Just like anything great, strong school culture is the result of intentional work and does not often appear naturally. If you are working to change your school culture, you likely already know that it is a dedicated effort met with many challenges along the way, with one of those challenges often being what school culture really means.
Often used hand-in-hand with the term ‘school climate’, school culture is defined as shared values, rules, beliefs, approaches to learning, social behaviors, and community relationships within a school community (Çakiroğlu et al., 2012). A school’s norms, unspoken rules, traditions, and behavioral expectations are all so deeply ingrained in a school community that they can influence all of its aspects. School culture is so ingrained in a community that in order to alter it, systemic changes must be made over a long period of time (Gruenert, 2008).
To explain further:
An organization’s culture dictates its collective personality… if culture is the personality of the organization, then climate represents that organization’s attitude. It is much easier to change an organization’s attitude (climate) than it is to change its personality (culture).
So, it is clear that building a strong school culture is no mean feat. For this reason, we’ve highlighted a template action plan below for you to use to change your school’s climate which you can adapt according to your district goals.
Define what a strong school culture feels like to you
The first step to take is to decide what the ideal strong school culture would be in your district. If your district was a person, what personality would it have? How would you want others to feel when around them? How would they make others feel after talking with them? Once you have a clearer image of what a strong school culture feels like to you, it’ll be easier to design a plan to achieve it.
Reflect on your school’s current culture using accurate data
Next, you need to reflect on the current school culture and its community members. After all, it’s impossible to know the steps you need to take to achieve your ideal school culture if you don’t know where you’re currently at. The best way to do this is by collecting accurate, up-to-date data via surveys. Here are a few tips concerning data collection:
Seek out specific information
Using a survey-building tool, create surveys that will seek out the specific school culture information you’re looking for, this way you’re not leaving it to chance to find out what you need to know. Questions you may consider finding the answers to are:
- What three words would you use to describe your school?
- How does studying/working in your school make you feel?
- Why do you think this is?
Make sure you’re only taking action on recent, accurate data
Using survey answers collected in the previous school year or from staff no longer working in your district will only waste time and resources and will not guide to toward progress in your new culture goals.
Send out different surveys to different stakeholders
The information you need from district staff is not the same as those from students, nor should the questions you ask parents be the same as those you ask teachers. Writing and distributing different surveys to different community stakeholders will provide more accurate, useful information than sending out one survey. While this may take more time, it will increase the quality of your efforts and make them worthwhile.
Consider multilingual surveys
If your district is home to English Learners or those who may just feel more comfortable using languages other than English, it is worth having your surveys translated. As well as making community stakeholders feel included and respected (another facet of strong school culture and climate!), it could help increase response rates in the long run. Additionally, it will improve the quality of the answers you do get, as you can be confident they were understood by the respondents.
If your district was a person, what personality would it have? How would you want others to feel when around them?
Design a plan to reach the ideal school culture you outlined in Step 1
Now that you’ve collected the appropriate data, think about the following questions in regards to how your school culture currently is and how you’d like it to be.
- In what areas, if any, do you need to improve drastically?
- Which areas will only need a nudge in the right direction?
- Which goals do you now think will be the most difficult to achieve?
- What will you start doing right away, and what will you do in a few months time?
- Which community stakeholders will you need help from to achieve these goals?
- How can they help, and in what areas?
- How long do you think it will take to achieve all of these goals?
- How long do you think it will take to achieve each of these goals separately?
- What potential roadblocks do you think will make your plans difficult?
- How will you overcome these obstacles?
- Which of these roadblocks do you think could hinder them altogether?
It may also help to break your action plan down into smaller targets, so you can see step-by-step what needs to be done. Additionally, you may wish to highlight certain changes you’d like to see in your school culture that are non-negotiable and should be prioritized. Don’t forget to write your plan on a document or piece of paper and share it with the necessary stakeholders - this will keep everyone on track and dedicated to the same goals.
Put the plan into action with the help of your district staff!
Frequently reflect on how things are going in your district and if you’re on target to reach your goals
It’s important to monitor the effectiveness of your efforts and make any necessary adjustments so that you are progressing towards the ultimate goal of having a strong school culture. You need to keep checking that you’re on track, otherwise a few months down the line you may find yourself completely on the wrong path. The best way to do this is to distribute dedicated Culture & Climate surveys to your school community, so you can keep your finger on the pulse of the changes you’ve been making.
More tips and tricks
Be the change you want to see
It’s not enough to try and change the personality of your district through plans of action, you must make efforts to be the change you want to see. Want to see more kindness and respect in your schools? Model kindness and respect to your community every day.
School cultures are difficult to change but easy to break
Intentionally altering school culture requires a lot of effort, but unfortunately, all of that effort could be wasted in one fell swoop if an unfortunate situation occurs. Bear this in mind when developing robust school culture and understand that this requires perpetual effort on the community’s part.
Ask for help if you need it
If you need more guidance on strong school culture, how to build one, or how using online tools could streamline this process for you, we’re only one message away! Our team at Satchel Pulse is passionate about nurturing strong school culture and climate across the US to build positive learning environments, increase staff satisfaction, and improve student outcomes, so chat to us if you’re looking for targeted support!
Çakiroğlu, Ü., Akkan, Y., & Güven, B. (2012). Analyzing the effect of web-based instruction applications to school culture within technology integration. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 12, 1043-1048.
Gruenert, S. (2008). School Culture, they are not the same thing. National Association of Elementary School Principles. Read it here.