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3 Positive Steps to Improve School Culture

As a veteran educator, I’m very passionate about culture and climate in schools. I think it’s important at times to stop and reflect on the pulse of the work we do as leaders. There are so many areas where you may choose to place your focus as a school or district leader. Curriculum is important, we all have legal areas we have to shore up, and goodness knows the budget requires constant monitoring. You might wish to spend time in your office. If you truly want to make a difference in the lives of kids, as the leader you must get out of the office and focus on impacting your school culture and climate.

  • Personal notes: everyone enjoys a pat on the back, to know they are appreciated and the work they are doing matters. But what if you left a personal note of thank you in each of your teachers, custodians, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, principals, and secretaries work areas? Recently, during American Education Week, we purchased new district coffee tumblers for the entire team. I could have walked around and handed them out or could have just put them in their mailboxes. Instead, I spent a Sunday putting them on everyone’s desks with a personal note from me saying thank you and sharing something simple I knew about them, about their teaching, leadership, or just an anecdote about why I am grateful to work alongside them as professionals. I know they would all have appreciated the tumbler either way, but the number of personal thank you’s, thank you cards, and emails of gratitude (many of which shared anecdotes about why they appreciate me) proved the time investment well worth it.
  • Protect instructional time: YES, the purpose is to educate students; teaching and learning needs to be a top priority. One of the best ways to focus a learning culture is to prevent interruptions to instructional time. If you plan to have an assembly, guest speaker, or class meeting tell your teachers well in advance and build it into their schedule. Don’t simply decide to take away 3rd period (as example). Set and continue to stress the importance of fully utilizing instructional time. Minimize the use of instructional time for movies or free time (or waste of time as I call it). If you, as the leader, will hold instructional time, teaching and learning time, as something to be protected and revered, others will too. That basketball meeting can wait until after school – kids are here to learn and teachers are here to teach.
  • Celebrate success and growth: we have become a ‘data driven’ industry. In an age of SMART goals, standardized tests, short cycle assessments, and PLC meetings, it is super important as the leader to honor and celebrate successes and growth achievements as they occur. No, you don’t need to hold a giant assembly for every achievement (although I will argue that the Jostens Renaissance Academic Pep Rally is a must!!). Find ways to recognize kids and teachers for their achievements. Maybe its small things like tokens or coupons to the school store or a local business; you could reward a teacher with ‘Free 10’ where you go cover their class for 10 minutes; students might earn the opportunity to have pizza with the principal during lunch; one of my favorites (Danny Steele does this for birthdays) is the selfie with the principal/superintendent and post it on the Facebook page or District website. Be creative…it will let them know you are truly thinking of them and that you care.

Again, take some time to reflect on the work you do. Are your priorities aligning with what you believe to be important? If you have not already chosen to place a focus on the culture and climate of your school or district, you owe it to your kids and your teachers to do so. Need some guidance? Hit the ‘contact me’ button on the About page of the blog or check out for awesome suggestions.


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