Reflecting on the Culture of Your School

“School culture refers to the way teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share. A positive school climate and school culture promote students’ ability to learn.”

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Are you happy when you walk into school on a Monday morning?  How would you describe your feelings about the place you enter?   Is there a sense of expectancy?  Are you excited about the week ahead?  Does the space feel positive and healthy to you?  What about to your staff?  Or the students?  Or the parents?  Or visitors who are entering your space for the very first time?

All schools have a culture and a reputation that precedes them.  As an educator or administrator, that reputation is tied to us as well.  Too often, we are so focused on the work of the school day that we fail to check in with our staff, students, and parents and ask how we are doing.  Are we meeting our stated purpose and goals?  This reflective feedback will tell us if we are on the right track or not.  It will tell us a lot about our educational space and if we have developed a positive school culture based on our belief system.

If we take a look at the Hattie Ranking from the Global Research Database, we will find that Collective Teacher Efficacy has an effect size of 1.39.  The only factor with a higher ranking is Teacher Estimates of Achievement at 1.44.  Hattie states that the average effect size was 0.4 and anything higher will have a positive impact on the student.  Can you imagine a group of committed teachers who all believe that they can have a positive influence on students?  Many administrators are willing to say that they do work with such a group.  But is this an accurate report about our school culture?

The author “Anonymous” at the Guardian asks parents a simple question, “can you spot a toxic school?”  As parents, we would never want to send our children to a school with a toxic culture.  It is not healthy.  Instead, we want to send our children to a school that is healthy, thriving, and one where our children will grow and succeed.  Yet, in this article, parents are now being told what to ask teachers to determine the culture of the school. As an administrator, this should at the very least, make us think.   The article is below:

“Parents, can you spot a ‘toxic’ school?  A headteacher writes…” 

As an educator, you are partly responsible for the climate and culture within your classroom.  I say partly because your classroom is impacted by factors outside the classroom that affect what happens within the four walls of your room.  For example, if we take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, do our students come to school fed, rested and feeling safe from the night before or for the day ahead?  If not, then their ability to positively interact in the education of the classroom is hindered.  Your role as an administrator can have significant positive, or negative, impacts on the school culture and how the parents, students, and teacher view the school community.

The cited article from The Guardian provides parents with questions to ask the school administration and teachers.  If we are wise as administers, these are questions we should ask in advance and consider the impacts on school culture.  How many staff do we turnover each year?  How much marking do we require of teachers?  What is the required response time to emails?  When are emails sent and expected to be read?  What is the vision for the school and is it shared by all educators in the building?

If we believe that Collective Teacher Efficacy is an important part of our collective school culture, we must work to ensure that it is.  Articles such as “Parents, can you spot a ‘toxic’ school?  A headteacher writes…” are written as a warning light to good schools.  Toxic schools exist and often, the administration does not recognize the culture they have created.  As administrators, we need to ensure that we are practicing what we preach and reflecting on our best practice in the school and classroom. 

A positive school culture can be built through hard work, intentional practice, and relationship building.  It takes time to do it right.  It can also be torn down in a very short time if we do not care for the people who work for and with us.

So, as we move forward after these first months of the year I encourage you to do a check of your school.  Ask a few people you know and trust how the year is going.  As hard questions and expect a few answers that you may not like.  But be willing to listen and make changes as needed.  If you are in a school with a difficult culture, know that you can make positive changes through building positive relationships, active listening, and acting on the recommendations you are given.

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