Think back to your first day as a newly hired staff member in a school. What did your new peers teach you about the culture of the school on those first days? How were their attitudes towards parents, meetings, and students different than your own? Did they, over time, shift your attitudes, or did you shift theirs?
School cultures are molded by the collective attitudes of the group. These attitudes define how the group reacts to different issues and situations within a school. School cultures can shift when a strong personality, or group, projects an attitude that is divergent from the current school culture. When elevated by leadership, this alternative attitude can be infectious, and can cause a shift in the overall school culture over time.¹ Thus, school cultures are built, shifted, and transformed from the ground up. However, school and district leadership can make strategic and intentional changes to shift the school toward the culture they want to see.
Make Monday a Fun Day | How the week starts has quite a lot to do with how the week progresses and ends. When a school culture is negative towards Mondays, it develops attitudes within and across teachers that they don’t want to be in school. This is easily picked up and transferred to the attitudes of students. Over time, a school culture can develop attitudes that are negative about school in general. To challenge this, celebrate Mondays! Be a herald at the door inviting students and staff enthusiastically in. Send out your Monday announcements and emails that start with a ridiculous Pun (thus beginning Monday Pun-day). Provide a quick breakfast treat in the staff’s workroom. Encourage your staff to celebrate Mondays on Twitter by using #CelebrateMondays, a popular hashtag. Be creative in finding ways to make Mondays exciting and fun for students and teachers.
Call Your Teacher Leaders to Action | Who are the strong personalities, and highly respected individuals on your staff and their spheres of influence? If you want to make a shift in your school culture, you must first call your teacher leaders to action, and elevate positive attitudes and acts across the school. A leader cannot drive momentum without at least 10% of the staff actively working on the ground level with their peers toward the same goal. If you cannot find your 10%, consider this principle during the hiring process: “If I hire this individual, will he/she help shift our school culture in a positive way? If so, how I might I support him/her in doing so once they are on staff?”
Expand Collaboration | Without intentional encouragement and planning from leadership, teachers easily fall and remain in silos within their classrooms. To combat these silos, challenge teachers to share and borrow great acts and lessons of awesomeness from their peers at school and online. Rename and focus content and/or grade level meetings to be collaborative lesson design studios. Have your teachers submit lesson plans on Google Docs to Folders open and available to the entire staff. Or if that’s too scary, start with sharing lessons within their PLCs. Break the classroom silos by inviting your staff to visit each other’s classrooms² while learning is happening during their planning time.³
School Culture Boost Check
If you are curious about your current school culture, engage select staff members from across roles, content areas, and grade levels in conversations about school culture with the goal to identify changes that would work to shift or sustain the current collective attitudes. The most important and honest conversations should not be happening in your parking lot,⁴ so provide a safe space for open and honest discussion.
The School Culture Pulse Check Activity is an easy, low-stakes way to launch a discussion on current school culture as well as gauge how your teachers feel about different issues and situations within your school.
1 | In a small group, hand out a pad of sticky notes and pens.
2 | Provide the following instructions to those engaging in the activity. “Write or draw the first thing that comes to your mind when I state the following words.”
3 | One at a time, provide 4-6 words for the participants to respond to. Choose elements of your culture that you want to pulse check. Some suggestions are: Parent, Monday, Student, Meeting, Failure, and School Events.
4 | Once all words have responses, ask for all sticky notes that were in response of a particular word. Discuss the responses through the following questions:
- What does this collection of sticky notes say about our table’s collective attitudes towards this subject?
- What could we do to shift, elevate, or sustain these attitudes?
For more information on how school cultures evolve, identifying your current school culture, and how to bust negative elements within your school culture, check out School Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker.¹
¹ Gruenert, Steve, and Todd Whitaker. School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It. ASCD, 2015. Print.
² Hervey, Lisa. “Learning Walks – Tackk.” Tackk. Tackk Inc, 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
³ Kachur, Donald S, Judith A Stout, and Claudia L Edwards. Engaging teachers in classroom walkthroughs. ASCD, 2013.
⁴ Sparks, Dennis. “Why Schools Are in Trouble When the Most Honest Conversations Occur in Parking Lots.” Dennis Sparks on Leading and Learning. WordPress, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.