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How to Build School Culture That Positively Affects Teaching, Learning, and Academic Success


No one, child or adult, performs well when their energy is focused on noise in the classroom, unclear instructions, or poorly functioning relationships with peers and colleagues. Research shows that students in schools with healthier climates also perform academically more robust. However, school culture is trickier to define than academic outcomes. The lack might undermine the otherwise great work and resources; a good one might turn humble beginnings into something extraordinary.

It is vital to provide every child and teenager with sufficient resources and support for mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. This is a key to building more sustainable societies and helping young people find meaningful roles in their communities.

  1. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither is thriving school culture. It all starts with observing. You'll need to understand the day-to-day life of your school before you can shape it into its full potential. Visit classes, talk with staff and students, and collect their ideas. Consider putting up an advisory group with teaching staff representatives, student services, and the student body.
  2. Next up, together with your team, identify what, why, and how you want to change in your school. Recognize the things that already contribute to the greater good. Analyze the successes and learn from them. Make lists of the good and the bad, specify your goals, and draw roadmaps that can show different actions to different audiences (students of different age groups, teaching staff, student services, and leadership team…). Initially, the plans should focus on real-life-implementable suggestions, less on vague catchphrases (although a catchy slogan might be a great addition to boost team spirit).
  3. Lastly, there's the implementation. After carefully planning the goals, the framework, and the actions, it is time to start realizing them. Get the whole school together to hear about the project's how and why. Even if the aim is to make the chosen values and manners second nature, it is essential to maintain a structured mode in the beginning. Please make this a project that improves everyone's life and brings them closer together.

❗️ Remember to keep your finger on the pulse. Your plans might need some revisiting as situations change. Have regular checks with other staff members and try to stay updated on the students' moods.

Now, staying optimistic isn't always the easiest thing to do. We all know how nearly impossible so many days in a principal or teacher's life are. Still, the can-do attitude won't spread if no one sticks to it. This probably takes time but remind yourself you're building something more significant and long-lasting.

To help you plan and start enacting a more structured school culture, we've listed things to consider and tips to try out below:

✅  Choose clear base values on which to build your school culture. Try to keep it simple – there might be multiple ways in which one value can materialize, but the practical is more easily implemented when the guidelines are comprehensible.

✅  Many of us know how life-changing an enthusiastic teacher can be, both academically and mentally. Let your colleagues know how important they are. Endorse the team spirit with praise and bonding activities. When teachers feel their deserved appreciation, they are highly likely to excel in teaching even more.

✅  Acknowledge and recognize the people at risk of being left out, alone, or unheard in your school community. Plan actions to prevent isolation and ways to bring everyone together.

✅  Be the promoting force, not just the designer. To function at its best, school culture needs everyone to endorse it. When the community starts to follow your good example, the healthy norms and just rules will be enforced through practice.

✅  Details matter. Micro-affirmations are a powerful way of breaking stereotypes. Be aware of your own prejudices – we all have them. Pay attention to how people around you speak to each other and, constructively, ask them to reconsider their talk.

✅  Be vocal about your school culture! The shared principles and goals need to be said out loud. Utilize morning assemblies, theme days, class projects, and parent nights to make the guidelines visible.

✅  Use lesson plans that explain the benefits and motives of the school values. School culture needs to be brought in on all levels possible. Specifically, themed lessons concretize the shared values.

✅  Bring students to influence! Students make up the majority of the school community. Organize platforms or events where they can express their thoughts and ideas. Appoint older students to act as ambassadors for spreading the good vibes to their younger peers.

  The work toward a healthy school culture never ends. Even if your school is doing great, the healthy atmosphere needs consistent maintenance. Stay open to and actively find out how people in your community feel. 

Henriikka Heinonen

Guest Writer
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