The culture of a school is perhaps most identified when observing students and staff in the common spaces, including hallways, lunchrooms, playgrounds, school offices, teachers’ lounges, and workrooms.
In one school, while walking down the hallway, students walk in orderly groups, and smile at you as you pass, hold doors for you, or ask you if you need help finding the office. In another school, students bump noisily past, sometimes knocking into you. No smiles, no offers of help, not even from the staff.
Great school cultures are defined in part by clear expectations for behavior in common spaces. Staff has collaborated to determine the specific behaviors for which common procedures are needed. These might include how to enter the lunchroom, how to walk respectfully in the hallway, and how to come in from the playground. Each teacher has agreed to follow these common procedures, and work with students to ensure that everyone knows what is expected as appropriate behavior in and around the school.
Great school cultures are also defined by courtesies, like being quiet when passing an open door, offering to help others, addressing friends appropriately, and greeting teachers by name. Such respectful behaviors are taught throughout the years. Students learn social behaviors appropriate for lunchrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, offices, and assemblies.
In one school, all staff met and decided to express their commitment to students within classrooms and common spaces in the school with this statement.
We are committed to ensuring that each student feels physically and emotionally safe, and has strong positive relationships with both staff and students.
- We will create classroom environments where students feel physically, emotionally and spiritually safe.
- Each day we will make children feel welcome by greeting each one by name when entering the school, common area, and their classroom.
- We will communicate a plan for daily activities and events to each student at the beginning of each day.
- We will carefully develop and teach classroom and school-wide procedures, so every student understands how to behave appropriately at school.
- We will design instruction at the student’s instructional level for a large portion of each day.
- We will respond to misbehavior quickly and consistently, but without anger.
- We will assist students in developing personal responsibility for their actions and successes.
- We will encourage students to develop a powerful belief that they can make a difference in their own lives and the world.
The culture among professionals in the school is the single factor which has the most impact on the quality of problem-solving, professional learning, and collaboration among adults. This adult culture serves as a model for children. It is a major factor that influences the level of professional satisfaction among teachers. In one school, the teachers got together and made the following commitment to professional culture and to each other.
- We will build a culture in which staff treats each other with respect and appreciation.
- We will build trusting professional relationships that allow us to learn together and solve problems effectively.
- We will work to develop communication patterns that includes positive, other-focused, and inquiry statements. We will minimize negative, self-focused, and advocacy statements. We will strive to achieve a 6 to 1(or better) ratio of positive communication.
- We will listen openly and carefully to the opinions of others.
- We will value differences in experience and ideas among our colleagues when discussing professional issues.
- We commit ourselves to on-going collaboration with our colleagues.
- Every issue/problem we deal with will become a chance for us to build professional trust and respect.