Often, school culture is blended in with “school climate,” yet they both constitute and play different roles in a school’s overall success. School climate refers to the school’s overall environment and its effect on students. The school climate also encompasses different elements such as teaching practices, relationships amongst staff, parents and students, and the school’s overall diversity. While research shows the importance of school climate and the value a positive environment has on breeding student success, a school’s culture, as defined by Dr. Kent Peterson, a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is “the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school.” A strong school culture can allow a school to go from good to great. It is the secret ingredient to transforming a student’s educational journey.
When you think about your own schooling experience, what are the parts that stand out? Was it the diversity within the staff or was it the different traditions and rallies? While both are important, school culture is what provides a vision for a school. It refers to the way teachers and staff members are able to work together in to create and live by a set of beliefs and values that focus on student success. It is easy to know whether a school is lacking in culture from the moment one walks on campus. While the environment can be clean and portray an inviting place, it is the posters on the wall showcasing school pride and the morning announcements along with the spirited student assemblies and the way teachers interact that will really share a school’s culture.
But why does this matter and what does it have to do with students? It matters because a school’s culture, or lack of, affects everyone on a campus including students. If there is a culture of apathy, staff will not feel as motivated to go the extra mile. Compare that to a culture of appreciation, where staff feels inspired to go above and beyond because they feel valued and cared for. Given those two basic examples, the ones who are directly affected by these results are students. In a school where the expectations are set high and there is a culture of collaboration towards meeting the high bars, students will feel motivated and supported to reach their goals. In a school where the school’s culture does not reflect collaboration, it is hard for students to achieve as they end up working in silos.
I have witnessed how a school’s lack of culture can deter a school from fulfilling its true potential. Having excellent teachers work in the same school is not enough as they will not yield the results school leaders expect if the school’s culture is not one of community and support. When the culture is not set-up to embed a culture of respect and team spirit, it is difficult for adults to work together.
The truth is, a school’s culture is so influential to its success, it can be the ingredient that transforms a student’s educational journey or it can be what impedes students from experiencing a transformational schooling experience. If we focused less on the how a school looks and more on how it makes people feel, maybe then we can finally unleash the potential that so many schools already possess.
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