Thoughts on School Culture

deskThis post will not have any answers, in fact I hope it raises questions and ideas for you.  The idea for this post comes from reading the article “What psychology tells us about student achievement — and how it is ignored” from The Washington Post. I will come back to this article later. When discussing a complex idea like school culture, there are no quick fixes, no magic spell to change the hallway behavior over night, no t-shirt slogan that will bring a faculty together. But a school culture can be changed, for the better or the worse.

First, my definition of school culture: The decisions of each individual in the everyday functioning of a school to achieve the school’s vision.

A school’s vision is an important part of culture.  It is the WHY of the school. Some may say that the vision of the school is the mission statement.  But I see too many school cultures that are disconnected from that mission statement.  In fact, most teachers and students don’t even know their school’s mission statement.  And sadly, they don’t why their school exists except to get through the day and get seniors graduated.  I have another post in the works on developing the WHY for a school (I also have a workshop centered around this idea).  Until then a great book to read on the topic is Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why.

Let’s get back to how a school’s vision connects to culture. The school’s vision is the compass that everyone involved can use to direct their choices.  From the students’ behavior on a bus to the administration deciding on new classes to add to the schedule. When a school has a strong vision it makes decisions easier, there is a direction, or focus, in place to help make decisions that reflect the school’s culture. Sounds simple, but I know it is not so easy. Especially when we deal with the everyday life of a school, and the best way to see what a school’s culture is like everyday is to look at the students.

“Children reproduce the character of their schools and the society around them.”  This line comes from the article mentioned above. This is what spurred my idea for this post. This also highlights the reality of the challenge for a school to create and maintain a culture that connects to the school’s vision. A school does not stand alone in the development of a student, or even the teachers and administrators. But a school’s advantage is that the everyday routine is directed by a deeper meaning, or should be. The hallways, the buses, the locker rooms, and the student section at a game will reveal the true culture of a school. When we can develop a clear vision for students to connect to we will see a culture that reflects a school’s vision and produce a deep and enriching everyday experience for all involved in the school.
Not easy, I understand, but worth it.  It affects us all.

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