Creating a Positive School Culture
Schools have a school culture, a set of traditions and beliefs that are shared by teachers, students, parents, and administration. Everyone seems to understand why they’re there and who they’re there with, and students and faculty treat each other accordingly. Academics recognized the critical importance of school culture as soon as they began studying the social aspects of schools in the late twentieth century. In a famous article for Teachers, edited by Philip Schwabe and Roger W. Johnson, the two academics noted, “School culture is a product of the school’s history, culture, and environment.” They continued, “The present day school has evolved from an informal and intuitive community into a formal and highly regulated one, governed by a set of values and beliefs which are understanding to shape the learning, acting, and relating behaviors of students.” They went on to note that the “history of schooling,” which documented the development of a school culture over time, “also reveals the fact that it has changed significantly over time… The aim of this article is to describe some of these changes and how they have affected the school environment.”
One of the clearest influences on a school’s culture is the climate that exists within the classrooms. What is the general climate of student achievement? How are the climate’s relationships with teachers and administration shaped? What kinds of social activities exist within the school? These questions and others like them to help us identify what kind of school culture we’re talking about. Here are some common characteristics of school cultures that have consistently shaped student achievement:
Recognition and Support. Recognition and support are the most tangible manifestations of school culture. After all, the people who shape and manage our practices, values, beliefs, and actions are called teachers, counselors, administrators, and other staff members. Teachers are at the top of the food chain; their behaviors affect student achievement. A teacher who respects their colleagues and treats them with respect helps student performance, and likewise facilitates student achievements through the opportunity to develop and practice skills, helping other staff members to do the same, and facilitate communication between students and teachers.
Setting Learning Goals and Expectations. Students gain confidence in their ability to learn by participating in school culture. This involves students’ beliefs, expectations, and motivation about what they can and cannot do as learners. For example, if a student believes that he or she cannot be an excellent singer, then the teacher’s behavior will most likely not encourage student learning.
A Positive School Year. A positive school culture can have a huge impact on student achievement during the school year. It is not uncommon for many schools to have negative behaviors during the school year–such as unexcused absences, tardiness, substance abuse, violence, bullying, and other negative school-wide behaviors–but a school-wide effort to change these behaviors and instill a positive school culture can have enormous benefits for students’ achievement during the school year.
Creating a positive school culture means more than just creating a “positive” climate for teachers and staff. It also requires creating a space where teachers, administrators, parents, and other staff members can thrive and where students can thrive to their fullest capacities. A healthy climate promotes a healthy educational environment.