School culture often also referred to as school climate is the cornerstone of all schools. It may be defined as the quality and character of school life. It encompasses patterns of student, parent, and school staff experiences within the school. It reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices and organisational structures.
It is that force that drives a school’s success or failure. It is the foundation for school improvement. Nonetheless, this topic is rarely dealt with especially here in the United Arab Emirates and the MENA region.
Education in the United Arab Emirates is at a defining moment, one with the potential to shape the nation’s educational future. There has been considerable investment in buildings, technology and staffing. However, it can be argued that enough attention has not been paid to ensuring that all schools enjoy a positive school culture.
Building a positive school culture is the responsibility of all stakeholders from administration and teachers to students and parents, as well as, policy makers. For schools to successfully build a positive school culture, they must foster both excellent academic achievement and good ethics. A school with a positive school culture can be defined as having an ethos of high expectations for each student and staff.
In toxic school cultures, staff:
- View students as the problem rather than as their valued clients.
- Are sometimes part of negative subcultures that are hostile and critical of change.
- Believe they are doing the best they can and don’t search out new ideas.
- Frequently share stories and historical perspectives on the school that are often negative, discouraging, and demoralising.
- Complain, criticise, and distrust any new ideas, approaches, or suggestions for improvement raised by administration and fellow colleagues.
- Rarely share ideas, materials, or solutions to classroom problems.
- Have few ceremonies or school traditions that celebrate what is good and hopeful about their place of work.
Is your school’s culture positive or toxic? These are a few questions which will help you to evaluate the culture which exists in your school. If you are starting a new school this year, answering these questions over the first term will help you to get an idea of what your new school’s culture is like:
- Does your school lack a sense of purpose?
- Do the school’s norms reinforce inertia?
- Does the school blame students for lack of progress?
- Is collaboration discouraged?
- Are there normally hostile relations among staff and students?
If your answers to the above questions are overwhelmingly negative, then chances are your school is a successful one which is enjoying a positive school climate. If on the other hand your school has a toxic culture, there are a few things that can be done to create the positive school environment we all want.
In order to create a positive school culture; begin to celebrate successes, emphasise accomplishments and collaborations. Foster a commitment to develop staff and improve student learning. Most of all, ensure that every single member of the school community feels valued and supported. When administrators, staff, students and parents collaborate in a strong push to foster an environment in which learning blooms, negativity will decrease and both staff and students will flourish.
By Leisa Simapili