General Leadership School Culture

Check the Culture of the School: Intent or Internet?

Do you regularly complete a school culture or school climate survey?  If you do, is it used to improve the school culture and climate?  Do you take the responses to heart, evaluate them, then move forward with pressing issues?  If you have generally answered yes to these questions, then your school is likely in a good place and on track.

However, do you find that there are those who do not believe a school climate or culture survey is necessary?  Perhaps you have heard comments such as “our school is in a good place” or “We don’t need another survey to tell us what we know”.  These comments are well intentioned, but perhaps made by overconfident individuals who might not have a full picture of the school climate. 

Checking the culture of the school is a valuable use of the administrations time.  Some might consider the time required to check the culture and climate of the school to be a waste of time.  Time that could be better spent on other more important tasks or pursuits.  Perhaps the belief is that everything in the school and community are just fine simply because there is not uproar and turmoil.  However, just because things are moving along well on the surface does not mean that the school climate and culture is healthy.  The only real options are to review our school climate and culture ourselves or, read about issues on any number of the school review sites on the internet.

As administration, we need to be intentional about the school culture we are trying to build or maintain.  If we do not actively build a positive, healthy school culture, then we are maintain a status quo that may not be healthy.  Worse, with the many school review sites online, and of course teacher word of mouth, if the school culture is not positive, then the word will be spread to others.

The internet and word of mouth is fickle.  Far too often, the message that spreads is only partly true.  Misinformation is always spread based on one persons opinion or word of mouth.  There is often truth in the information shared, but it is often skewed to one persons point of view.  With this in mind, we have a choice to move forward with intent or allow the internet to do its work.

It is recommended that we review our school climate and culture.  Ask questions about your goals, beliefs and values.  Review the responses for consistencies and concerns.  Then, make adjustments as necessary to address the concerns and move in the direction the school intends.  As educators, we are expected to reflect on our practice and adjust for improvement.  If we expect that educators should do this, the school should set the example.  This sets a positive tone for the school and for educators.

Some administrators set a positive tone for internet reviews simply by recommending that all teachers review the school each year.  This may seem strange, to request that teachers are asked to add new reviews each year, but it is a wise decision.  Most schools, and administrators, simply do not have many reviews online, unless there are issues that are not addressed.    Every school wants to read or hear positive comments made by their teachers.  The school that encourages their educators to write reviews also stands strong enough in their belief that they are doing the best by their educators and community.

Consider how your school reviews the culture and climate regularly.  Build in steps to address challenges the school faces, no matter how small.  And remember, if the school is not strong or confident enough to ask the staff how the school is doing, the staff will communicate that somewhere else.  Decide if you wish to operate with intent or allow the internet to do its work for you.

Research and Surveys:

Chris Wagner writes in Principal Leadership in the article School Leader’s Tool (2006), that utilizing a tool, such as the one recommended in the article, showed that schools with higher, positive school culture scores also scored higher on academic assessments.  Those with lower school cultures scores, also scored lower on academic assessments.

John Jennings provides an example of a school cultures survey and recommendations for how to score it at the site Advancing K12.  The advantage is that the scoring and recommendations are already provided for you are able to access a copy of it online

The John Hopkins School of Education provides a professional option for school culture surveys.  As they compile information, your school can be compared to other similar schools.  Contact John Hopkins School of Education for more information on this process.


Once the results have been gathered and scored the school needs to evaluate them.  If the school finds that there are many things they are doing well, then celebrate them.  These are the ideals and beliefs you hoped to instill and are demonstrating them.  Areas where the data shows mixed results should be dug into more.  Delve into the questions and possibly follow up with additional questions specific to the topic.  Ask why and seek to learn what is underneath the mixed results.  Perhaps it was just poor questioning, or mixed views on the same topic.


However, if the data shows areas of concern, these should be the primary focus.  If mistakes were made, acknowledge them, apologize, and move forward.  Work to correct these mistakes and not make them again.  For other data that is negative, triage it.  Evaluate what is of highest concern and what are issues that are addressed easily.  In those issues that can be resolved quickly and easily, do that immediately to show your staff movement forward.  Areas where there are high concerns and may be more complicated, gather people together to support the process to address the issue.  

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