As schools and districts return to their core business of teaching and learning for the upcoming school year, they will need to address the unprecedented impact the health crisis has taken on students and educators socially and emotionally.
To move forward, schools will have to avoid the pursuit of a never-ending array of new school initiatives, structural changes, and new leader visions, and instead, will need to ground themselves in their existing positive culture and use that as the springboard to success.
→ Read more in our 2021 Back to School Guide
Commit to Developing a Positive School Culture
To disrupt inequities, schools should prepare to focus on a positive school culture that centers justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in school. Schools with strong and inclusive cultures have higher student and teacher engagement, fewer disciplinary actions, improved attendance and an increase in student achievement.
Schools with strong, positive cultures are schools where:
- Staff have a shared sense of purpose
- The underlying norms are of collegiality, improvement, and hard work
- Student rituals and traditions celebrate student accomplishment, teacher innovation, and family commitment
- Success, joy, and humor abound
As next school year draws near and leaders begin planning their approach to reopening, there are some key considerations for building a positive and inclusive school culture that need to be addressed.
Shaping your school’s culture and capturing the essence of your school’s mission requires that you explore:
- Where your school has been (history)
- Where your school is now (current reality)
- Where your school is going (vision)
In order to find your way forward and create an inspiring vision for the future, it’s helpful to first have an understanding of your school’s history. Doing this can inform conversations around culture, traditions, changing demographics, equity and best practices.
Creating a School History Map
When possible, have members of your school community help you create a history map for your school. Ask them to research the key events that have shaped your school’s history, both negatively and positively.
Using horizontal chart paper, record the opening date on the far left side of the paper. Then move across the chart paper to the right marking the key events from past to present. Consider using a continuous line to show peaks and valleys of your school’s history.
Throughout the timeline use words, descriptions, dates and artifacts to record your school’s history. Be sure to include significant historical events, stories, myths, school legends and heroes, traditions, key milestones and changing demographics.
Once the map is finished, set time aside to share the map with your staff. Design a list of questions to help gain deeper understanding and insights of what your map is telling you.
For example, you might ask:
- What are the core values most expressed in this map?
- What traditions should we continue to celebrate?
- Is there anything from our past we wish we could change?
- How have our demographics changed over time?
- How well have we done with confronting issues of culture, race and inequity?
Once meaning has been made from the map, your team is ready to start planning for the future. Using a fresh piece of paper, or as a continuation of the map you’ve already produced, create a new map that illustrates a shared vision for your school over the next 10-20 years. Then have another meaningful conversation of how you’ll work together and what you’ll need to be able to achieve this.
For more ideas on how to create a positive school culture, check out our free guide, Returning to School: 10 Crucial Steps for a Positive School Culture.