If you are a teacher or school administrator, a key part of the school planning process is to think about school culture. Students learn best when they are in an environment that feels safe, supported and inclusive. This might suggest that your school is focused on the social, emotional and academic well being of students by considering what conditions are most conducive to learning. The existing school climate (pre-covid) did not happen by coincidence but instead was a result of your intentional efforts to focus on the experiences of students. This can be true even during the pandemic, if you consider what school culture could look like virtually and put those systems in place.
What is school culture?
School culture can be described at the beliefs, relationships, attitudes and behaviors that shape the different aspects of school functions. When planning and preparing for school culture, there are several components that support a positive school climate. This may include but is not limited to having a shared vision for school excellence, implementing strategies that address common behaviors with incentive and rewards programs, supporting staff in achieving culture goals and monitoring progress. All these factors contribute to the culture of a school.
→ For ideas on professional development sessions, check out Kickboard’s Virtual PBIS Training Professional Services
In the current environment, schools are still grappling with the new way of schooling. Some students are in-person and others are participating in a virtual or hybrid model for school. This shift has direct implications for school culture. Teachers and administrative staff are planning, paying close attention to what aspects of school culture are important for distance, hybrid, or changing environments of learning.
Planning School Culture with Distance Learning
As physical classrooms are changing there are some key areas of school culture that can be leveraged to create consistency in students’ experiences.
Social Emotional Learning
Social and emotional supports within the classroom include activities that support students with managing emotions, setting goals, showing empathy and making responsible choices. This is still very important to the learning experience, but teachers must consider the current virtual environment. If you have previously implemented a SEL approach in the classroom, consider ways to make that a virtual experience. Teachers, you can continue to model behaviors, give clear instructions, and leverage class meetings for student input and group work. SEL can continue as students use group time or working in pairs in virtual breakout rooms.
School administrators and teachers must be in frequent communication with parents and each other. As you are planning to build your school culture plans in this new environment, consider what systems are important for communication. Most meetings are happening virtually, and this is critical for communicating ideas, sharing best practices, delivering instructions and materials to students and families. The communication plan may include new reporting systems, calendaring updates for students and families and other ways to share information throughout the school.
Develop Clear Expectations
As students return to the school, expectations still exist. Leadership should be working closely with teachers and staff to develop ways for students to meet these expectations. As you would in-person, create systems for rewards and incentives for the virtual environment. These can also be shared with parents to use or to reiterate for students. Expectations may include behavior during the virtual class, academic work or for establishing new routines. Regardless of where students are learning, having clear expectations helps to manage behavior and contributes to the overall classroom culture.
In keeping these 3 elements of school culture a priority, it will help administration strategize for the school year. Administrators can support teaching staff by hosting effective professional development workshops related to school culture planning. These could include a range of topics to help teachers and staff implement activities and practices that impact the school culture.
For ideas on professional development sessions, check out Kickboard’s Virtual PBIS Training Professional Services. Including sessions on strategic planning for school culture and establishing consistent systems, these trainings can build staff capacity and support planning efforts. In addition to the PD, teachers and staff might benefit from direct 1:1 or group support.
Creating time for teams to connect and share best practices will encourage staff to develop plans that are consistent across the school. Creating these school communities that enhance connection will help to build and execute a school culture plan that everyone can support. Here are some other ideas for supporting teachers with this transition:
By limiting the number of applications and platforms, the tools used for students, staff and families can be easier to implement. School leaders can create a plan that includes explicit instructions for a small mix of tools and media to roll out the strategy.
Define the duration
The school landscape is changing daily, and we do not know when or how learning will change. We cannot predict when schools will return to in-person, so plan a strategy that can be revisited often. This creates some flexibility in the plans.
Address mental health
In this new environment everyone is adjusting. School leaders and teachers also must consider what changes they can support and are prepared to lead. Keep in mind that it will look different for everyone, especially students. Ask for help and school leaders do your best in providing resources to support.
Overall, school is different. How students engage with each other and with the school community will continue to a new experience. Having a school culture plan in place that meets the needs of the school community is important and will take some time. Continue to ask yourself the hard questions and be innovative in your approach. Consider how this has impacted us all and you will develop a strategy that works for your school.