Student Leadership
The ABCs of School Culture
How to create a culture that supports each and every student and adult
James Layman
AWSL Director
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Ensuring School Safety, Engaging the Community, Closing the Gap
Creating a positive school culture is one of the most powerful elements of school leadership. Here are 26 steps – from A to Z – that you can take to ensure your school culture creates a sense of belonging for each student and everyone engaged with your school. A - Awareness of students’ and adults’ mental space is important. Providing intentional opportunities to check in on each other, and how our mental wellness is fairing is not only important, it is vital. B - Belonging is something that all people (students and adults) crave. Our desire to belong never goes away. There is a reason Abraham Maslow included “belonging” in his hierarchy of needs. Let us remember that even the adults in our school communities are looking to belong to someone, something, and somewhere. C - Communication is the magic to healing. Conflict and misunderstandings typically stem from poor communication. During this unique time, it is important to break down definitions, create intentional time for people to share, and not assume that everybody understands everything that is being shared out. D - Dare to challenge preconceived notions. We all make preconceived notions about other people. Now is the time to challenge those preconceived notions, lean in, and learn more about one another. There is so much we can learn about and from one another. Now is the time to dig in, and challenge those preconceived notions. E - Encourage authenticity. The more we create environments where people can be their authentic selves, the better we all will be. We all are waiting for the moment where we can be seen, heard, and valued by being the most authentic version of ourselves.
We all make preconceived notions about other people. Now is the time to challenge those preconceived notions, lean in, and learn more about one another. There is so much we can learn about and from one another.
F - Follow-Up. When we engage with others, we need to follow up with others. Healing and understanding cannot be a “one and done” in terms of conversations. We need to follow up and check in and check up on each other. G - Gratitude. Gratitude is the Neosporin for our souls. Taking intentional time to practice gratitude not only fills others’ hearts and souls, but it can fill ours as well. H - Honor diversity. Diversity is about more than what we look like on the outside. Diversity of perspective. Diversity of thought. Diversity of experiences. Diversity is how we all continue to learn, and grow! Let us honor and celebrate the diversity of our school communities. I - Invest in the next generation. This generation of students is brilliant. They want to shine. They want to show up and show out. Now is our time as adults to invest in them. Our positionality as adults can create pathways for students to take the lead in changing the world. J - Join the conversations. Students want to share with you, as adults. Students want to know about you, and for you to know them! Moments, where students can share their experiences and perspectives with you, are transformational! K - Keep doing the great things you are already doing. There are so many amazing things that you are already doing to create an incredible school culture for your school community! Stop reading this right now, and take 10 seconds to applaud the brilliant things you are already doing! L - Let them share. When students share with you, let them. Students need time and opportunity to process their thoughts. The best thing that we as adults can do is to let them share! M - Make spaces and places for students to share. Saying, “You can talk to me if you need anything” may not be enough. We need to create intentional, and consistent spaces and places for students to share with you. Once those are developed, invite them, invite them again, and keep on inviting them! N - Names are important. Learning the names of our students and adults in our schools is so important, along with the correct pronunciation! It’s a small, yet important way to remind people that they are important. O - Own our blindspots. We all have more that we can learn. If, “The smartest person in the room is the room,” then, “The smartest person in the school is the school.” We all can augment our learning, and discover more about our school when we go treasure hunting in our school, with the intent of expanding our learning and understanding. P - Practice what you preach. People notice our actions and behaviors and if they are not in sync with what we preach, there is a disconnect. We need to practice what we preach in terms of cultivating a positive school culture and climate. Q - Quality relationships are built upon trust. People move at the speed of trust. Often disconnection happens when people do not trust the process or the people associated with what is happening. Trust takes time. Trust takes intentionality. Trust takes empathy. Trust takes open and authentic conversations. R - Rest is not something you earn, rest is something you need. We need to remember that none of us are machines. We all need to take care of ourselves. Rest is one of the ways we can do that. Everybody, students and adults are all maxed-out. We need to remember that rest is an important ingredient to establishing a positive school culture and climate. S - Students are the experts at being students. Yes, I said it. We have to remember that students, regardless of age, are the experts at being students in our current school system. We need to learn from them. We need to take time to explore THEIR needs, wishes, and hopes. They are the experts at being students right now. T - Trainings and professional learning opportunities with students and adults can be transformative. This allows opportunities for everybody to be on the same page and allows for healthy conversations to be had between students and adults in your school. Your students and adults can explore how these learning opportunities can support each and every student and adult. U - Understanding people’s perspectives, feelings, and experiences are important as we grow together. There is no one perspective that exists universally with your school community. Understanding that they are diverse and plentiful can help us understand the many contexts that exist within your school community. V - Value the “quiet” students and adults. Sometimes reaching out in intentional and purposeful ways can create opportunities for even the quietest to use their voice. So often we go to the “loudest” or most “veteran” voices in our school community. Now is the time to reach out to the voices, and perspectives that we do not hear from regularly. Being intentional about seeking the “unheard” voices and perspectives is vital to making choices that can support each and every student and adult. W - Who is not at the table? Who designed the table? Who do we need to reach out to within our school community? These are powerful questions that those in power positions must continue to ask if we want to change systems, and open doors of access and opportunity. X - The X-factor in your school community – in other words, your bus drivers, cafeteria staff, paraeducators, custodians, office staff, and coaches. Make sure they are included in opportunities to be change agents in your school culture work. Often they are the first impression students and families have of your school culture. Include them! Y - You do not have to do this work by yourself. I repeat you do not need to do this work yourself. School culture is a heavy lift due to the fact it is constantly evolving and changing. Find people who can support you in this work. Empower others to be your tag-team partner in this work. Z - Zero in on what you can control. Remember there is a lot outside of your sphere of control. Give yourself permission and grace to focus on areas you can make an impact.
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Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2021-22