Culture is defined as the social behavior and norms found in human societies. Within a school community (hive), culture is the product of the interactions between students, educators, parents, businesses and neighbors. When these parties exchange messages that reinforce core values such as collaboration, honesty and hard work, a positive culture is established.
According to EdWeek research, 56% of school leaders believe culture and climate have the greatest impact on student engagement and motivation. In other words, student success is a product of the culture fostered by the school. This begs the question – how do school leaders define culture, and how important is communication to reinforce that culture among the hive?
Defining Your Culture
Culture can be anything from inclusive to rigorous, resilient to rewarding. Positive cultures may also include traits like safety, satisfaction or respect. However, it’s not enough to simply identify these traits, schools must define how they achieve those traits, and how that influences their cultural identity.
For example, Elle Allison, author of “The Resourceful School” defines resilience as “leaders who don’t just bounce back, they bounce forward, responding to ever-changing realities while maintaining essential operations.” In this instance the culture is resilient, and messages suggest failure is part of the process not the end result, which reinforces the notion of a resilient culture.
By identifying the desired cultural goal, the method to achieve it and the expected result, schools lay the foundation for building a positive culture. The core values that define that culture can then be shared with everyone who plays a part in your school’s community, from internal staff to external families and the community at large.
Building Your Culture
The Harvard Graduate School of Education says that culture starts with connections. Strong and overlapping interactions among all members of the school’s hive including staff, students, parents and local businesses, are the backbone of a positive school culture. That’s because interactions drive knowledge about a school’s unique identity, resulting in a community that understands the vision and how they can contribute to it.
When a school community understands the core values of the organization, they fundamentally understand what it’s like to be there (Shafer, 2018). By creating opportunities for positive interaction, setting expectations, identifying consequences and reinforcing messages whenever possible, all parties know what type of culture to expect, and are better equipped not just to exist within that culture, but to execute it.
There is a strong correlation between culture and performance (Shafer, 2018). Schools with positive cultures provide a safe, supportive, encouraging, inviting and challenging environment for students and staff, which in turn allows for students’ academic achievement to evolve (Confeld, 2016). By clearly identifying what the culture is, and reinforcing that through overlapping interactions, the entire school community benefits.
Sustaining Your Culture
Culture is driven by connections. We tend to simplify this by focusing on the connection between the school and the parents, but parents aren’t the only audience. Students, employees, volunteers, donors and neighbors are all part of the school’s hive, and they can all be voices that support a positive school culture.
Communication with these parties should be intentional, because they are the pollinators who will spread the core values that define your culture among the community. Offer consistent messaging across a variety of mediums to help them understand your unique culture. Tell them where and how they can get engaged in school activities. Show them the impact of their contributions.
When a school has successfully defined their culture you can feel it everywhere. In the lobby, in the classroom, in the interactions between staff, teachers, students and other members of the school community. The culture is evident without having to be verbalized. This is achieved through a variety of initiatives, from communications plans to fundraising to volunteer activities.
In the coming months we’ll explore how a variety of activities can help reinforce a positive culture, in turn brining the entire school community together as one.
Culture In Action
Culture is the product of multiple connections reinforced over time. Regardless of the type of culture you wish to promote, messages in support of that culture need to be consistently communicated and reinforced.
For example, a school with an inclusive culture may utilize home visits to help build relationships between teachers, students and parents to establish a foundation for two-way communication. They may have a communications plan that encourages teachers to talk about positive behavior and accomplishments, making notes from the teacher something to be welcomed, not feared. Or they may invite local businesses to meet with students, parents and staff for learning opportunities or to provide services, promoting increased connectivity between the school and the community.
Conversely, a school with an academically rigorous culture might use home visits to proactively review curriculum and set expectations for performance, and to help identify the support structure available to students throughout the year. Their communications plan may be designed to focus on progress monitoring to ensure students are keeping up with lessons, while their interactions with local businesses may be designed to help students apply classroom lessons to real-world scenarios.
Though they have different objectives, each school has a clearly defined culture that is communicated regularly and consistently. The messages help dictate the culture of the school, and the consistency of that message reinforces the culture, resulting in a thriving school community.
Join The Conversation
Do you know what your school culture is? What messages do you receive or wish you received from the school to reinforce that culture?
Confeld, S. (2016) – Alfred Adler Library. The Importance of a Positive School Culture http://alfredadler.edu/library/masters/2016/sara-confeld
Gunn, J. (2018) – CU Portland. Wow-Factor Schools: 8 Ways to Build an Awesome School Culture https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/curriculum-teaching-strategies/positive-school-culture/
Shafer, L. (2018) – Harvard. What Makes a Good School Culture? https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/07/what-makes-good-school-culture
Truby, D. (2018) – Schoolleadersnow.weareteachers.com. 8 Ways Principals Can Build Positive School Culture Now https://schoolleadersnow.weareteachers.com/8-ways-build-positive-school-culture-now/