Creating a Positive School Culture

Positive school culture_Blog

School administrators strive to create a positive school culture where students, teachers, and staff can thrive. When teachers and students arrive at school in the morning, they should feel positive, enthusiastic, and willing to connect, learn, and grow. Schools that successfully create a positive culture will have laughter echoing down the hallways, enthused and engaged students, and happy teachers inspired to lead with purpose. 

There are many elements involved in successfully creating a positive school culture — leaders, teachers, stakeholders, and students all play a role.

School culture

The term school culture refers to the ethos, identity, and social customs of a school, but what does all this really mean?

A school’s culture is made up of the attitudes and influences that underpin the workings of daily life at the school. These factors are generally based on the traditions and beliefs of the staff and their students — the accepted norms become the foundation of the school’s culture. 

The prevailing attitude at a school forms the basis of how everything runs. This includes how students feel about learning, how they treat each other, how teachers connect with students and each other, the quality of parent-teacher communications, and much more. A positive school culture and a bright school day lay the foundation for healthy progress in all areas.

A school leader’s role in creating a positive school culture

A school leader’s role in fostering a positive culture includes the following:

Understanding the current culture

Taking the time to understand the current culture in a school is the only way to purposefully change it. By carefully observing the attitudes of staff and teachers in meetings and classrooms, as well as noticing the general feelings that students exhibit towards the school, teachers, and learning in general, a clear picture can be formed and meaningful change can be made. 

Identify positive elements

Even if you have things you need to improve in your school, there will undoubtedly be several positive elements to celebrate and preserve. By identifying which elements are positive and which need improvement, leaders can focus on encouraging the good and addressing the problem. Training leaders with leadership training is key for them to develop the best practices. 

Reinforcing the positive

Once the positive aspects have been identified, leaders must focus on reinforcing and improving upon them. Creating a clear list of ideal values and attitudes for your staff (and students) to aspire to can be a great way to create a clear path toward fostering a healthy, positive school climate. 

Celebrate good behavior and achievements

While it isn’t helpful to create an obsessively congratulatory culture (with awards for every placement, for example), it’s vitally important to nurture strong self-esteem in students and acknowledge their achievements and positive behavior modeling. 

Complimenting children and teens on their conduct and academic and personal achievements helps them to feel supported, cared for, and acknowledged. 

A great way to encourage your staff to dish out more positive reinforcement is to set a goal for each teacher to reach per day or week. Additionally, staff can be encouraged to compliment each student on at least one thing they have done well each week. 

In addition to direct compliments or hand-written notes from teachers, assemblies and ceremonies that focus on praising good behavior, role models, and student achievements are very effective, allowing students to take more pride in their academic performance or behavior as they are presented in front of many peers, staff, and parents. 

Focus on building positive values

Rules regarding student behavior must be clearly understood both in the classroom and around the school to maintain order and maintain expectations. Still, when building a positive culture, it is helpful to focus on positively reinforcing values as opposed to rules alone. School and classroom rules focus only on what students should and shouldn’t do, without any consideration given as to why they are in place. A good example of this is how schools often approach the issue of bullying. Putting clear rules in place is a good start, but educating students on why bullying is so dangerous is far more effective. To read more about educating against bullying, check out our Anti-Bullying Lesson Ideas for Elementary Classes blog.

Many school rules revolve around avoiding disrespectful behaviors, such as using phones in the classroom or talking over others. Instead of focusing solely on enforcing such rules, it’s better to reinforce the importance of not disrespecting others, as this instills and reinforces positive values and an overall positive environment. When this approach is taken, positive intrinsic motivations (i.e., empathy and respect for others) are fostered as opposed to simply conditioning students based on extrinsic motivations (i.e. avoiding punishment). 

Involve parents in a meaningful way

Teachers and parents share the bulk of a student’s time between them, and nurturing a transparent, supportive and respectful connection between the two can make a big difference. It can also help to be able to reach out easily to parents and unite over solving any issues a child may be experiencing. 

To involve parents in a meaningful way, take your communication with them one step further and find out what their concerns are regarding their children and what progress they hope to achieve for each school year or term. Parent involvement can be more than just an occasional phone call; it can also involve giving parents a platform to provide feedback on test grades, activities, programs, and other areas related to their child/children’s education. Parents should be made to feel a valued part of a wider school community.

Consistency is key

As with parenting or trying to instill any kind of sustainable change, consistency is key. As well as consistently upholding the rules and values that students are expected to follow, a proactive approach to building a positive culture is to reinforce the reasoning behind the rules when it comes to discipline. 

Instead of dishing out detentions and other punishments like banning social media, where possible, assign tasks that directly relate to correcting the bad behavior itself. If it’s littering, arrange a trash pickup session; with bullying, assign the student the task of writing a meaningful letter of apology, and roster them onto hall monitoring duty, mentoring, or any other role in which they are expected to look out for other students. 

It’s also imperative that consistency in discipline is maintained school-wide by ensuring that all teachers are onboard with a shared vision and familiar with the agreed approaches. This is vital to avoid students feeling strong preferences towards one teacher over another.

Take a holistic approach to student engagement

Not only do students learn in a variety of unique ways, but a truly holistic approach to teaching should encompass development in areas such as personal and character development and social skills, from academia, to play, to music – the latter of which is especially important for students with autism. school staff to infuse lessons and activities that enhance empathy, trustworthiness, integrity, and humor with help greatly in building a positive school culture. 

Behavior modeling 

It’s true that children learn far more from what we do than what we say, and that goes for the school environment as well. Leaders, teachers, and other staff members must all be united in recognizing the importance of modeling desirable behaviors and communication styles to the students at all times. 

Fun traditions and classroom innovations to enhance engagement

While there may be a time for fun and a time for learning, there must also be a time for both. Both classroom management, professional learning, and general school activities can help to enhance variety within the school experience. 

Having fun builds morale, enhances bonds and positive relationships with others, and helps to break up intense periods of learning with lighter activities that help to refresh the mind. 

Assigning a day of the week and/or month for a fun activity or tradition, such as casual Fridays or themed events, is a good way to break things up. Additionally, finding creative ways to infuse humor into the classroom in an appropriate way is fantastic for morale. 

Changing up the way we learn also adds to the variety and keeps things feeling light and fresh; set goals and plans for taking a lesson outdoors or add tech and even gamification elements to student learning activities. This can help to engage the entire school further, improve retention and enhance bonds between students and teachers. Investing time into social-emotional learning is vital for broader character development and for building a successful school and positive school culture. 

Maintaining a positive school culture is an ongoing commitment

Building a positive school culture, whether for elementary school or high school, is no easy feat, but the rewards are well worth the effort. School leaders play a vital role in leading their schools towards improved attitudes and values, and staying well-informed regarding the current school climate is key to identifying and managing change. 

Time should ideally be set aside regularly to focus on school culture improvements. This process includes analyzing the current culture’s strengths and weaknesses and coming up with clear approaches that reinforce the good and combat the negative. 

Staying ‘plugged in’ to the school culture or school vision and what’s occurring at the student/teacher/classroom level is vital in understanding the experience that the school gives students, teachers, staff, parents, and visitors alike. 

It may take time to see any real change, and persistence is key, as is consistency. Gradually, the more focus is put upon positive attitudes and values, the less will be required to manage the negative.