kickboard has worked to give educators the tools they need to create safe and happy schools where students and staff thrive. Given that the vast majority of our schools are comprised predominantly of students of color, the culture and climate work we do with schools inevitably intersects with issues of race and disproportionality in discipline. Promoting equity is a priority for Kickboard and we are intentional about situating the work we do at the intersection of positive behavioral supports, cultural relevance, restorative practices, and racial equity. Learn more about how we do that, here.