Like the broader academic culture, a school culture reflects both conscious and subconscious views, behaviors, relationships, and practices, and is largely influenced by a school s specific institutional background. Students, parents, instructors, other teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders all contribute to the school in culture. Much research on schools has focused on the culture of the school, with much less attention given to the inter-personal relationships within this milieu. Yet school cultures are as complex and pervasive as they are influential.
The school culture that emerges from a multi-faceted array of sources is both informal and formal, often blending together with aspects of personal relationships, including friends’ groups, school activities, parental support, and professional support networks. School leaders and staff members exercise powerful control over this culture through attitudes and actions. Often, good school culture fosters effective student learning, growth, and success, but can be undone by ill-informed actions and attitudes.
The school culture developed by teachers and staff members is a key determinant of student achievement. In a healthy school culture teachers and school leaders encourage and facilitate open communication, mutual respect, social interaction, creativity, and critical thinking. These factors promote a sense of belonging, a sense of value, a sense of expansion, and a commitment to quality and change. In contrast, poor school cultures and teacher/student relationships inhibit learning and result in low achievement. A multidimensional approach that takes into account the teachers’ role in the formation of school culture and student learning and a wide range of organizational contexts can go a long way toward building a school culture that works.
The most important aspect of a school culture is the attitudes of teachers and staff. A teacher’s or principal’s attitudes toward equity, fairness, substance use, discipline, diversity, personal growth, cultural competency, and student safety are essential in creating an effective school culture. Equity refers to the policies and practices that afford students the same opportunities for academic success that other students are afforded. Fairness refers to the policies and practices that give all students equal access to the resources, programs, and activities of the school. Equity and fairness must be balanced and defined according to the needs of the school community as a whole as well as individual students within that school.
A culture that promotes learning can be most effectively fostered when teachers are aware of their role in creating it. This awareness will not only help teachers and school administrators to create an effective school culture, but will also help them recognize areas where they need to improve. In recognizing these areas teachers can begin to address the specific needs of their students so that classroom conditions are improved. They may need to modify lesson objectives, provide more individualized attention to students with special needs, develop teacher-centered lesson plans, create an antibabus, or a combination of any of these strategies. When teachers take responsibility for their own classroom growth and development they become much more engaged and responsible teachers.
Creating a positive school culture starts with teachers and ends with parents. Individual schools may have different approaches to creating this kind of environment. The best approach may be to follow the strategies outlined in this document and adapt them to the specific needs of your school district. Creating a healthy and equitable school culture is about more than just one person; it’s about the whole school community working together. The creation of a positive school culture is a collective effort that requires all of its members to work together in order to effect change.