Learning Landscapes

School Culture

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During our Strategic Planning process last school year, we had deep conversations about our school culture. We are a warm and happy school with many special relationships among students, parents, faculty and staff. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see faculty chatting together over lunch, children holding hands as they walk through the school, teenagers playing soccer, parents exchanging ideas, or staff members enjoying a laugh together. We are definitely a school where people care about each other and take pleasure in being together. However, as it turns out, our strategic planning process identified that our community aspires to more. What we have today isn’t fully satisfying to us. We want an even richer school culture. I think this is cool – we aspire to something beyond what we have today!

What is school culture? This is a topic that has been written about in the professional literature for a long time, and various research studies about it. The National School Climate Center explains that “School climate refers to the quality and character of school life as it relates to norms and values, interpersonal relations and social interactions, and organizational processes and structures. School climate sets the tone for all the learning and teaching done in the school environment and, as research proves, it is predictive of students’ ability to learn and develop in healthy ways.”

Did you read that last part? Read it again: school climate and culture is predictive of student’s ability to learn and develop in healthy ways. That statement gives us a lot to think about. How well does our current school climate impact our students’ ability to learn?

We all know what a negative environment feels like, places that are unpleasant. Perhaps public spaces like bus terminals or government offices or poorer areas of town or older shopping centers. In these places, we don’t feel safe or comfortable; the surroundings aren’t attractive or clean; we don’t feel cared for and our needs aren’t adequately met; people seem unhappy, cynical, and distrustful. They aren’t places where we want to linger and enjoy ourselves.

As a school, we want the best possible school climate and culture for our community. More than just a “nice place to be”, our strategic plan nudges us to become a school climate and culture where all members of our community feel healthy, safe, respected, engaged, supported, and challenged. In addition, we specify becoming a culture that is inclusive, respectful and responsive to all. This is a tall order, but one that we care about deeply and are willing to work towards.

Here is my question for you: What would it look like for YOU if our school had this kind of climate and culture? I encourage  you to share your ideas about this in the comment section below so others can read your thoughts.

One last thing: don’t miss a wonderful opportunity to come together as a community tomorrow. Our Parent Teacher Organization has organized a Family Fun Run, Walk, and Breakfast for Saturday October 25th. I can’t wait to see you all, please come and show your school spirit! Click here to see the Video-cast from the Director  that we made to advertise the event! Hope to see you there!

5 thoughts on “School Culture

  1. Hi Madeleine,
    If our school had this kind of climate and culture, I would see lots of professional conversation that is critical and supportive of where teachers are at any given moment in time. I would hear healthy discussions where not everyone agrees but where everyone is willing to listen to what others have to say and be open to very different perspectives. I would hear lots of laughter. It would feel safe to disagree even if one is in the minority.
    Thanks for asking.

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    • Hi Elisa, I agree – the freedom and safety to disagree is important to growth. In addition, I believe we would see teachers making shifts as their own understanding and repertoire of instructional strategies expands. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. If you have time, a good article to check out about school climate can be read at: http://www.edpubs.gov/document/ed005207w.pdf?ck=97

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    • Hi Pablo, This is an excellent article, thanks for sharing. I am curious what YOU think it would looke like to have a positive school culture and climate?

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      • Hi Madelaine. Thank you for your comments.
        I think your holistic approach and involvement towards improving AC as a whole is the right one. Culture and climate are sort of overlapping concepts, in my opinion, whereas climate has to do with the way people behave, culture has more to do with norms and values within an organization. Both are important and they support and complement each other. I think the interaction of school culture and climate and their influence on academic performance must have a very high positive correlation: strong school culture motivates teachers, good climate motivates students and parents, highly motivated teachers have greater success in improving student performance. But the key in all this is the involvement from the top (school principals) in finding the relationships among leadership, teachers, students and parents. It is also very important to devise a way to MEASURE climate and culture, otherwise there is no way of promoting change and/or establishing challenging, but achievable goals (I am sure there must be a lot of statistical methods already devised to measure these indicators, probably you know them better than me and are already considering them).

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