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Creating a Positive School Culture: Why it Really Matters

Culture matters, whether in Business, Athletics, or K-12 Education, the environment and culture that we create sets the tone. While the popular argument that culture does not exist, as it is a human created concept is valid, the world we live in dictates that the environment in which we find ourselves influences our behavior. Based on this idea, the culture of, or more specifically the values and norms of an environment make a significant impact on all individuals within that environment.
Culture matters. Click To Tweet
To better illustrate this example and how it relates to K-12 Education, one need look no further than the world of sports. While our society overvalues sports and those who participate, sports are a microcosm of society and themes found within the sporting world translate to other areas of life. The most glowing example of the role positive culture plays in success is the Golden State Warriors, the team that is currently the most dominant in professional sports. Like them or hate them, the Warriors have created an environment that appeals to talented basketball players and one that enforces the idea that teamwork beats individual accolades, not to mention financial compensation. This point is especially salient to longtime basketball fans, who remember the Warriors of the 80’s through 00’s who were consistently losing, and were often derided as one of the worst ran organizations in professional sports.
Most students, teachers, and parents have probably encountered a school whose climate, and culture is toxic. Click To Tweet
Translate this idea to Education. Most students, teachers, and parents have probably encountered a school whose climate, and culture is toxic. While there are many in education and academia who argue that school culture is irrelevant to performance, scholarly research indicates otherwise. According to Deal and Peterson (2009), creating a positive school culture increases productivity school-wide, supports successful change and school improvement (currently a hot-button issue in education), improves the motivation of both students and staff, and most importantly, focuses attention and behavior on what is valued and important.
The last point is essential. Students’ attitudes towards school, values relating to education, and achievement motivation have been found to be positively related to academic achievement (Dagnew, 2017). Common sense would indicate if students’ feel negative about the school they attend, how they are treated at school and the overall school climate (what is emphasized at school and what is seen as important by the adults) that they will perform worse academically. In other words, if someone is regularly telling you how bad you are and focusing on the areas in which you are lacking, are you going to feel motivated to succeed? Likely not.
As a long time School Counselor in multiple settings, I have made this a heavy point of emphasis. In our current climate where more and more students are being disenfranchised because they do not fit “the picture” of the ideal student, this is especially important. Meeting students where they are at, and making school, get this, fun for them, solves many ill’s we see at school. Creating a positive fun culture, involving shared experiences, and a little bit of fun (anyone interested in a raffle for a 20-year-old pencil sharpener?) goes a long way. The value of creating a positive school culture cannot be overstated and all key stakeholders in education would be wise to pay more attention to this frequently neglected aspect of education.
References:Dagnew, A. (2017). The relationship between students’ attitudes towards school, value of academic motivation and academic achievement in gondar secondary schools, Ethiopia. Research in Pedagogy, 7(1), 30-42.Deal, T. E. & Peterson, K.D. (2009). Shaping School Culture (3rd. Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Boss.

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