Do you want to find out how to promote a positive learning climate for students and school staff? Are you thinking about your current school culture? How do students and staff members feel while in the school building? As a school leader having a positive climate will impact whether or not students feel safe in the classroom environment and will impact their success.
Like any job or professional space, having a positive culture impacts the work experience. This is also true in schools. The student body, teachers, and administrators benefit from having a space that values their contributions and acknowledges their differences. The school environment provides support through relationships and healthy communication between the adults and the students.
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What is positive school culture?
School culture describes the attitudes, norms, traditions, and beliefs of staff and students that are identified as a part of the school experience. School leaders are responsible for leading these efforts and they are supported by systems and plans that center student success. Having a school culture routine that has clear rules, practices, feedback loops, and data plans help educators deliver instruction in a positive environment.
Having a positive school culture does not happen overnight—it takes practice. School leaders have the agency to build relationships with teachers and staff and include student voices to create policies and practices that promote student learning and a positive and safe school environment. This process is an intentional effort by leadership to connect the student experience to the learning environment and focuses on both instruction and systems to sustain a positive school environment.
Building a positive school climate is about centering equity and focusing on diversity and inclusion of students and staff. This impacts how students are engaged and influence their actions. There are some bright spots in measuring school culture according to the research and information on school experiences. For example:
- Staff and students have strong positive relationships and that encourages social and emotional learning for students.
- Together, staff and students and teachers inform the systems and school processes and education.
- When the norms, traditions, and values system are clearly articulated there is a commitment from each person involved. There are clear guidelines that involve a feedback process or rewards systems that avoid negative messaging and promote praise and incentive plans.
- There are goals for a safe and welcoming learning environment for students and this is promoted by teachers who are also engaged and feel supported.
With these descriptions in mind, think about your school. Can you describe the components of positive school culture? Your list might include students, systems for classroom culture, and school-wide goals for a positive culture. Perhaps you are thinking about ways to provide positive feedback or support for how students develop essential social skills. In the same way that a teacher builds strong relationships with students, the school leader needs to build strong data systems. If you don’t have a complete picture of what the school culture or common student behaviors are in the building there are some ways to learn more.
Ultimately, this information can be used to shift to a focus on positive school behaviors in the building. The classroom teacher can really focus on instruction because the students are in a safe space.
Learn how to create a positive school culture by following these 5 tips
Use school data to set a goal
- Knowing what the school data says about school culture is important for planning and implementation. Using surveys with students that measure climate and perceptions students have can help with planning a strategy for next steps.
- As the school leader, spend time in the classroom and focus on the behavior and teaching practice, and use this information to determine the data you need to collect.
- Kickboard offers a step-by-step Guide to Putting a School Culture Audit into Action.[PN1] This will allow school leaders to understand more about the current environment, goals for the future, and opportunities to make it happen.
Engage teachers & administrators
- Promote a shared vision, i.e., valuing culture and instruction by connecting with school staff about the school environment and academic expectations.
- School leaders provide support for educators, e.g., professional development and support. This is helpful when thinking about the rollout and ensures that staff have the capacity to sustain the school culture work.
- Create consistent responses for both bad and good behavior by using charts or plans that clearly identify and define the behavior. A matrix can also help in identifying what the appropriate responses to the behavior should be.
Advocate for Parental Involvement
- Establish clear and open communication with parents and guardians. If there were practices used during the period of virtual learning, continue to encourage teachers to use those practices and make a phone call home or share handwritten notes with parents. Connecting the school experience to the family environment creates consistency for students. This also involves others in reiterating classroom and learning expectations.
- Encourage family involvement in their student’s education by keeping them looped into school policies and practices. This also includes their voice in decision-making processes and connects students to the school culture.
- Parental involvement adds a layer of support from the external school communities. It supports student growth and social-emotional learning builds positive relationships among the school leader and family.
- Building relationships with students and families is one way to keep them connected to the school community. When students feel engaged, they build relationships that affirm their safety and welcome them into a space that wants to see them learn. Additionally, they have a sense of focus in school and have more success.
- Listen to new ideas (take risks) and value the student voice. Students have ideas about what creates a learning environment that is supportive. Leverage student ideas to build plans that promote a positive school culture.
- Having leadership also provides positive experiences through praise and reward. Incentive programs allow teachers, staff, and students to identify positive actions and reinforce those through praise. All students like to hear, “Good job!” The authenticity of this is grounded in the relationships they have with teachers.
Set Clear Expectations
- Set positive school and classroom rules that are aligned to the school’s goals and culture. These rules and expectations should be reiterated verbally and communicated with parents as well. Additionally, students will be expected to follow these rules to create a positive learning space and be rewarded or praised when they do. Positive reinforcements help to encourage continuous positive behavior.
- Establish consequences for negative behaviors that are appropriate. Use a tracking system to collect data on the use of these consequences, what behavior they are associated with, and to determine if there is a pattern or trend in the data collected.
- Provide clear guidelines as well for teachers and school administrators to follow when collecting data on student behavior and when implementing a consequence or reward. This creates equity and ultimately contributes to the positive school culture.
The process of improving your school climate and culture begins with knowing what changes can be made. Using a data-informed approach provides some strategic direction in building a positive school culture. Involving students and families in the process of changing the culture also shows how they are valued. Any school leader can use the support but providing a clear vision for the school community to follow makes the process easier. As a teacher, there are many ways to contribute to the culture, which include building trust, offering support, and creating a space that encourages learning. The plan for the school culture change may be different across schools but the tips above support any school environment.
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Be patient because positive school cultures are developed over time. With a plan that teachers can follow in the classroom, in the gym, and in the cafeteria, and with clear expectations for behavior, there will be a change in the school. This is about positive experiences for everyone involved. The benefits of learning how to build a positive school culture can help students, teachers, and staff create an environment that promotes learning and engagement for all.