4 ways to ensure the success of a school culture initiative

A growing body of research confirms that school culture significantly influences student learning. Indeed, it is in culture that classrooms build their success. Yet too many schools accept pockets of excellence. Why is it okay for some classrooms to implement best practices for students while others are allowed to opt out?

Culture is the collective beliefs and commitments that allow otherwise loosely connected individuals to rally around an effort. The importance of this cultural “glue” becomes evident when examining student behavior. The more schools are consistent with expectations, discipline, and celebratory rituals, the better students understand what is expected and the better they meet those expectations.

Conversely, individual classroom approaches to behavioral interventions are more likely to result in inconsistent student expectations and a lack of teacher conversations, leading to silos rather than overall excellence.

The benefits that flow from common expectations and a supportive approach to reinforcing those expectations are many – from fewer disruptions, disciplinary actions and suspensions to increases in teaching time, student learning and staff morale.

Here are four ways school leaders can deliver those benefits by creating a cohesive, student-centered and restorative approach to their school culture initiative.

1. Collaboratively create a vision of cultural excellence

Engaged and motivated staff are essential to creating a positive school culture. The best way to get teacher buy-in is to incorporate the voice of teachers from the start. The more teachers feel they have a voice and a valid role in cultural change, the more likely they are to commit to championing that change.

  • Carry out a school culture audit

For these discussions to be productive, it is essential to gain a deep understanding of the culture. One way to do this is through a culture audit, which can be done by district or school administrators or by an unbiased, professionally trained third party. Ask staff and students about the school’s history, current practices and attitudes toward student behavior, and beliefs about the future. Review existing cultural data and school-wide Level I behavior support systems. This will give a concrete idea of ​​what will be addressed during the change initiative.

Once the cultural audit is underway, create a cultural leadership team of leaders and faculty who will develop a school-wide vision of cultural excellence based on their shared beliefs. The vision should re-imagine the school as the team wants it to be, with details about the look, sound and feel of the new culture. The team should also determine what common behaviors the adults in the school will reinforce. Put the plan in writing and involve all staff with the plan to build consensus and eliminate the possibility of inconsistent actions in class.

  • Plan systems to motivate positive choices

Next, the culture leadership team must design recognition systems and incentives for positive behavior. Define the protocol to be followed by teachers when corrective action is needed and a negative consequence is deserved, as well as the means to monitor the progress of the restorative practices they adopt. Throughout the process, create opportunities for teacher input regarding the rituals, routines, systems, and behavioral expectations being defined and designed.

(Next page: 3 additional steps for a successful school cultural initiative)

Latest Posts from eSchool Media Contributors (see everything)

Carol C. Reed