Hint: It starts with you.
As students, staff, and administrators, we spend a whole lot of our time together at school. We’re with you — school should be a joyful, safe place where curiosity runs rampant and motivation thrives. But creating that climate can feel downright daunting. How does one teacher go about transforming a matchstick into a community bonfire?
You can be the change. Building and maintaining a positive school culture is an ongoing effort, and it comes one step at a time. Here are a few pointers to set you in the right direction, no matter where you are launching from.
- Begin with your classroom. Start within your sphere of influence: your own four walls. Take a mental walkthrough of what students, colleagues, and parents experience coming into your room. What kind of energy and passion do you want to exude? Envision the design of your classroom radiating professionalism and pride. Simple tasks like straightening rows of desks, removing clutter, and displaying meaningful wall décor — like your class and campus mission statements, student work, and inspirational signage — can be the first steps to igniting a collaborative, enthusiastic culture.
- Spread happy. It’s easy to get bogged down and lose sight of how truly blessed we are to work with growing minds every day. Get your perspective straight, and let that truth shine from the inside out. Smiles are contagious. Where there are smiles, there is positivity, laughter, and an energy that will surround learning and make school a very special place.
- Get out. Of your classroom, that is. If you want to build great school culture, be a part of it. Pop up where kids least expect you — like the cafeteria, study hall, and events outside of the regular school day. Promote respect and foster relationships by getting to know kids as people first and students second. Let your actions show them that you care about them and are invested in them as human beings.
- Don’t point fingers. Problems with school climate often result in a blame game. Teachers point to administrators to build campus culture; administrators shuffle the duty to teachers. The obvious truth is that we all have the power and responsibility to create a healthy environment. Step up. If your colleagues are struggling, be the agent of change that comes alongside them and fosters relationships, celebrates personal and team victories, and capitalizes on individual strengths. Be an example of positivity and support.
- Put students first. Students are the whole reason we show up every day, and simply put, school culture impacts student outcomes in a vital way. Give them a voice by inviting their feedback and input on classroom and campus decisions. Let your actions model this truth: Everyone on campus is part of something greater than just himself or herself. Empower kids to be team players.
- Connect. Positive culture is all about cultivating an intricate web of relationships. Foster all types of connections — students with students, students with teachers, teachers and other teachers, administrators with teachers — you get the point. We’re all in this together. Seek out intentional ways to inspire them, and let them inspire you right back. And don’t stop there. Look for outside opportunities to bring back to your campus. Attend workshops, start a book club, or find online communities to collaborate with. Trust us, there are like-minded educators who want to be innovative activists with you.
- Don’t give up. Refuse to sink. Even as “just” one teacher, you hold a critical position when it comes to shaping campus climate. Reach out and invest in your people, and don’t give up when morale is low. See challenges as opportunities to model positivity, resilience, and support.
Even on the most challenging campus, relationships can be built and support networks can be paved. When each member — student, teacher, or administrator — feels respected and valued, the whole team wins.