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Building a School Culture that Works

by Lori Gracey
school culture
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As we begin another school year, it’s a good time to think about the kind of culture we want to have on campus or in the classroom. While the culture may just evolve (or devolve) on its own, it is something that can be actively and purposefully changed to be more positive and beneficial to everyone. Below are some ideas for crafting exactly the culture that you want to have this year.

What Is a School Culture?

According to Fullan (2007), school culture can be defined asĀ “the guiding beliefs and values evident in the way a school operates.” It encompasses all the attitudes and expected behaviors that impact how the school or classroom operates. It is also inextricably linked to the relationships that exist among the staff members and between teachers and students. To create the culture you want to have, you must first define the beliefs you hold about learning and how you want people to work with each other. A shared sense of purpose and true enjoyment in what each person is doing is also needed. Once those are in place, it’s time to add to the unique culture of the campus.

Ways to Shape the Culture

Several pieces can be individualized to create the school culture you want.

  • Symbols, such as colors, logos, important places, and photos of people can set the tone as you enter the building or the room. Does the building have historical significance? Does it have any unique architectural features? Does it match the shared purpose? What individuals are at the school? (These shouldn’t just be the adults.)
  • Stories about the school can also give an interesting flavor to the culture. Is it really old? Really new? Does it have an interesting history? Are there fun and interesting stories about the people who have worked there or learned there? What story does each staff member and student have to tell?
  • Traditions, including how accomplishments are celebrated, are essential to the culture. How are new people welcomed? Are birthdays or other important days celebrated? What happens in the hallway during passing periods? Are rites of passage such as “walking the halls” or a “friends table” available? How is information about these traditions shared with everyone? What is being done to ensure students and staff feel welcome and a part of the whole? How are we better together?
  • Expectations shape the culture. Student behavior and professional diligence must be clearly spelled out to all. What is the etiquette if someone is late? How do we work out disagreements? Where can individuals turn for help? How is inappropriate behavior corrected and appropriate behavior rewarded?
  • A view toward the future is also important. How will work in this place advance our shared goals? How will it benefit each individual? How does what we do each day positively impact our future?

If you do not take steps to establish the culture you want for this school year, whether it is for a classroom or an entire campus or department, you may end up with a culture that doesn’t align with what you desired. So be sure to take a few minutes to plan how you will implement the best culture for learning.

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