By: Chassie Selouane
School Culture is defined broadly as perceptions, relationships, attitudes, in line with written and unwritten rules that shape how a school functions on a day to day basis. The term also encompasses the physical and social-emotional safety of students and staff. School culture can either be positive or negative.
School cultures develop as a result of values, perspectives, practices and interactions with all stakeholders Leadership, Faculty, Staff, Students and Parents and is often heavily shaped by the institutional history and governance.
A positive school culture empowers ALL of its stakeholders to embrace school values and priority is given to cultivating holistic relationships. Todd Whitaker in his book School Culture Rewired states that “ people help shape cultures, and cultures help shape people. You need people to have a culture.” He also suggests that school culture is not made by one person and if a group of people spend enough time together, a culture will evolve, like it or not.
Here are few identifying characteristics of a positive school culture :
- Building Relationships is the foundation. The relationships and interactions of all stakeholders are characterised by openness, trust, respect, and appreciation.
- Mistakes are allowed. Mistakes are not punished or seen as failures, but they are seen as opportunities to learn and grow for both students and educators.
- Safety and a Sense of Belonging. All Stakeholders feel safe and secure to take risks and try new things. They may fail, yet they try because they feel safe and supported in learning through success or failure.
- Students are held to high academic expectations and the majority of students meet or exceed what is expected of them.
5. School leaders, teachers, and staff members model positive, healthy behaviours for students and are accountable to each other.
- Transparency in decision making. Leadership decisions are made collaboratively and with input from all stakeholders as much as possible.
- Educational resources and learning opportunities are funded across the entire school and not in select divisions.
- Criticism and feedback is thoughtful, constructive and well-intentioned, and never antagonistic or self-serving.
- There is an emphasis on physical and emotional safety. Students and staff members feel physically and emotionally safe. The school’s policies and facilities effectively promote safety of all stakeholders.
- Professional learning is relevant and encourage open communication, sharing of best practice and expertise. Faculty and staff work together to focus on building the capacities of each individual and focus on utilising each team members unique and special talents to learn and grow.
Interestingly enough, schools that are considered outstanding or highly effective schools are often praised for their positive school cultures. It is impossible to be considered a highly effective or outstanding school without a positive culture. I am always asked by schools for suggestions on what they can do to improve their next inspection rating? This is a complicated question. But I would suggest if a school wants to improve, it should focus on the relationships within the school.