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School Climate and Culture

November 18, 2013

One of the most important responsibilities of any educational leader is to establish and maintain a respectful learning environment.  Effective leaders are always “taking the pulse” of the school to assess the overall level of stress, confusion, exasperation or any other feelings that could contribute to negative energy within the building.  I’ve always been a believer in the fact that an appropriate level of stress is healthy and necessary to lead of life of purpose and accomplishment.  It is a careful balance.  In most cases, the trick to maintaining a respectful school culture is doing the “little things” on a regular basis to make sure that all stakeholders feel empowered, respected and valued members of an important and purposeful cause that is bigger than themselves.  Here are a few routines I believe contribute to a respectful school culture:

1) Providing accurate and timely feedback Too often, we as educators pass up opportunities to give positive feedback to those who demonstrate growth, or simply do a good job.  I’m a big believer that positive recognition is infectious.  If others witness their peers being recognized (sometimes with a simple mention at a faculty meeting or an announcement over the intercom), they are more likely to want to follow suit to receive the recognition themselves.  Just as important, school leaders must be sure to address instances of negative behavior in order to communicate the fact that actions that run contrary to a positive environment are not acceptable.

2) Celebrate successes– It is so important to acknowledge positive gains made by students and teachers.  One of the most beneficial aspects of reviewing student data is that it gives us the ability to identify our areas of growth.  By taking the time to celebrate these gains, leaders are building capacity for future success.  It is unfortunate that sometimes opportunities are missed to celebrate our collective successes, and in doing so we fail to enjoy the rewards of our hard work.

3) Practice active listening– When  I became a principal I received advice that I have never forgotten.  I was told that if somebody chooses to speak to me, it is important for me to realize that even though I may have far more important matters on my mind, that I respect the fact that if they chose to speak to me about it, it is important to them.  Typically, the principal is not consulted unless it is a matter of significance.  For this reason, it is crucial that stakeholders feel confident that leaders are actively listening to their concerns and following up as necessary.

4) Seek input from all stakeholders– When individuals feel as though they have no say in any of the decisions that affect them, they tend to project a negative attitude towards their work.  It is the responsibility of the school leader to ensure that a process exists for all individuals to contribute ideas on how to improve the working environment.  Leaders must provide avenues for student, parent and teacher participation and input, and they must consider this input when making decisions.

5) Articulate a vision, then empower others to make a difference– School leaders must utilize an inclusive process in order to establish a vision that is clear, meaningful and appropriate.  Once articulated, leaders must empower stakeholders to carry the vision through according to their own experiences.  By doing this, leaders are more likely to establish a school culture that is self-policed, as all stakeholders will have invested their own work in the actions and behaviors of the larger group.

Establishing a school culture of respect and rigor is an essential component of any successful school.  School leaders must be the catalyst of this culture by establishing norms and expectations of how business is done on a daily basis.  Have a great week, everyone!



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  1. Thanks for the comment and the great cartoon!

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  1. Our School Climate… – janisexton

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