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School Culture

The term school culture generally refers to the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions, but the term also encompasses more concrete issues such as the physical and emotional safety of students, the orderliness of classrooms and public spaces, or the degree to which a school embraces and celebrates racial, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural diversity.

Like the larger social culture, a school culture results from both conscious and unconscious perspectives, values, interactions, and practices, and it is heavily shaped by a school’s particular institutional history. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other staff members all contribute to their school’s culture, as do other influences such as the community in which the school is located, the policies that govern how it operates, or the principles upon which the school was founded.

Generally speaking, school cultures can be divided into two basic forms: positive cultures and negative cultures . Numerous researchers, educators, and writers have attempted to define the major features of positive and negative school cultures, and an abundance of studies, articles, and books are available on the topic. In addition, many educational organizations, such as the National School Climate Center , have produced detailed descriptions of positive school cultures and developed strategies for improving them (given the complexity of the topic, however, it is not possible to describe all the distinctions here).

Broadly defined, positive school cultures are conducive to professional satisfaction, morale, and effectiveness, as well as to student learning, fulfillment, and well-being. The following list is a representative selection of a few characteristics commonly associated with positive school cultures:

  • The individual successes of teachers and students are recognized and celebrated.
  • Relationships and interactions are characterized by openness, trust, respect, and appreciation.
  • Staff relationships are collegial, collaborative, and productive, and all staff members are held to high professional standards.
  • Students and staff members feel emotionally and physical safe, and the school’s policies and facilities promote student safety.
  • School leaders, teachers, and staff members model positive, healthy behaviors for students.
  • Mistakes not punished as failures, but they are seen as opportunities to learn and grow for both students and educators.
  • Students are consistently held to high academic expectations , and a majority of students meet or exceed those expectations.
  • Important leadership decisions are made collaboratively with input from staff members, students, and parents.
  • Criticism, when voiced, is constructive and well-intentioned, not antagonistic or self-serving.
  • Educational resources and learning opportunities are equitably distributed , and all students, including minorities and students with disabilities.
  • All students have access to the academic support and services they may need to succeed.

School culture has become a central concept in many efforts to change how schools operate and improve educational results. While a school culture is heavily influenced by its institutional history, culture also shapes social patterns, habits, and dynamics that influence future behaviors, which could become an obstacle to reform and improvement. For example, if a faculty culture is generally dysfunctional—i.e., if interpersonal tensions and distrust are common, problems are rarely addressed or resolved, or staff members tend to argue more than they collaborate or engage in productive professional discussions—it is likely that these cultural factors will significantly complicate or hinder any attempt to change how the school operates. This simple example illustrates why school culture has become the object of so many research studies and reform efforts—without a school culture that is conducive to improvement, reform becomes exponentially more difficult.

The following describe a few representative examples of common ways that schools may attempt to improve their culture:

  • Establishing  professional learning communities  that encourages teachers to communicate, share expertise, and work together more collegially and productively.
  • Providing presentations, seminars, and learning experiences designed to educate staff and students about bullying and reduce instances of bullying.
  • Creating events and educational experiences that honor and celebrate the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the student body, such as hosting cultural events and festivals, exhibiting culturally relevant materials throughout the school, inviting local cultural leaders to present to students, or making explicit connections between the diverse cultural backgrounds of students and what is being taught in history, social studies, and literature courses. For related discussions, see multicultural education  and voice .
  • Establishing an advisory program that pairs groups of students with adult advisor to strengthen adult-student relationships and ensure that students are well known and supported by at least one adult in the school.
  • Surveying students, parents, and teachers about their experiences in the school, and hosting community forums that invite participants to share their opinions about and recommendations for the school and its programs.
  • Creating a leadership team comprising a representative cross-section of school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members that oversees and leads a school-improvement initiative.

Since most members of a school community will benefit from a more positive culture, and cultural factors tend to contribute significantly to emotional states such as happiness and unhappiness or fulfillment and dissatisfaction, the concept of a more positive school culture is rarely, in itself, controversial. For this reason, debates tend to arise (if they arise at all) in response to specific reform proposals, rather than to the general goal of improving a school culture. Yet given that organizational dysfunction is, by nature, an entrenched pattern of often unconscious behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that tend to obstruct organizational change and improvement—and because human beings can become deeply attached to emotions and behaviors that may make them less happy, fulfilled, productive, or successful—attempts to reform school cultures may be more likely encounter resistance, criticism, or controversy in schools that are most in need of cultural reforms. In recent years, problems related to school culture are being cited as reasons for why schools should be closed or why a significant percentage of the teaching faculty should be fired. In these cases, “school culture” may become a flashpoint in larger debates about specific school-reform policies and strategies.

Because all school cultures are unique, it is important to investigate and develop an understanding of the underlying causes of any debates, including the preexisting cultural conditions that may be contributing to the debates. To adapt Tolstoy’s famous opening line in Anna Karenina : All positive school cultures share common features, but each negative school culture is negative in its own way.

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What Makes a Good School Culture?

  • Posted July 23, 2018
  • By Leah Shafer

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Most principals have an instinctive awareness that organizational culture is a key element of school success. They might say their school has a “good culture” when teachers are expressing a shared vision and students are succeeding — or that they need to “work on school culture” when several teachers resign or student discipline rates rise. 

But like many organizational leaders, principals may get stymied when they actually try to describe the elements that create a positive culture. It's tricky to define, and parsing its components can be challenging. Amid the push for tangible outcomes like higher test scores and graduation rates, it can be tempting to think that school culture is just too vague or “soft” to prioritize.

That would be a mistake, according to  Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell , an expert in education leadership and management. As she explains, researchers who have studied culture have tracked and demonstrated a strong and significant correlation between organizational culture and an organization’s performance. Once principals understand what constitutes culture — once they learn to see it not as a hazy mass of intangibles, but as something that can be pinpointed and designed — they can start to execute a cultural vision.

A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between people in the organization. In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions, so that knowledge about the organization’s distinctive character — and what it takes to thrive in it — is widely spread.

At a recent session of the  National Institute for Urban School Leaders  at the  Harvard Graduate School of Education , Bridwell-Mitchell took a deep dive into “culture,” describing the building blocks of an organization’s character and fundamentally how it feels to work there. 

Culture Is Connections

A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between the people in the organization, she said.  In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions among all members of the organization.   As a result, knowledge about the organization’s distinctive character — and what it takes to thrive in it — is widely spread and reinforced.  In a weak culture, sparse interactions make it difficult for people to learn the organization’s culture , so its character is barely noticeable and the commitment to it is scarce or sporadic.

  • Beliefs, values, and actions will spread the farthest and be tightly reinforced when everyone is communicating with everyone else. In a strong school culture, leaders communicate directly with teachers, administrators, counselors, and families, who also all communicate directly with each other.
  • A culture is weaker when communications are limited and there are fewer connections. For example, if certain teachers never hear directly from their principal, an administrator is continually excluded from communications, or any groups of staff members are operating in isolation from others, it will be difficult for messages about shared beliefs and commitments to spread. 

Culture Is Core Beliefs and Behaviors

Within that weak or strong structure, what exactly people believe and how they act depends on the messages — both direct and indirect — that the leaders and others in the organization send. A good culture arises from messages that promote traits like collaboration, honesty, and hard work.

Culture is shaped by five interwoven elements, each of which principals have the power to influence: 

  • Fundamental beliefs and assumptions , or the things that people at your school consider to be true. For example: “All students have the potential to succeed,” or “Teaching is a team sport.”
  • Shared values , or the judgments people at your school make about those belief and assumptions — whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. For example: “It’s wrong that some of our kindergarteners may not receive the same opportunity to graduate from a four-year college,” or “The right thing is for our teachers to be collaborating with colleagues every step of the way.” 
  • Norms , or how members believe they  should  act and behave, or what they think is expected of them. For example: “We should talk often and early to parents of young students about what it will take for their children to attend college.” “We all should be present and engaged at our weekly grade-level meetings.”
  • Patterns and behaviors , or the way people  actually  act and behave in your school. For example: There are regularly-scheduled parent engagement nights around college; there is active participation at weekly team curriculum meetings. (But in a weak culture, these patterns and behaviors can be different than the norms.)
  • Tangible evidence , or the physical, visual, auditory, or other sensory signs that demonstrate the behaviors of the people in your school. For example: Prominently displayed posters showcasing the district’s college enrollment, or a full parking lot an hour before school begins on the mornings when curriculum teams meet.

Each of these components influences and drives the others, forming a circle of reinforcing beliefs and actions, Bridwell-Mitchell says; strong connections among every member of the school community reinforce the circle at every point.

More on School Culture

  • See Part II of our story, which moves from "what makes school culture" to "how to build it."

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School Culture: Examples, Types, Definition

school culture examples types definition

School culture refers to the policies, interpersonal dynamics, attitudes, customs, and formal and informal rules of behavior within a school. School culture involves administrators, teachers, staff, and students. It has a tremendous impact on the functioning and effectiveness of the school. 

In many ways, the informal rules of behavior and the interpersonal dynamics of a school are more important than the official policies.

Moreover, a school’s culture is affected by a wide range of factors such as the school’s history, the community it serves, education stakeholders , and the dynamic between staff.

Nevertheless, school leadership is often tasked with influencing, changing, and directing the school’s culture – and leadership can, indeed, affect the culture of the school.

Types of School Culture

According to Hargreaves (1995) there are several types of school culture, listed below.

1. Collaborative Culture

Teachers work together, share the same educational values, and are committed to improving their teaching and the school as a whole.

2. Comfortable-Collaborative Culture

The school atmosphere is professional and although teachers are aware of the efforts of their colleagues, there is not a great deal of professional reflection.

3. Contrived-Collegial

The tone of the school is determined by leadership, which supports teachers’ growth but on a superficial level which often undermines motivation.

4. Balkanized

The atmosphere is dominated by cliques of teachers that compete for resources and control. An “us versus them” attitude can develop between the teachers and administration.

5. Fragmented

Teachers all function independently and there is very little collaborative effort to improve the school. Meetings are uninspired and lack involvement of the staff.

How to set a Positive School Culture

1. nurture high expectations.

School leadership sets the tone of high expectations . Instilling a drive and motivation for teachers to excel in the classroom involves creating a supportive environment.

This can be accomplished by highlighting best practices. Showing the entire teaching staff examples of outstanding instructional approaches can help motivate others on the team.

Holding award ceremonies and honoring teachers that are exceptionally dedicated to the profession not only shows respect for teachers as a group, but also helps the rewarded teachers feel appreciated.

This creates an atmosphere in the school that values the efforts of its teachers and recognizes their dedication.

2. Create Cohesion 

Creating an environment where everyone feels respected and valued helps people feel part of the team.

This is accomplished by accepting and tolerating differences of opinion, differences in cultural backgrounds, and differences in pedagogical approaches.

Performance evaluations are handled in a positive manner and leadership focuses on identifying best practices rather than trying to find fault.

See More: Cohesion Examples

3. Maintain the Physical Environment

All people respond to the esthetics of their surroundings. Working in a visually pleasing environment puts teachers and students in a positive mood, which then effects nearly every aspect of the school day.

The exterior and interior environments should be clean and display a cheerful color scheme. Natural light and bright interiors foster positive attitudes.

Equipment that is broken should be repaired quickly and thoroughly.

4. Decentralized Decision-Making

Leadership should recognize the value of listening to experienced professionals. Great ideas can come from anyone.

Allowing teachers to have a say in decisions that impact their efforts will foster a sense of being listened to and respected.

This can be accomplished by forming committees that are tasked with making important decisions and implementing key action plans.

Those decisions should not be rejected by the administration to make it clear that teachers have a role in school operations.

See Also: Examples of Decision-Making

5. Participate in Fun Activities 

Teachers can feel a lot of pressure from parents, administrators, and society. Participating in school activities that are fun can help release a lot of tension and stress.

When colleagues engage in activities that are enjoyable, it helps build positive emotional bonds. This will make it easier for people to accept differences and foster greater collaboration in the future.

Students get to see their teachers from a different perspective, which will diminish negativity that has developed between both parties.

6. Let Students Know They Are Valued 

Establishing a caring environment creates a sense of security in students that are at a fundamental level, just developing human beings. Youth and the teenage years can be full of personal doubt and struggles.

Letting students realize that the school genuinely cares about their growth is essential to creating a positive school culture. This can be accomplished through instructional approaches that are student-centered , interesting and practical.

Teachers should use a positive and respectful tone of voice when interacting with students and avoid punitive tactics to maintain discipline.

7. Professional Development

Providing teachers with the resources they need to excel is essential to creating a positive school culture.

There is nothing more frustrating for teachers than leadership having high expectations, but always saying no when teachers request specific training.

Knowledge is continuously evolving in every subject domain and technological applications to instruction emerge every year.

However, if teachers are not given time and the financial resources necessary to update their knowledge and skills, the entire school suffers, especially the students.

Examples of a Positive School Culture

  • Teacher agency: At the beginning of each academic year, teachers get to choose which committees they want to work on.  
  • Teacher control over personal budget: Every teacher is allocated a portion of an “equipment and resources” budget which they can spend as they see fit.
  • Open discussion: Staff meetings are characterized by a lot of free-flowing discussion among the teachers and administrators.  
  • Responsiveness: The maintenance department is quick to handle repairs of damaged equipment or classroom furniture.
  • Student and parent participation: Students and parents get to offer suggestions regarding the lunch menu and are regularly asked their opinions about food quality and quantity.  
  • Relationship-building events: At least once a term, the school holds an outdoor barbecue on a weekend that involves a lot of fun activities and games.  
  • Teacher buy-in for professional development: Every teacher gets to design their own professional development plan at the beginning of each academic year.  
  • Teacher participation in strategic planning: Administrators and teachers devise a set of school-wide educational objectives and a detailed action plan to accomplish those goals.  
  • Teacher participation in events: Once a year, the school holds a talent show for administrators and parents to display their hidden talent.  
  • Teachers provide free and open feedback to leadership: At the end of each academic year, teachers respond to a job satisfaction survey that also includes a section for suggestions on how to improve the school.

Creating a positive school culture can produce numerous benefits for teachers, students, and administrators. Teachers approach their duties with greater enthusiasm and tend to have more positive interactions with their students and colleagues.

Administrators and teachers should work collaboratively towards a set of shared educational goals. Instead of feeling like competitors on opposing teams, they should see themselves as one team working towards one goal.

When students feel secure and cared for, it affects their behavior and academic performance. They form more positive emotional bonds with each other and their teachers, which reduces stress and interpersonal conflicts.

Giving teachers authority to make decisions regarding the school’s operation, nurturing PD, and highlighting best practices lets teachers know they are respected, trusted, and valued.

Establishing events and activities that have the sole purpose of being fun helps alleviate stress and interpersonal hostilities that may build up over time. In addition, creating a physical environment that is pleasing to the eye and includes lots of natural sunlight lifts everyone’s mood.  

Deal, T. E. & Peterson, K. D. (2009). Shaping school cultures: Pitfalls, paradoxes, and promises. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Eaker, R., DuFour, R, Dufour, R (2002) Getting Started: Reculturing schools to Become Professional Learning Communities, Solution Tree, Bloomington (e-book).

Fullan, M., (2007) The new meaning of educational change. Routledge, New York.

Hargreaves, D. (1995). School culture, school effectiveness and school improvement, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 6 (1), 23–46

Schein, E.H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p. 6

Stoll, L. (1998). School culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin, 9 .


Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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School Culture: A key aspect of positive and successful schools

This week we have two Guest Bloggers. I’m excited to introduce you to Kent D. Peterson who is Emeritus Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. And Scott K. Guzman-Peterson a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in the Glendale Unified School District,  Glendale, California.  Kent and Scott are a father and son writing duo who have been discussing positive and negative school leadership, social justice in schools, ways to shape school culture, and other educational topics for many years.  This is their first piece together.

what is school culture essay


What is Culture?

School culture is the underlying set of norms and values, history and stories, symbols and logos, rituals and traditions that make up the foundation of a school’s social and emotional ethos.

While “climate” represents the tone of a school, culture consists of a deeper and broader set of elements that shape everything that goes on within a school, shaping how people think, feel, and act. School leaders—administrators and teachers alike—need to understand what culture is and how to shape it through words, actions, policies, and daily practices.  

School culture is one of the key elements of creating positive, successful schools. Without a culture that supports learning for all, positive relationships, meaningful values, as well as norms for improvement, achievement, and colleagueship, schools are likely to be less productive or create potentially toxic environments. Positive features of school climate need to be fostered, maintained, and fine-tuned over time. 

School cultures vary across districts, regions, countries, but most often comprise a few foundational elements, as detailed below.

Norms are the collective expectations for behavior.  What is the expected attire for staff and administrators? What types and frequency of discussions are occurring and where? What professional development is encouraged and engaged informally? Who talks in staff meetings?  What are considered “good” teaching practices? 

Norms should be presented early in the school year and collectively shaped by colleagues and school staff to foster buy-in. Just as teachers allow students to share their ideas when creating classroom expectations, norms, and goals to foster a familial and accepting learning environment, so too can leaders provide spaces for staff contributions. Such practice ensures that everyone’s voices are heard and demonstrates that the classroom and school is a safe learning space where ideas and opinions are valued.

Examples of norms include: “All staff will be respectful of other’s ideas and inputs,” or “Our focus efforts are solution-oriented, applicable and relevant to our school’s mission,” or “We will adhere and respect everyone’s time by starting and ending meetings on time.” 

Values are based on what is important, valued and held dear.  Which is valued more, learning or socio-emotional development? Are art and music meaningful aspects of the school? Is equity a central value of the school? Does the school’s mission strongly prioritize social justice? Are extended learning opportunities prioritized for a whole child approach?

Values contribute to creating a well-rounded school culture and are gathered from multiple cultural backgrounds, socio-emotional needs, and academic goals. When staff share their values with each other in a safe, accepting environment, such as community circles and team building exercises, they can be adapted to the context of a school’s culture. This holds a lasting impact on staff morale and the overall school culture.

Beliefs are collective, school-wide understandings about people, processes, and purposes.  Do staff believe that some “types” of students are more likely to succeed than others? Is teacher learning considered to be an individual or a group process? Are there varying beliefs among departments or learning groups? How do staffs’ beliefs impact the school’s culture?

There are many schools where not all teachers and staff believe that every student can learn, grow, and succeed academically. It is necessary to incorporate staff beliefs into team building activities and share real-world student academic and teacher successes to create an optimistic school culture where staff see examples of their beliefs in policies and practices.

Histories and Stories

The history of a school and its stories are key features of school culture. In particular, stories communicate core values, reinforce the core mission, and build a sense of commitment.  How did the school form and what key events shaped the culture of the school? What stories are told in the staff room, on social media, and in the hallways?  Stories influence how one thinks and feels about a school. It is important to have a deep understanding of a school’s history, as lack of knowledge can affect student’s buy-in of the school culture and mission.

For example, when a school is well-established, sharing the school’s history, alumni stories, and accomplishments with incoming students can increase staff and student’s excitement about joining the school community.

Symbols are found in every school, providing a visual representation of core values and ideas.  What is your school’s name and what does it represent? Is there a school logo or mascot that reinforces key values and expectations? What has the school done to beautify the campus? Are there murals and/or student work posted? Is student work regularly changed and added to?

Weak symbols may contribute to low student buy-in during school gatherings, assemblies, and extracurricular activities, as well as affecting overall school culture. Schools without an established mascot, school colors, or historical representative symbols result in a lack of a collective school identity and impacts student motivation, teacher morale and sense of community.  

Rituals, Traditions, Ceremonies, and Celebrations

Strong school cultures include engaging in a wide variety of rituals, traditions, ceremonies, and celebrations. Rituals include the regular morning greeting from the principal. Traditions are regular activities that communicate meaning and purpose, molding and cementing relationships and commitment to the school and its mission. Ceremonies are a more complex set of rituals, symbols, traditions, and stories that are held at key times during the school year. These may include graduation ceremonies, school opening ceremonies, or spring solstice ceremonies. Celebrations, both large and small, recognize the accomplishments of staff, students, community, and stakeholders. For example, when new students and staff join the school community, creating a welcome video for them can show them care and appreciation. A best practice is to prepare a fresh, creative video each year for new staff and students.

The Importance of Reading, Assessing, and Shaping the Culture

As school culture develops over time as people work together, share successes and challenges, and establish professional relationships, it is important to  read —understand the current and historical culture,  assess —identify the positive elements of the culture, and actively work to reinforce,  shape, or reshape  the culture. 

School principals, heads, as well as teacher leaders are central to maintaining and shaping the culture. Leaders should regularly take time to reflect on the current culture; identify aspects of the culture to change or reinforce; and make plans to shape or reshape their culture through their words, actions, policies, and daily practices. 

One way to do so is by using Google forms to conduct easy, quick, data-driven check-ins with staff and students regarding what is and is not working, as well as areas with room for growth.

The best leaders choose words carefully to highlight important aspects of the culture and energize school staff and students. Such leaders know which communication method (face-to-face; videos; social media; hand-written notes) is best for their messages. 

Leaders should find and implement small actions that resonate with staff.  Do staff enjoy Post-It Note encouragement after an observation? Do staff appreciate inspiring stories of success and growth with students in a weekly school staff newsletter?  Find ways to incorporate words of affirmation and empathy each week as an avenue to promote culture. 

When leaders show they care and appreciate staff, it can make a difference in motivating them to put in extra effort to produce amazing results. While teachers might not have had the initial drive to implement their ideas, they are often more determined after hearing encouragement. They are also less apt to feel burned out if leaders show empathy by taking time to perform quick personal or mental health check-ins. 

Every action a school leader takes can affect the school culture, from decisions made to planning and communicating values, to choices for professional development. Reactions, body language and overall demeanor play a part in how one is perceived, listened to, and respected as a leader. Understanding how each staff member responds to feedback is essential for helping the collective school group come together to work as a whole.

Policies may seem like managerial structures, but they also signal what norms or values are central to the school. At the same time, involving staff in deciding which policies need to be adjusted or changed helps reinforce a collegial culture. Incorporating team department planning and time to share about different team and individual needs allows for staff to feel heard and appreciated.

Finally, daily practices, how leaders spend their time, which classrooms they visit, how they use social media, and what questions they ask teachers are all cultural messages that form or reform the culture. Leaders should use daily practices as a way to shape the culture. Be reflective and attentive to what those practices communicate. 

In Conclusion

Organizational culture is a crucial part of any school. Success or failure can often be attributed to the nature of a school’s culture.  Formal and informal leaders are key to knowing, maintaining, and shaping that culture. 

To learn more about Kent D. Peterson and Scott K. Guzman-Peterson and their respective work, please Google Kent D. Peterson for further information on his writing and books.

what is school culture essay

References and Suggested Resources

  • Peterson, Kent and Deal, Terrence. 2 nd  Edition (2009).  The Shaping School Culture Fieldbook.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Peterson, Kent. Is Your School’s Culture Positive or Negative?

  • Peterson, Kent.  Positive or Negative. Journal of Staff Development (2002).
  • Deal, Terrence and Peterson, Kent. 3rd Edition (2016).  Shaping School Culture.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Muhammad, Anthony. (2009).  Transforming School Culture.  Solution Tree.
  • Kruse, Sharon and Louis, Karen. (2008).   Building Strong School Cultures.  Corwin Press.

Kent D. Peterson Bio 

Dr. Peterson is an Emeritus professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and founder of the Vanderbilt Principals Institute. 

His research and writing have focused on the realities of principals’ work, school improvement, effective leadership, and school culture building.

In addition to numerous articles, he has co-authored several books with Terrence Deal that examine leadership and school culture.  These include: The Leadership Paradox, Shaping School Culture, and the Shaping School Culture Fieldbook from Jossey Bass Publishers.

In addition to his teaching and research he has consulted with states, districts, and foundations on effective leadership development designs and practices to help leaders better serve all their students, staff, and communities.

Scott Guzman-Peterson Bio 

Scott Guzman-Peterson is a veteran teacher of 13 years in some of the largest public-school systems in the United States. He has taught students the wonders of math and science ranging from kindergarten through high school within in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools as well as the Los Angeles Unified School District. Most recently he has taught middle school science in the Glendale Unified School District, Glendale, California. 

Mr. Guzman-Peterson focuses his teaching on a whole-child approach with emphasis on creating a welcoming, inclusive, and transformative classroom environment for all students. Teaching in urban communities, making meaningful connections with all stakeholders, and shaping school culture, drive Mr. Guzman-Peterson to continue learning, teaching, and leading in public education.

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5 thoughts on “school culture: a key aspect of positive and successful schools”.

A brilliant piece of work. I have adapted these strategic headings for mt professional development workshops and reading tjis makes me content because its in sync with your message 100%

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So good to see you writing with your son, Kent. Wishing you good times in retirement. Bruce Barnett

Thanks for sharing. I read many of your blog posts, cool, your blog is very good.

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  • TI-AIE: Authentic writing
  • TI-AIE: Using local resources
  • Language, literacy and citizenship
  • TI-AIE: Language, literacy and citizenship
  • Multilingualism in the classroom
  • TI-AIE: Multilingualism in the classroom
  • Pair work for language and literacy
  • TI-AIE: Pair work for language and literacy
  • Integrating language, literacy and subject learning
  • TI-AIE: Integrating language, literacy and subject learning
  • Monitoring, assessment and feedback
  • TI-AIE: Monitoring, assessment and feedback
  • Acknowledgements
  • Elementary Language and Literacy acknowledgements
  • Classroom routines
  • TI-AIE: Classroom routines
  • Songs, rhymes and word play
  • TI-AIE: Songs, rhymes and word play
  • Letters and sounds of English
  • TI-AIE: Letters and sounds of English
  • Mark-making and early writing
  • TI-AIE: Mark-making and early writing
  • Shared reading
  • TI-AIE: Shared reading
  • Planning around a text
  • TI-AIE: Planning around a text
  • Promoting the reading environment
  • TI-AIE: Promoting the reading environment
  • English and subject content integration
  • TI-AIE: English and subject content integration
  • Using the textbook creatively
  • TI-AIE: Using the textbook creatively
  • Learning English in the creative arts
  • TI-AIE: Learning English in the creative arts
  • The learning environment
  • TI-AIE: The learning environment
  • Developing and monitoring reading
  • TI-AIE: Developing and monitoring reading
  • Developing and monitoring writing
  • TI-AIE: Developing and monitoring writing
  • Community resources for English
  • TI-AIE: Community resources for English
  • Elementary English acknowledgements
  • Local resources for teaching English
  • TI-AIE: Local resources for teaching English
  • Using more English in your classroom
  • TI-AIE: Using more English in your classroom
  • Building your students' confidence to speak English
  • TI-AIE: Building your students' confidence to speak English
  • Supporting reading for understanding
  • TI-AIE: Supporting reading for understanding
  • Whole-class reading routines
  • TI-AIE: Whole-class reading routines
  • Supporting independent writing in English
  • TI-AIE: Supporting independent writing in English
  • Whole-class writing routines
  • TI-AIE: Whole-class writing routines
  • Strategies for teaching listening
  • TI-AIE: Strategies for teaching listening
  • Supporting speaking in English: pair and groupwork
  • TI-AIE: Supporting speaking in English: pair and groupwork
  • English grammar in action
  • TI-AIE: English grammar in action
  • Strategies for teaching vocabulary
  • TI-AIE: Strategies for teaching vocabulary
  • Promoting reading for pleasure
  • TI-AIE: Promoting reading for pleasure
  • Supporting language learning through formative assessment
  • TI-AIE: Supporting language learning through formative assessment
  • Developing your English
  • TI-AIE: Developing your English
  • Using resources beyond the textbook
  • TI-AIE: Using resources beyond the textbook
  • Secondary English acknowledgements
  • Using number games: developing number sense
  • TI-AIE: Using number games: developing number sense
  • Using structured resources to develop understanding: place value
  • TI-AIE: Using structured resources to develop understanding: place value
  • Using a number line and the expression 'Imagine if ...': positive and negative numbers
  • TI-AIE: Using a number line and the expression ‘Imagine if …’: positive and negative numbers
  • Mathematical stories: word problems
  • TI-AIE: Mathematical stories: word problems
  • Asking questions that challenge thinking: fractions
  • TI-AIE: Asking questions that challenge thinking: fractions
  • Making students believe they CAN do mathematics: operations on fractions
  • TI-AIE: Making students believe they CAN do mathematics: operations on fractions
  • Using manipulatives: decomposition and regrouping
  • TI-AIE: Using manipulatives: decomposition and regrouping
  • Using real-life contexts: the formal division algorithm
  • TI-AIE: Using real-life contexts: the formal division algorithm
  • Comparing and contrasting tasks: volume and capacity
  • TI-AIE: Comparing and contrasting tasks: volume and capacity
  • Using rich tasks: area and perimeter
  • TI-AIE: Using rich tasks: area and perimeter
  • Physical representation in mathematics: handling data
  • TI-AIE: Physical representation in mathematics: handling data
  • Learning through talking: variables and constants
  • TI-AIE: Learning through talking: variables and constants
  • Conjecturing and generalising in mathematics: introducing algebra
  • TI-AIE: Conjecturing and generalising in mathematics: introducing algebra
  • Using embodiment, manipulative and real-life examples: teaching about angles
  • TI-AIE: Using embodiment, manipulatives and real-life examples: teaching about angles
  • Creative thinking in mathematics: proportional reasoning
  • TI-AIE: Creative thinking in mathematics: proportional reasoning
  • Elementary Maths acknowledgements
  • Using visualisation: algebraic identities
  • TI-AIE: Using visualisation: algebraic identities
  • Developing mathematical reasoning: mathematical proof
  • TI-AIE: Developing mathematical reasoning: mathematical proof
  • Visualising, comparing and contrasting: number systems
  • TI-AIE: Visualising, comparing and contrasting: number systems
  • Connecting mathematics: finding factors and multiples
  • TI-AIE: Connecting mathematics: finding factors and multiples
  • Building mathematical resilience: similarity and congruency in triangles
  • TI-AIE: Building mathematical resilience: similarity and congruency in triangles
  • Cooperative learning and mathematical talk: triangles
  • TI-AIE: Cooperative learning and mathematical talk: triangles
  • Creating contexts for abstract mathematics: equations
  • TI-AIE: Creating contexts for abstract mathematics: equations
  • Enacting vocabulary and asking questions: exploring the circle
  • TI-AIE: Enacting vocabulary and asking questions: exploring the circle
  • Hands-on learning and embodiment: constructions in geometry
  • TI-AIE: Hands-on learning and embodiment: constructions in geometry
  • Tackling mathematical anxiety: combination shapes and solids
  • TI-AIE: Tackling mathematical anxiety: combination shapes and solids
  • Learning from misconceptions: algebraic expressions
  • TI-AIE: Learning from misconceptions: algebraic expressions
  • Developing creative thinking in mathematics: trigonometry
  • TI-AIE: Developing creative thinking in mathematics: trigonometry
  • Reading, writing and modelling mathematics: word problems
  • TI-AIE: Reading, writing and modelling mathematics: word problems
  • Thinking mathematically: estimation
  • TI-AIE: Thinking mathematically: estimation
  • Developing stories: understanding graphs
  • TI-AIE: Developing stories: understanding graphs
  • Secondary Maths acknowledgements
  • Brainstorming: sound
  • TI-AIE: Brainstorming: sound
  • Pair work: life processes
  • TI-AIE: Pair work: life processes
  • Using groupwork: floating and sinking
  • TI-AIE: Using groupwork: floating and sinking
  • Using demonstration: food
  • TI-AIE: Using demonstration: food
  • Concept mapping: water
  • TI-AIE: Concept mapping: water
  • Teacher’s questioning: forces
  • TI-AIE: Teacher’s questioning: forces
  • Pupils’ questioning: sorting and classifying things
  • TI-AIE: Pupils’ questioning: sorting and classifying things
  • Observing patterns: shadows and night & day
  • TI-AIE: Observing patterns: shadows and night & day
  • Practical investigation: change
  • TI-AIE: Practical investigation: change
  • Using stories: environment
  • TI-AIE: Using stories: environment
  • Using games: electricity
  • TI-AIE: Using games: electricity
  • Alternative conceptions: heat and temperature
  • TI-AIE: Alternative conceptions: heat and temperature
  • Developing the learning environment
  • TI-AIE: Developing the learning environment
  • Discussion in science: malnutrition
  • TI-AIE: Discussion in science: malnutrition
  • Using the community: environmental issues
  • TI-AIE: Using the community: environmental issues
  • Elementary Science acknowledgements
  • Pair work: atoms and molecules, and chemical reactions
  • TI-AIE: Pair work: atoms and molecules, and chemical reactions
  • Reading in the science classroom : heredity and evolution
  • TI-AIE: Reading in the science classroom: heredity and evolution
  • Reading in the science classroom: heredity and evolution
  • Mind mapping and concept mapping: acids, bases and salts
  • TI-AIE: Mind mapping and concept mapping: acids, bases and salts
  • Using local resources: life processes
  • TI-AIE: Using local resources: life processes
  • Community approaches: science education and environmental issues
  • TI-AIE: Community approaches: science education and environmental issues
  • Using games: the Periodic Table
  • TI-AIE: Using games: the Periodic Table
  • Questioning: why do we fall ill?
  • TI-AIE: Questioning: why do we fall ill?
  • Language in the science classroom: cells
  • TI-AIE: Language in the science classroom: cells
  • Probing understanding: work and energy
  • TI-AIE: Probing understanding: work and energy
  • Using physical models: teaching electricity to Class X
  • TI-AIE: Using physical models: teaching electricity to Class X
  • Brainstorming: forces and laws of motion
  • TI-AIE: Brainstorming: forces and laws of motion
  • Building mental models: teaching carbon and its compounds to Class X
  • TI-AIE: Building mental models: teaching carbon and its compounds to Class X
  • Practical work and investigations: teaching gravitation to Class IX
  • TI-AIE: Practical work and investigations: teaching gravitation to Class IX
  • Effective demonstrations: teaching light and vision to Class X
  • TI-AIE: Effective demonstrations: teaching light and vision to Class X
  • Effective project work: sources of energy
  • TI-AIE: Effective project work: sources of energy
  • Secondary Science acknowledgements
  • Orientation
  • TI-AIE: Orientation: the elementary school leader as enabler
  • Orientation: the elementary school leader as enabler
  • TI-AIE: Orientation: the secondary school leader as enabler
  • Orientation: the secondary school leader as enabler
  • Perspective on leadership
  • TI-AIE: Perspective on leadership: leading the school’s self-review
  • Perspective on leadership: leading the school’s self-review
  • TI-AIE: Perspective on leadership: leading the school development plan
  • Perspective on leadership: leading the school development plan
  • TI-AIE: Perspective on leadership: using data on diversity to improve your school
  • Perspective on leadership: using data on diversity to improve your school
  • TI-AIE: Perspective on leadership: planning and leading change in your school
  • Perspective on leadership: planning and leading change in your school
  • TI-AIE: Perspective on leadership: implementing change in your school
  • Perspective on leadership: implementing change in your school
  • TI-AIE: Perspective on leadership: building a shared vision for your school
  • Perspective on leadership: building a shared vision for your school
  • Managing and developing self
  • TI-AIE: Managing and developing self: managing and developing yourself
  • Managing and developing self: managing and developing yourself
  • Transforming teaching-learning process
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: leading improvements in teaching and learning in the elementary school
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: leading improvements in teaching and learning in the elementary school
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: leading improvements in teaching and learning in the secondary school
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: leading improvements in teaching and learning in the secondary school
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: leading assessment in your school
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: leading assessment in your school
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: leading teachers’ professional development
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: leading teachers’ professional development
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: supporting teachers to raise performance
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: supporting teachers to raise performance
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: mentoring and coaching
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: mentoring and coaching
  • What this unit is about

What school leaders can learn in this unit

1 What is school culture and how does it impact on learning?

2 Styles of school leadership

  • 3 Identifying and analysing the culture in your school
  • 4 Developing a positive shared culture
  • Resource 1: Plan of action
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: developing an effective learning culture in your school
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: promoting inclusion in your school
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: promoting inclusion in your school
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: managing resources for effective student learning
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: managing resources for effective student learning
  • TI-AIE: Transforming teaching-learning process: leading the use of technology in your school
  • Transforming teaching-learning process: leading the use of technology in your school
  • Leading partnerships
  • TI-AIE: Leading partnerships: engaging with parents and the wider school community
  • Leading partnerships: engaging with parents and the wider school community
  • School Leadership acknowledgements
  • TI-AIE: TESS-India Video Resources
  • TI-AIE: TESS-India School Leadership Video Resources
  • TESS-India OER title list
  • TESS-India Subject Frameworks
  • TESS-India Key Resources and Video Resources mapping matrix
  • TESS-India Video Script titles
  • TESS-India Localisation Handbook
  • TESS-India MOOC Facilitation Guide
  • TESS-India Consultant Orientation Handbook (Draft)
  • Academic mentoring
  • Action research
  • Facilitating teachers' meetings
  • Networks: effective professional development for educational change
  • Reflection in education
  • Running an effective participatory interactive workshop
  • Engaging students
  • Focusing on examination results
  • Improving attendance
  • Dealing with large multi-grade classes
  • Motivating teachers
  • Speaking English with confidence
  • Supporting school leaders in motivating teacher change in their schools
  • Teacher development meetings
  • Teaching student teachers
  • Teaching multilingual classes
  • Using English in everyday life
  • Working with elementary Maths teachers

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  • 10 hours study
  • 1 Level 1: Introductory
  • Description

TESS-India: All India Resources (in English)

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A school that is able to develop and maintain a positive shared culture knows what aspects of the culture are important in developing an effective learning environment; it consciously transmits these values to its students. Through collective awareness and action, culture can be used positively in order to enhance student learning and achievement, whether through small actions such as celebrating achievements in public events, or to more large-scale projects such as developing democratic processes for teachers, students and other stakeholders to contribute to curriculum reform.

While it appears to be constant , culture is a dynamic space that is influenced by laws, policies and changes of leadership. It therefore requires school leaders to be aware of what influences or changes aspects of the school culture, whether deliberately or not, and ensuring that the culture for learning and achievement are never put at risk. Research demonstrates that school leaders have a critical role in ensuring that the culture supports student achievement (MacNeil et al., 2009). But – as identified by Bulach (2001) – a leader must identify a school’s existing culture before attempting to change it.

A positive school culture can be defined broadly to include (Character Education Partnership, 2010):

  • social climate , including a safe and caring environment in which all students feel welcomed and valued, and have a sense of ownership of their school; this helps students in their moral development
  • intellectual climate , in which all students in every classroom are supported and challenged to do their very best and achieve work of quality; this includes a rich, rigorous and engaging curriculum, and a powerful pedagogy for teaching it
  • rules and policies that hold all school members accountable to high standards of learning and behaviour
  • traditions and routines built from shared values that honour and reinforce the school’s academic and social standards
  • structures for giving staff and students a voice in, and shared responsibility for, solving problems and making decisions that affect the school environment and their common life
  • ways of effectively working with parents to support students’ learning and character growth
  • norms for relationships and behaviours that create a professional culture of excellence and ethical practice.
Figure 2 Does your school have a positive school culture?

This definition covers the breadth of school life, both academic and social. However, every bullet point can be seen to have a direct impact on student learning, whether it is through developing a culture of excellence, or ensuring that students feel safe and listened to. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) recognises this by stating that ‘schools have a major role to play in ensuring that children are socialised into a culture of self-reliance, resourcefulness, peace-oriented values and health’ (2005, p. 35).

The NCF mentions the conscious creation of a culture that has a long-term, developmental impact, stating that ‘children cannot wake up one morning and know how to participate in, preserve and enhance a democracy, especially if they have had no prior personal or even second-hand experience of it, nor any role models to learn from’. It specifically mentions the importance of:

  • a culture of reading
  • a culture of innovation, curiosity and practical experience
  • highlighting students’ identities as ‘learners’ and creating an environment that enhances the potential and interests of each student
  • messages that convey interpersonal relations, teacher attitudes, and norms and values that are part of the culture of the school.

More recently, Section 17 of the Right to Education Act 2009 (RtE) is of particular significance in the context of developing a positive school culture, because it states that ‘no child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment’. This calls for the school leader to focus on making the school an enabling and facilitative place for all school children, thereby providing a stress-free, child-friendly, learner-centred classroom environment, which requires redefining notions of discipline, punishment and student–teacher relationships. Further, the National Programme Design and Curriculum Framework (2014) highlights the need to empower and develop the capabilities of the school leader so that the transformed school proactively nurtures children and facilitates their all-round development.

Before understanding the role of school leaders in establishing, modelling and sharing their vision of a positive school culture, it is necessary to consider how different aspects of the culture are enacted in schools. Activity 1 will help you to consider your own understanding of school culture in relation to the Character Education Partnership (CEP) definition above.

Activity 1: Identifying examples of positive school culture

Look again at the seven bullet points listed above in the CEP definition of school culture. For each bullet point, write down in your Learning Diary two examples of how this might be reflected to your school.

For each example you have listed, justify how it would have a positive impact on student learning.

You will have naturally drawn on examples from your own experience, and will maybe have thought of examples of practice that you feel your school should aim to implement. You may notice that the examples you have thought of range from something as small as all teachers saying good morning to students as they enter classrooms, to something more substantial such as changing the classroom pedagogy .

The examples you thought of for Activity 1 are likely to be context-specific. Table 1 lists some generic ideas to help you think through the broad range of practical elements that might contribute to a school culture.

Having considered the multi-faceted nature of what is meant by a school’s culture, it should be clear that there is very little that does not have an impact on how staff and students experience the school and affect the learning that takes place. As a school leader, this includes the way you lead and manage the staff, how you communicate your vision of the school’s development, and the relationships and interactions you have with staff, students and stakeholders.

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Why School Culture Matters and Strategies to Improve It

  • School Administration
  • An Introduction to Teaching
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Policies & Discipline
  • Community Involvement
  • Technology in the Classroom
  • Teaching Adult Learners
  • Issues In Education
  • Teaching Resources
  • Becoming A Teacher
  • Assessments & Tests
  • Elementary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Special Education
  • Homeschooling
  • M.Ed., Educational Administration, Northeastern State University
  • B.Ed., Elementary Education, Oklahoma State University

Why School Culture Matters

I recently read a quote by Dr. Joseph Murphy, Associate Dean at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education, which really spoke to me. He said, “Seeds of change will never grow in toxic soil. School culture matters.” This message has stuck with me for the past several weeks as I have reflected on the past school year and look to move forward towards the next. 

As I examined the issue of school culture, I wondered how one would define it. Over the past few weeks, I have formulated my own definition. School culture includes an atmosphere of mutual respect amongst all stakeholders where teaching and learning are valued; achievements and successes are celebrated, and where ongoing collaboration is the norm.   

Dr. Murphy is 100% correct in both of his assertions. First, school culture does matter.  When all stakeholders have the same goals and are on the same page, a school will flourish.  Unfortunately, toxic soil can keep those seeds from growing and in some cases create virtually irreparable damage.  Because of this school leaders must ensure that creating a healthy school culture is a priority.  Building a positive school culture starts with leadership. Leaders must be hands-on, willing to make personal sacrifices, and should work with people rather than working against them if they want to improve school culture. 

School culture is a mindset that can either be positive or negative. No one flourishes in constant negativity.  When negativity persists in a school culture, no one wants to come to school. This includes the administrators, teachers, and students. This type of environment is set up to fail. Individuals are just going through the motions trying to get through another week and eventually another year. No one prospers in this type of environment. It is not healthy, and educators should do everything they can to ensure that they never allow this mindset to creep in.

When positivity persists in a school culture, everyone thrives. Administrators, teachers, and students are generally happy to be there. Amazing things happen in a positive environment.  Student learning is enhanced. Teachers grow and improve . Administrators are more relaxed.  Everyone benefits from this type of environment.

School culture does matter. It should not be discounted. Over the past few weeks as I have reflected on this, I have come to believe that it may be the single most important factor for school success. If no one wants to be there, then ultimately a school will not be successful. However, if a positive, supporting school culture exists then the sky is the limit for how successful a school can be.

Now that we understand the importance of school culture, we must ask how to improve it. Fostering a positive school culture takes a lot of time and hard work.  It will not happen overnight. It is a difficult process that will likely come with immense growing pains.  Tough decisions will have to be made. This includes personnel decisions with those unwilling to buy into a change in school culture. Those who resist these changes are the “toxic soil” and until they are gone, the “seeds of change” will never firmly take hold.

Strategies to Improve School Culture

The following seven broad strategies can help guide the process of improving school culture. These strategies are written under the assumption that a leader is in place which seeks to change the culture of a school and is willing to work hard. It is important to note that many of these strategies will require modifications along the way. Every school has its own unique challenges and as such there is no perfect blueprint for refining school culture.  These general strategies are not the end all be all solution, but they can aid in the development of a positive school culture.

  • Create a team consisting of administrators, teachers, parents, and students to help shape changes to school culture. This team should develop a prioritized list of issues they believe harm to the overall school culture. In addition, they should brainstorm possible solutions for fixing those issues. Eventually, they should create a plan as well as a timeline for implementing the plan for turning around the school culture.
  • Administrators must surround themselves with like-minded teachers who fit the mission and vision the team has in place for establishing an effective school culture.  These teachers must be trustworthy professionals who will do their job and make positive contributions to the school environment.
  • It is important for teachers feel supported. Teachers who feel like their administrators have their backs are generally happy teachers, and they are more likely to operate a productive classroom.  Teachers should never question whether or not they are appreciated.  Building and maintaining teacher morale is one of the most important duties a school principal plays in fostering a positive school culture.  Teaching is a very difficult job, but it becomes easier when you work with a supportive administrator.
  • Students spend the largest amount of their time at school in the classroom. This makes teachers the most responsible for creating a positive school culture.  Teachers help this process through a variety of ways. First, they build trusting relationships with students . Next, they ensure that every student has an opportunity to learn the required material. Additionally, they figure out a way to make learning fun so that students keep wanting to come back to their class. Finally, they show a vested interest in each student in a variety of ways including attending extracurricular activities, engaging in conversations about interests/hobbies, and being there for a student when they are having a hard time.
  • Collaboration is critical to developing a positive school culture.  Collaboration enriches the overall teaching and learning experience. Collaboration builds lasting relationships. Collaboration can challenge us and make us better. Collaboration is essential in helping a school truly become a community of learners. Collaboration must be ongoing between every stakeholder within the school. Everyone should have a voice.
  • To establish an effective school culture, you must consider every little nuance in a school. Ultimately, everything contributes to the overall culture of a school. This includes school security , the quality of the food in the cafeteria, the friendliness of the main office staff when there are visitors or when answering the phones, the cleanliness of the school, the maintenance of the grounds, etc.  Everything should be evaluated and changed as necessary.
  • Extra-curricular programs can foster an immense amount of school pride.  Schools must offer a well-balanced assortment of programs to give every student an opportunity to be involved.  This includes a mixture of both athletic and non-athletic programs.  Coaches and sponsors responsible for these programs must provide the participants with everyone opportunity to be successful Programs and individuals within these programs should be recognized for their accomplishments.  Ultimately, if you have a positive school culture, every stakeholder feels a sense of pride when one of these programs or individuals is successful.
  • 10 Things a Successful School Principal Does Differently
  • Improving Self Esteem
  • Strategies for Teachers: The Power of Preparation and Planning
  • Twelve Reasons I Love and Hate Being a Principal of a School
  • School Issues That Negatively Impact Student Learning
  • Strategies to Handle a Disruptive Student
  • The Value of Promoting Respect in Schools
  • Guidelines for Establishing Effective School Discipline for Principals
  • Why Teaching is Fun
  • Why Become an Assistant Principal in a Middle or High School?
  • Classroom Strategies for Improving Behavior Management
  • The Role of the Principal in Schools
  • 4 Tips for Effective Classroom Management
  • Pros and Cons of Teaching
  • What Do Private School Admissions Committees Look For?
  • Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Equity and Engagement

The School Culture Descriptive Essay

Describe the artifacts you find or recall that define the culture of the organization.

In this paper, I will describe the culture of a school organization. Essentially, organizational culture of a school entails its personality, which includes the values, assumptions, norms and tangible signs (artifacts) of the members and their behaviors. When walking across the compound of this particular school, though located in an economically depressed community, there are a well groomed green lawns and flowers that spread throughout.

The school appears clean and neat as you walk through the walkways. A school mission which is displayed on an expansive banner contains a symbolic message. As you take a trip down the hall, the kids together with the staff are taking care of actual live plants that decorate the hall. There are also some banners that contain words such as “hopefulness” perhaps to display the power of close bond between the staff and the kids, with the intention of improving the learning environment (Katz & Kahn, 1978).

Indicate what these artifacts reveal to you about the shared values and basic assumptions of the organization you selected

The mottos that are displayed in banners are very critical as they reflect the shared values. The slogans also communicate the schools’ core values and the mission of the school organization. The artifacts also make it possible to comprehend the mission of the school.

Traversing across the school compound gives a person some positive feeling of what the school stands for. The symbols reflect the manner in which the kids and the members of the staff share close and positive relationships. It also reflects the relationships among the kids.

The traditions and the rituals of the school can also be drawn from the artifacts. They involve ceremonies of the positive aspects of the school, hence bringing the members of the community and the school together. This reinforces the school’s values and norms, as well as the school mission. Furthermore, no community can sustain itself without ceremonies (Katz & Kahn, 1978).

Discuss the impact that culture has on individuals within the organization

The impact of culture is strongly felt among the members of the school. For example, the staff and the teachers meeting reflects strong professional collaboration. The members of the school work together, to solve professional matters including organizational, instructional, and curricular among many other issues.

In addition, the collegial relationships can be seen from the way the students, teachers and other staff members work together, feel valued and involved and support each other. Finally, efficacy or self determination is impacted on the members of this school because they all feel as part of the school community as they want it, and work tirelessly to improve their professional skills (Bargh, 1990).

Discuss the level and type of diversity within the organizational culture

The school culture is made up of diversity of students, teachers and non teaching staff. The diversity of students includes both male and female students from different cultural backgrounds and age, and students with various ages, just to mention but a few. The diversity of teaching and non teaching staff is made up of males and females, different culture and race, and varied teaching and working experience among others.

Evaluate how this organization’s culture would facilitate or hinder planned change efforts

The members of the school are encouraged to participate and get involved in problem-solving and decision-making processes hence promoting effective decisions and solutions. As such, the involvement increases the pledge towards plans. This enhances spontaneous work as the members possess common planning time and space. As such, planned change is highly enhanced (Cotton et al., 1988).

Bargh, J. (1990). Auto-motives: Preconscious determinants of social interaction, handbook of motivation and cognition. Foundations of Social Behavior , 2, 93- 130.

Cotton, J. L., Vollrath, D. A., Froggatt, K. L., Lengnick-Hall, M. L. & Jennings, K.R. (1988). Employee participation: Diverse forms and different outcomes. Academy of Management Review , 13, 8–22.

Katz, D. & Kahn, R.L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations. New York: Wiley.

  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2023, December 20). The School Culture.

"The School Culture." IvyPanda , 20 Dec. 2023,

IvyPanda . (2023) 'The School Culture'. 20 December.

IvyPanda . 2023. "The School Culture." December 20, 2023.

1. IvyPanda . "The School Culture." December 20, 2023.


IvyPanda . "The School Culture." December 20, 2023.

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Improving School Culture for a Better Learning Environment

Infographic explaining how to improve school culture.

School culture is so much more than academic performance or happiness. It’s a complicated, hard-to-define measurement of institutional values, staff training and decision making, and daily behaviors. It’s more important than ever as the pandemic and other dynamics have challenged our educational system. 

To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by American University’s School of Education .

What Do We Mean by School Culture?

School culture has no easy definition, even though most educators agree on the importance of having a positive culture. School culture is sometimes referred to as school climate and it includes everyone: students, families, teachers, and support staff.

Why Does School Culture Matter?               

School culture matters because it can help improve quality of life. A strong school culture can help guard against the negative impacts of social media. It can increase students’ interest in learning, improve academic outcomes, reduce problematic and risky behavior, limit school suspensions, strengthen student-teacher relationships, and boost attendance rates.

Elements of school culture include how the school is structured, including its educational aims; the enjoyment and respect of school community members; and collaboration to develop a vision for the school. It also includes the involvement of the community in caring for the school; the satisfaction of its learners; respect for each person’s beliefs; and community values concerning what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s wrong. Behavior is also key, be it the expectations of student and staff behavior or actual student and staff behavior.

Measuring School Culture              

Across the country, school districts survey students, parents, and educators to understand how positive their school culture is. In elementary schools, surveys cover familial support; diversity; behaviors, both internal and external; how connected students and others feel; motivation to learn; relationships with classmates; and social skills, including caring for others.

In junior high, middle, and high schools, surveys cover mental health, including suicide; alcohol and drug use; physical activity levels; sexual behavior; academic support; engagement levels; and bullying and aggression. 

Teachers Are Key to Positive School Culture

Student performance is closely linked to teaching quality, which means teachers have an important role to play in creating a strong school culture. Unfortunately, in 2020, only 38 percent of teachers saw their profession in a positive light.

Nearly three-quarters of teachers surveyed said their students were struggling to meet existing emotional and social needs, while 58 percent worried about students having more social and emotional needs as a result of the pandemic, and 56 percent saw social and emotional needs as crucial for post-pandemic academic catch-up.

Return to In-Class Instruction a Positive Step             

However, teachers were positive about the return to in-class instruction, with 80 percent excited to teach and 75 percent believing their students will be more engaged as a result of being on-site.

Still, teachers have a tough job. They need to prepare the next generation of citizens for an uncertain future, and they can’t do that very well if they’re struggling. That means those looking to improve school culture need to understand the importance of choosing teachers; teacher accountability; and teaching quality, including attitude, practical skills, and motivation. This might be difficult since the United States is short on teachers.

Why A Positive School Culture Matters More Than Ever

Not all schools take the same approach to education, but experts tend to agree on at least two points. First, that positive school culture leads to positive outcomes, and second, that negative school culture leads to negative outcomes.

Not every educator or parent will agree on what makes a positive learning environment. Schools can be a microcosm for cultural debates more broadly. Some of the major current debates concern mask mandates (pandemic related), sports policies, teaching critical race theory, and transgender rights.

From teachers to parents to students, COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone involved in creating a positive school culture. Students, in particular, are now struggling with anger, separation issues, isolation, reduced ability to self-regulate, and a lack of socialization.

How to Establish and Reinforce a Positive School Culture             

Educators can take several steps to establish and reinforce positive school culture. They can start by getting everyone on board, discussing the specific school culture during the hiring process, and making space for professional development. Formal training is also a way to reinforce culture, embrace informal conversations, and encourage honesty.

Educators should communicate aims clearly and make sure that everyone knows what the school culture is, and why. They can give concrete examples, be positive, and make sure that everyone knows it’s a collective effort by using “we” statements.

They can also spread culture in visible ways by creating unique traditions, updating the school’s physical design, identifying symbolic objects, and ascertaining relevant mottoes. Ultimately, they need to encourage engagement by all. Connections are key, so they should identify those who aren’t connecting, figure out why not, and then adjust accordingly.

Strong school culture is key to making schools more constructive and instructive places; this is why some refer to school culture as “the hidden curriculum.” Better school culture doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money. Instead, it means building strong emotional and social connections that set students on the path to success. 

Cedarville University, “The Impact of School Culture Upon an Educational Institution”

Connecticut Association of Schools, “School Culture: ‘The Hidden Curriculum’”

Dinaric Perspectives on TIMSS 2019, “Teachers, Teaching and Student Achievement”

Education Week, “The Essential Traits of a Positive School Climate”

HMH, 7th Annual Educator Confidence Report

International Journal of Education , “The Effects of School Culture on Students Academic Achievements”

McKinsey & Company, “Teacher Survey: Learning Loss Is Global—and Significant”

National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, School Climate Measurement

Psychology Today , “Post-Pandemic School Culture and How to Navigate It”

The New York Times , “The School Culture Wars: ‘You Have Brought Division to Us’”

The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education , “Teacher and Staff Wellbeing: Understanding the Experiences of School Staff”

The Washington Post, “School Environments Can Be Toxic. Why and How They Must Change”

U.S. Department of Education, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

U.S. Department of Education, Fact Sheet: The U.S. Department of Education Announces Partnerships Across States, School Districts, and Colleges of Education to Meet Secretary Cardona’s Call to Action to Address the Teacher Shortage

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The Importance of School Culture Explained

by Gordana S | Jul 29, 2020 | Starting a School | 0 comments

what is school culture essay

Table of Contents

The Importance of School Culture for a Healthy Working and Learning Environment

what is school culture essay


School culture was long identified with the day-to-day management of the school, and the strongest emphasis was placed on its policies and various rules of conduct that applied both to the employees and the students. In recent years, there has been a shift away from that perspective or, more precisely, an expansion of the definition of the term.

While rules and management remain vital for every educational establishment, school culture became identified with the overall “feel” of the place. Is the staff comfortable in their roles? Do they do their work willingly, diligently, and in cooperation with their colleagues? Are students satisfied with their progress and achievements? Is there laughter roaring through the building during class breaks?

All of the above and more speaks volumes about the culture and climate of an educational institution. High schools across America seem to be demotivating the people roaming their halls — the Learning Policy Institute identifies teacher turnover as a pressing issue, and the percentile of dropouts has reached 5.4% , according to the National Center for Education Statistics .

For a school to provide a healthy environment to both work and learn in, it has to foster a strong culture that will be the motivator for its students, instructors, and administrators alike.  

What Is School Culture?

School culture is a broad and nearly-impossible-to-define term. Generally speaking, it entails the school’s norms, traditions, rituals, and values. It is inextricably linked to the relationships that exist among the staff members and between teachers and students. It also encompasses the attitudes and involvement of all stakeholders in the school and how aligned they are with its vision and mission.

Culture includes setting clear expectations of everyone involved in the school. The students benefit from being taught the required rules of conduct and from goal-driven instruction, while the staff do their jobs more enthusiastically if they have an end goal in mind, as well as the support and resources to achieve it. Culture is, therefore, essential for both employee job satisfaction and student learning and growth. 

Successful schools are deemed to have healthy and positive cultures . If the importance of school culture is disregarded, the school can become a toxic learning and working environment and fail to achieve its educational goals.

When a school embodies a positive ethos, its focal point is always to serve students and equip them with the necessary skills to thrive in adulthood. A toxic culture will only hinder the school in achieving that purpose. That is why correcting a negative school culture is paramount for a functioning educational setting, which strives to promote student achievements and high staff morale. 

Here is an overview of the main traits that distinguish between the negative and positive school culture.

The Elements of School Culture

For a school to develop a strong culture , it needs to identify the key areas that will help establish and nurture a healthy atmosphere. There are specific aspects of every educational facility that make up its culture and climate and that play a vital role in their maintenance.

Here are the essential elements of the healthy school culture:

  • Shared norms and values
  • Effective leadership
  • Rituals of renewal
  • Celebratory rituals


Shared norms and values.

Making sure that everyone knows how things are done in a particular establishment is instrumental in keeping everything running smoothly in it. The staff, the students, and the local community have to understand what the school’s mission is and how it plays into achieving the school’s vision. The stakeholders in the school also have to be unanimous in many other matters, including student discipline, classroom rules, orderliness rules, and employee conduct.

Effective Leadership

In terms of promoting school culture, the role of the headmaster is that of the hero/heroine. They need to be the role model of behavior and attitude for both students and the staff by implementing the core values for others to look up to and mimic. Every change begins at the top levels, and proper symbolic leadership of the principal (as opposed to managerial and organizational leadership) is instrumental for achieving the positive school culture.

Just like the school leader, the staff plays an equally vital role in implementing the school culture. This refers to teachers, in particular, as they are the mouthpiece of the school’s leadership — they are responsible for instructing students and parents to adopt the same values and comply with the school’s norms.

Rituals of Renewal

Innovation is an integral part of a successful school. Regular seminars, workshops, and other opportunities for the staff’s professional development will keep instruction fresh for both students and teachers. It will also ensure that the school is up-to-date with the latest trends in education, and the employees will, in turn, feel increased work motivation and be more likely to advance in their careers. That is instrumental for teacher retention.

Celebratory Rituals

The school has to build the tradition of recognizing and rewarding individual achievements of staff members and students alike. The best way to do that is by organizing festivities and celebrations to showcase those accomplishments to a wider audience in its community. Such traditions will boost everyone’s morale and make the school a fun place to be.

The school’s teachers should find the perfect balance between innovation and tradition in order to apply the best teaching methods in their instruction. The same applies to how the students learn — educators need to exert control and give pupils autonomy in equal measure.

Everyone — the leadership, the staff, and the community — should contribute to fostering a healthy school culture, as well as take part in decision-making. Parent involvement is particularly relevant — parents and school representatives should communicate openly and regularly, give feedback to each other, and suggest further steps for aiding the students in their education. Having the students’ families on board with the school’s program is not only beneficial for student progress but can also open up opportunities for additional fundraising.

Why Is a Positive School Culture Important?

what is school culture essay

Credit: Inside Higher Ed

We have already established that the primary role of the principal as a symbolic leader is to develop and maintain a positive school culture. However, even the most capable leader cannot win this hard battle alone. It is imperative that they are backed up by their army of employees who will continue to nurture and maintain the healthy culture of their school.

Schools that develop a positive climate reap a host of benefits and accumulate successes in various fields:

  • The students are high-achievers and complete their education, lowering the number of dropouts .
  • The staff become experts in their respective fields.
  • Teachers tend to remain in their posts for a long time, increasing the school’s teacher retention rates .
  • The school enjoys a stellar reputation as a successful educational institution in the broad community.

The Repercussions of a Toxic School Culture

Many schools tend to neglect their culture and put effort into other, less relevant matters, such as advertising, enforcing stricter rules of conduct and discipline, and increasing the workload of both students and staff. Some schools fail to put enough emphasis on the professional development of their employees, and neither commend the successes of their best pupils nor strive to offer additional help for those students who have trouble keeping up with the curriculum.

Such environments are neither healthy nor desirable, and inevitably suffer the consequences of the negative school culture on a regular basis. Since it takes time to improve the climate and raise morale, these schools tend to experience frequent disenrollments and staff resignations. 

The Role of the School’s Principal 

what is school culture essay

Credit: Shipman Northcutt @Unsplash

Schools become toxic environments when the staff isn’t aware that a positive climate is the most fertile ground for the primary and ultimate goal of any educational establishment — student achievement. Principals as school leaders play a key role in developing a healthy culture, as well as recognizing the areas for improvement.

School headmasters are responsible for managing the school’s budget, organizing activities, and overseeing the staff and classes. Apart from those organizational duties, the principal has another vital role to play — that of a symbolic leader. 

A capable symbolic leader motivates all stakeholders in the school to work toward the same goal and bring the school’s vision to fruition. The best way to achieve that is to nurture a healthy school culture. Principals have to act as the agents of change and model the proper attitude and behavior for others to adopt and mimic. Extensive research has shown that the school’s effective leadership indirectly leads to improved student performance.

An effective principal needs to: 

  • Observe. The first thing any principal needs to do is read into the present culture through careful observation.
  • Identify. Next, the headmaster needs to understand which aspects improve the atmosphere in the school and which bring it down.
  • Implement. The time then comes for the leader to get to work — that includes reinforcing the school’s strengths and replacing the weak points with other rituals, traditions, and norms.

Improving school culture is not a task that can be done overnight. Even when a healthy school culture is achieved, it isn’t guaranteed to last. A successful leader doesn’t neglect culture and never considers it a done deal — they stay informed on the school culture and make keeping track of and analyzing it a regular part of their schedule.

The Importance of School Culture and How to Improve It

To boost the school culture, the school leader has to work on improving many different aspects of the school and change how it operates. The shareholders must also take part in shaping their school’s culture.

Here are the essential steps for improving the school culture:

  • Encourage collegiality.   Leaders must encourage coworkers to treat each other with respect and as equals. The staff should be taught to cooperate and communicate on the regular in order to be on the same path to success.
  • Improve efficacy. The school’s decision-making processes and the enforcement of those decisions are a mirror image of its efficacy. Everyone involved in the school should take part in making those decisions. 
  • Set high expectations. Leaders must be vocal about what they expect from their staff, and once the goals have been reached, they must celebrate those who contributed to the school’s improvement and reward their excellence.
  • Experiment. A successful school should always explore new approaches and try out new methods in order to keep up with the times and adapt instruction to the real-world needs of the students .
  • Instill trust and confidence. The pupils and their families should believe that the school is capable of setting its students up for success — from college to career and beyond.
  • Provide support. For true advancements to be made and innovative methods applied, the instructors must have full support from the school in terms of the resources they need to make those changes, and all resources must be available to everyone.
  • Honor traditions. Having first school day ceremonies, Christmas festivities, year-end celebrations, graduation parties, and other gatherings will boost morale and help preserve the values the school fosters in its community.

Although the above are the main aspects that contribute to the positive school culture, there is much more to be done to achieve it. It all depends on the school in question and the areas that a knowledgeable principal identifies as the ones to improve on.

Here are some resources that can help in that endeavor.

The Effects of School Culture on Student Achievement

what is school culture essay

Credit: Student Futures

Efficient leaders, unified employees, and motivated students are the main agents in shaping the school culture. It plays a vital role in both employee job satisfaction and student achievement. While the school staff undoubtedly feel more driven to work and advance in a school that nurtures its positive culture, the main beneficiaries are and should always be the students.

Experience has shown that headmasters who perform their duties efficiently and maintain a healthy atmosphere in their establishments enjoy better student outcomes in their schools. By fostering strong school cultures, principals not only inspire the school’s personnel to be more successful in their jobs but also aid their students in achieving high goals. Therefore, the role of the principal in shaping a positive school culture is indirectly yet inextricably linked to student success. 

In 2018, the number of students aged 16–19 who weren’t enrolled in high school was 8% , according to a report by Education Data . The reasons behind that staggering statistics are various — including pregnancy, social status, poverty, and delinquency — but the fact remains that the percentile would have likely been significantly lower had the youth been supported and aided by their schools.

The education in America needs to show more interest in these problem groups and do its utmost to help them reach their full potential too. The students who remain at school require stronger, more functional education that will prepare them for their futures. Principals and the school staff ought to establish a welcoming, supportive culture that will help mould the students of today into successful leaders of tomorrow.

Why Is School Culture Important for the American Educational System

Today’s schools must foster the development of versatile, highly educated students in order to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow .

The matter is more urgent now than ever before because the American high school system has come to a standstill and is in dire need of change. U.S. high schools have barely changed since the 1900s , while the way we do everything else has transformed beyond recognition in the same time frame.

Today’s workforce is judged by what it can do in practice, as opposed to what it was taught about theoretically in the classroom. But high schools in the U.S. are far from being up to the task. It is our duty as educators to equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to provide them with a better start in their future lives.

A critical component of successful educational institutions is a healthy and supportive school culture, but achieving it is anything but an easy feat.

Does your school have a positive culture?

Tell us what makes it exceptional and how it facilitates the teaching and learning in your establishment. We will publish your story on our blog because we believe that your experience will empower hundreds of others to strive for the same goal.

Let’s rethink high schools together — the power for change lies in you .

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11 Real Ways to Build a Positive School Culture

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Written by Justin Raudys

Use Prodigy to provide adaptive, differentiated instruction that engages your students.

  • School Leadership
  • What it means to have a positive school culture
  • How school leaders are involved in creating school culture
  • 11 practical ways you can develop a positive culture in your school

How do you want teachers and students to feel when they walk into school every morning?

Are your teachers dreading coming to work in the morning? Do students walk into the building with their heads down, trying not to interact with others?

Or are your teachers excited, starting each class with enthusiasm? Do you hear laughter in the hallways when students are coming in? Having a positive school culture has an impact, not just on the attitudes of students and teachers, but on the entire learning experience.

You, as a school leader, have a vital role in creating a positive school culture.

What is ‘school culture’?

Culture, ethos, atmosphere, climate…

What do these words mean for your school?

Basically, a school culture consists of the underlying influences and attitudes within the school — based on the norms, traditions and beliefs of the staff and students.

How important is school culture? In short, the prevailing atmosphere in your school will affect everything that goes on inside its walls.

This goes beyond the student body: it also involves how teachers interact with each other, their students, and the parents.

Toxic vs. positive school culture

A toxic school culture has been described as a place where “staffs are extremely fragmented, where the purpose of serving students has been lost to the goal of serving the adults, where negative values and hopelessness reign.” ( Realizing a Positive School Culture, 1998 )

Anthony Muhammad -- a high school principal and the author of Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff -- describes a toxic school culture as an environment where school staff "fails to figure out what's needed to cultivate the characteristics necessary for student growth and learning."

Obviously, this is not a good environment for any school.

On the other hand, a positive school culture is a place where your efforts are translated into positive experiences for both staff and students. Success, joy, and accomplishment are all main features of a positive school culture.

When your school has a positive culture, teachers are excited to work because they see the bigger picture, and students are in a better position (mentally and emotionally) to learn.

How School Leaders are Involved

What is your role in creating a positive school culture?

our role as a school leader can be defined in three basic steps:

  • Read the culture of your school : Analyze and understand the current culture of your school. This means observing the attitudes of teachers in the classroom and in staff meetings, and understanding the general feeling of students towards the school and the staff.
  • Identify which aspects are toxic and which are positive : Write down the aspects of your school that improve the atmosphere and those which cause negative feelings in teachers and students.
  • Reinforce positive elements : From that list, pull out the positive aspects of your school culture, and include other values, attitudes, or qualities that you would like to see in your school. Then, take action to reinforce those positive qualities and create a positive school culture.

What are some specific ways to reinforce a positive atmosphere in your school?

11 Proven ways to build a positive school culture

1. create meaningful parent involvement.

Generating clear, open communication with the parents of your students can help you avoid misunderstandings and remove feelings of mistrust or hostility.

To involve parents in your school culture, give them a platform for feedback on classroom activities or school programs. Ask them about their hopes or concerns regarding their children’s education. Go beyond parent-teacher meetings and organize workshops where teachers and parents can discuss homework, study skills, and tests.

what is school culture essay

Involving parents in school activities in a meaningful way also helps foster positive feelings between the school and the parents. You can ask parents to be on event committees or to participate in school fundraisers.

Developing educational programs for parents can also help involve them in their children’s schooling, and thus build a more positive atmosphere in your school.

For example,  Hollibrook Elementary in Spring Branch, Texas , developed a "Parent University" to get parents more actively involved in the school -- helping build trust and rapport between the school and the families of the students.

2. Celebrate personal achievement and good behavior

This means more than the occasional "good job."

Complimenting kids helps them to feel that they are cared for individually. Both you and your staff play a huge part in this aspect of your school culture.

One way to generate more positive reinforcement from your staff is to set goals for the number of compliments each member has to give during the day or week. Encourage them to give specific compliments that highlight what each individual student has done well.

what is school culture essay

An example of a ceremony recognizing students for outstanding achievements -- in this case, Waresboro Elementary recognized 17 students for excellence in "scholarship, responsibility, leadership, and service." Image source: Waresboro Elementary School

Celebrating the achievements of your students can be done on a larger scale as well.

For example, Joyce Elementary School in Detroit started holding an honor ceremony for students. Here, they presented medallions for students and praised specific achievements. This event includes not only school members, but hundreds from the community.

3. Establish school norms that build values

Your school and classroom rules should be clear to all students, and should be well-regulated.

However, this doesn’t mean that you need to establish rules for every possible situation.

Instead, create school norms that focus on building positive values in your class. This helps kids to learn, not just what they should and shouldn’t do, but why they should or shouldn’t do it.

For example, instead of creating specific rules about chewing gum, use of water bottles, or electronic devices in the classroom, you could create a classroom rule that states: “Be respectful of the people around you.”

To help students apply these norms, there should be consistency across the entire school building, inside and out.

4. Set consistent discipline

When rules are not followed, discipline must be administered. However, broadening the range of discipline methods can help encourage a positive school culture.

Instead of constantly putting out fires, trying a more proactive approach to discipline. Giving a student detention after bad behavior teaches him that he did something wrong. But giving him a task that helps correct the wrong teaches him what he should’ve done instead.

20 classroom management strategies

For example, imagine one student started a fight. His discipline could include having to write a letter of apology to the student he hurt, and then to take a shift as “hallway monitor”.

Having students work to correct their own wrongs helps encourage them to take responsibility for their actions.

Getting your teachers to internalize the subtle and tactful arts of classroom management consistently is critical for a school culture of mutual respect and adherence to rules -- both by teachers and students. 

Also, it’s essential that all discipline is presented consistently across the school. When all students are treated equally and bad behavior is disciplined in the same way in different classrooms, this helps removes feelings of mistrust among students. 

5. Model the behaviors you want to see in your school

You have a list of qualities and values that you want to see in your teachers and students.

But how well do you present those same aspects of your school culture?

All changes have to start from the top. That means when you interact with teachers and students, you need to be an example of the behavior that you want to see in your school.

6. Engage students in ways that benefit them

When in school, your students are learning more than just secular instruction. They’re also developing their social skills, and learning how to become successful adults.

Schools that help students develop essential social skills are preparing them on an even deeper level for their future after graduation.

One way to engage students and develop these types of skills is through social-emotional learning (SEL). Throughout the day, encourage teachers to include activities that help students develop qualities such as empathy, reliability, respect, concern, and a sense of humor.

In the research brief Social Emotional Learning in Elementary School , researchers found that SEL programs helped students make more ethical decisions, maintain positive relationships, set and achieve goals at school and at home, and manage their emotions. These programs promoted achievements at school, and reduced substance abuse and emotional distress.

7. Create rituals and traditions that are fun for students and teachers

The school day — and school year — should be punctuated with time for fun. This helps students engage with each other in positive events and builds morale in school.

For example, one school created a weekly event called ‘Fabulous Friday’, which opened students up to a variety of fun activities. Why not create your own version of Fabulous Friday?

what is school culture essay

Using technology in the classroom -- as a reward or simply to supplement learning -- is a cost-effective way to introduce positive rituals for students on the level of the individual classroom.

For example, you can create special rituals and traditions for the first day of school , or for the first day of a new month.

Creating appropriate times to have fun and laugh breaks up the day and gives students a chance to relax in between learning. This helps them become more refreshed when returning to the classroom.

8. Encourage innovation in the classroom

Innovation in the classroom starts with you — the school leader.

When talking with teachers, encourage them to try new methods of teaching. You can even set up regular meetings to discuss new research on teaching methods or new teaching tech, and how these can be implemented in your school.

These meetings will help the whole teaching staff to brainstorm and implement new ideas, bringing teachers into the process of building your school culture.

For example, why not try game-based learning ?

what is school culture essay

Students playing Prodigy — a game-based math platform — on their tablets

Particularly popular for improving results in topics like math , video game based learning has been shown to heighten the level of interest, concentration, and enjoyment of educational materials among students.

And teachers tend to agree: in one study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center , almost 80% of K-8 classroom teachers surveyed agreed that digital games have “improved student mastery of curricular content”.

Plus, it’s fun!

9. Professional development for teachers

Students are not the only people in your school who should be learning. Helping your teachers to develop their skills will encourage a positive school culture by giving them the ability to improve their craft.

For example, the Mooresville Intermediate School in North Carolina pairs each new teacher with a mentor at the beginning of their career at the school. This helps teachers to be fully aware of school policies and rules, and gives them specific instruction in how the school uses tech in the classroom.

Supporting new teachers in this way can help promote a consistent atmosphere across your school.

Also, it’s good to make sure that you as the school leader are aware of what your teachers think and feel in their work. Set up regular times to ask for feedback, hear out concerns, and get suggestions for improvement.

10. Maintain the physical environment of your school

Surprisingly enough, the physical surroundings of students and teachers has a huge impact on the culture of your school.

The HEAD Project(Holistic Evidence and Design) took evidence from over 3,700 students in 27 diverse schools. They found that the physical space where students are learning can account for a 16% variation in the learning process over a school year.

What aspects of a classroom have the most impact?

what is school culture essay

The novelty, stimulation, and freedom of movement students enjoy in a flexible seating classroom setting positively impacts behavior, according to educational researcher Sheryl Feinstein’s book From the Brain to the Classroom.

It was found that half of the learning impact came from light, temperature, and air quality. The other half of learning impact came from factors such as individualization of the environment and color of the room. For example, the ideal classroom was found to have light-colored walls with one accent wall of a brighter color.

Adopting a policy that allows for flexible seating in classrooms is one step school leaders are taking more frequently.

Adjusting these seemingly insignificant factors isn’t difficult, and can result in an increase in student engagement and improvement in learning.

11. Keep tabs on your school’s culture, and make adjustments when necessary

Unfortunately, creating a positive school culture isn’t just a matter of following a checklist. As a school leader, you need to stay informed of what’s going on in your school, and understand the attitudes and atmosphere that permeate the hallways and classrooms.

what is school culture essay

As we mentioned above, starting the process of improving your school culture involves analyzing the current situation of your school. This analyzation process should become a regular part of your schedule.

Set aside time every few months to analyze your school culture. Keep on the watch for the specific factors that indicate a positive school culture, and keep using the steps above to reinforce those aspects. Also, be aware of any negative factors that have started to seep in, and take decisive action to remove those.

Above all, take time to listen to feedback from both teachers and students in order to understand the experience that they are having in your school.

Conclusion: Building a positive school culture will take time and effort, but it’s worth it

If you’ve already started efforts to build a positive school culture but aren’t seeing the results you expected, don’t worry.

Changing the attitudes of all the staff and students within your school won’t be an overnight process. However, it will be worth the wait.

Remember: this change process starts with you. So, make an effort to mimic the behavior and attitudes that you want to see displayed in your school.

Keep working patiently at building a school culture that fosters positive action, and your students will be better prepared to learn better and become more successful now and into the future.

Try  Prodigy Math Game  — the engaging, curriculum-aligned math platform used by over 50 million students, teachers and admins.

Five Characteristics of Effective School Culture

By David Garrick, Graduate School Dean

In Creating Cultures of Thinking , Ron Ritchhart reveals the hidden tool for transforming our schools: culture. Every school has a unique organizational culture. The most effective school cultures support great teaching and learning. They empower teachers to communicate, collaborate, reflect, inquire and innovate.

Everything that we do at UCDS is designed to promote innovation and excellence in education. In our more than 40 years of honing and evolving our programs, we’ve learned that school culture is at the foundation of a school’s success.

As defined at a session of the National Institute for Urban School Leaders at the Harvard Graduate School in 2018, school culture is made up of connections, core beliefs and behaviors of students, families and educators. It is crucial that we encourage current and future teachers to become stewards of, and true advocates for effective school cultures. This is our focus at the UCDS College for School Culture Master of Education degree program, because we believe in deepening the teaching practice and equipping graduate students with skills to lead positive change in education.

Culture directly impacts the success of students and staff. It embodies the relationships that we create with one another. Great cultures encourage active participation, you must shape it and we all have a role to play.

We have you covered if you are wondering, “where does my school stand on culture?” Here are five characteristics of an effective, healthy school culture:

#1 Attention to culture is everywhere

As explained by author and researcher Samuel Casey Carter, while students do learn during class, there’s also much that is learned implicitly, outside of the classroom, during a school day. A collaborative school where the mission is reflected in each interaction will take this into account.

A school’s culture is made up of the traditions, routines, expectations and interactions that take place. Attending to these factors in a way that reflects the mission and values of the community, in and outside of the classroom, are key to a healthy culture.

Shared vision and high expectations go a long way toward achieving a school’s mission. When faculty, staff, and students are deeply engaged and embrace their school’s culture, it reverberates throughout a school community.

The understanding that culture deeply influences outcomes, and that stewarding culture is the shared responsibility of all members of the community is key to having a positive and lasting impact.

#2 A nurturing environment with high expectations

Culture isn’t dictated by one person, it’s created by a community. Supporting and challenging individuals in a nurturing environment not only drives growth, but ensures that community members are engaged.

A school’s culture encompasses the perspectives and backgrounds of its members as well as the school environment itself. School leaders who seek out every opportunity to stretch the skills, goals, and strengths of their community – students, teachers and parents alike – display a commitment to a healthy, nurturing environment.

Individualized support is important for establishing a nurturing environment that meets students where they are and establishes clear and relevant expectations. As put by nationally recognized speaker and author Almitra Berry-Jones, adopting a student-first mindset and understanding the impact of culture enables teachers to move toward academic equity.

Five Characteristics of Effective School Culture

#3 Engaged staff, engaged students

According to a 2018 Gallup poll , engaged students are 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful about the future than disengaged peers. A study from Cardwell echoes the importance of engagement, finding that students who reported high levels of teacher support indicated that they also had higher levels of engagement.

The point? School cultures that promote engagement from students and staff display a greater sense of positivity and investment in the institution and its community.  Educators who are equipped with the resources and skills to drive change within their schools while echoing the importance of culture are some of our biggest allies in transforming education.

#4 A commitment to lifelong learning

Beliefs, values and actions spread the farthest when learning is actively happening at every level. In education, every member of the school community should feel compelled to participate in the learning process.  Teachers who model inquiry, curiosity, and even uncertainty create the understanding that what students have not yet learned, can be learned. And that a desire to learn is the first and most essential step in this process.

An established, sound vision and practices that model learning go hand-in-hand with effective school cultures. It’s important to keep in mind that as we learn, culture can change . A school that consistently reflects about the needs of students and staff is more likely to sustain an effective culture.

#5 Holistic sense of responsibility

As stated in Harvard Business Review’s The Culture Factor , when aligned with strategy and leadership, a strong culture drives positive organizational outcomes. Selecting or developing leaders for the future requires a forward-looking strategy and culture.

Responsibility for the upkeep of a culture lies with everyone who is impacted by it. Culture embodies the relationships that faculty, staff, families, students and administrators create with one another.  Schools that promote true collaboration, beyond the simple division of labor, invite contribution from all members of their communities.  When this happens, the responsibility for institutional success is equally shared and attended to.

At the UCDS College for School Culture, we help teachers to build a better understanding of school culture and to deepen the practices and philosophies that support student success. Together, we are enhancing and informing the way schools support students and staff.  We are transforming the learning experience across our wider academic community.

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What you need to know about culture and arts education

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Despite the obvious essential linkages between culture and education, they are still not sufficiently integrated into education policies and school curricula in many countries globally. These two fields are often considered as separate policy entities and trajectories. Culture and arts education, the result of the two complementary ecosystems, has the potential to bridge this gap.

UNESCO convened the World Conference on Culture and Arts Education in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates from 13 to 15 February 2024 where the first-ever global framework in this area was adopted. Here is what you need to know about this essential issue. 

Why is culture and arts education essential?

Learners engaged in culture and arts education have better academic and non-academic learning outcomes.  Engagement in various art forms , such as music, dance, and visual arts, can enhance academic achievements, reading skills, creative and critical thinking, agility and collaboration skills. Engagement in such education also correlates with improved attendance, stress reduction, resilience, perseverance, and classroom behaviours.

Culture and arts education expands the essence of learning and makes it fun by going beyond classrooms and traditional educational approaches from lifelong learning, to technical and vocational education and training (TVET).  The theatre stage can be a learning space, NFT art can be a promising career, and indigenous ways of knowing and being can, and should, find their way in the curriculum.

Culture and arts education makes learning meaningful by connecting rural with urban, local with global. It plays a crucial role in valorizing and preserving one’s own culture, heritage and traditions while at the same time reflecting on them in the modern world, in the digital era, understanding everyone’s contribution and uniqueness. 

What are the forms culture and arts education can take?

Culture and arts education encompasses learning about, in and through culture and the arts. Therefore, it can occur across subjects, at all levels of education and in various settings. For example, this process is no longer confined to classrooms: museums, art galleries, libraries and cultural heritage sites are considered equal places of learning, whereas artists, cultural professionals and practitioners play an essential role in transmitting knowledge. Culture and arts education engages learners with built and natural heritage, living expressions, and the cultural and creative industries, promoting intercultural dialogue and linguistic diversity, both online and offline.

By incorporating indigenous knowledge and practices, arts education validates and enlivens diverse cultural perspectives. In Indonesia, school students on Java Island can learn more about their heritage from arts education programmes that familiarize them with the traditional art of shadow puppet storytelling called  wayang kulit , from UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. 

How can culture and arts education build skills for the future?

Culture and arts education opens up new employment opportunities.  50 million jobs are created by cultural and creative industries worldwide, and more young people are now employed in the sector than in any other economic activity. While not its primary focus,  culture and arts education cultivates skills such as observation, collaboration, and reflection that are conducive to creativity and adaptability, which are increasingly valued in the modern job market. 

It also builds vital socio-emotional skills to thrive in the world of tomorrow. Research shows that such education fosters compassion for others and empathy. It allows learners to introspect, take different perspectives and develop different ways of understanding the world. Participation in arts activities has also been linked to higher civic engagement, social tolerance, and respectful behaviours towards diversity. 

How can culture and arts education contribute to peace and sustainability?

By connecting local with global and fostering dialogue among generations and cultures, culture and arts education can contribute to peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable societies. It also offers transformative avenues for reimagining ways of living harmoniously with the earth and preserving social cohesion, which is paramount during times of interrelated global challenges, such as social isolation or environmental crises. For example, freely accessible digitized archives of the leading museums helped learners in different parts of the world connect with other cultures and enrich their learning experiences.

How does arts education address socioeconomic disparities in education?

Integrating culture and arts education into education systems  can help bridge the achievement gap between higher and lower-income students. Research indicates that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who engage in arts education demonstrate higher academic performance, graduation rates, and motivation to pursue further education.

Culture and arts education can unveil new opportunities and career paths for learners of all ages. For example, technical and vocational education and training in arts and crafts could be a critical social lift, opening new employment opportunities in the context of persisting social inequalities and crises. For example,  UNESCO’s Transcultura program me awards scholarships to young cultural professionals in 17 countries so that they can gain new skills and pursue careers in cultural and creative industries. 

What is the role of UNESCO?

Since its creation, UNESCO has been championing major forward-looking policy transformation processes in culture and education, reaffirming them as global public goods at the forefront of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the key highlights include the UNESCO  MONDIACULT Conference, initiatives within the  Transforming Education Summit and the revision of  the Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Sustainable Development.

As a logical next step after the adoption of the 2006 Lisbon Road Map on Arts Education and the 2010 Seoul Agenda, UNESCO convened the  World Conference on Culture and Arts Education to mobilize political commitment around culture and arts education as a powerful lever to transform learning and shape critical skills for future generations. 

As a result of the Conference, UNESCO Member States adopted the new UNESCO Framework on Culture and Arts Education. This guidance document provides a set of principles all stakeholders can follow for shaping and further institutionalizing culture and arts education. It outlines specific goals such education should pursue and concrete dimensions where synergetic links between culture and education should be fostered for the benefit of all learners.

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The Lasting Value of the Personal Essay

This writing form has a value that goes beyond the college application as it nurtures self-reflection and inspires creativity.

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I still remember my own personal essay that I wrote decades ago during my college admissions process. My essay focused on movies and how movies were a conduit of curiosity. It was also about the death of my father and how movies, in part, had provided a common ground for us—a connection. Although my essay, of course, was not the sole determining factor in my admission, it’s a predominant memory from that time of my life. To this day, I feel it had a persuasive effect on my admittance.

In fact, now looking back, I can’t recall my grade point average or my class rank or the final grade that my English teacher gave me on my literary analysis of Heart of Darkness. Even my exact SAT score, back then a real measure of academic aptitude, remains fuzzy to me all these years later, “shaded in wistful half-lights,” as described by Norman Maclean. I can, however, remember nearly every sentence, if not quite every word, of the personal essay I submitted to my first-choice college, which has undoubtedly, for me, over the years remained one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever produced.

The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks. These writers function as exemplars for my students to both analyze and model not only for their rhetorical value but also for their stylistic technique and philosophical ruminations.

Power of Personalization

One of the most predominant rhetorical strategies we recognize in these texts is personalization. And so Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” has impacted my students throughout the years with its frank depiction of psychological tension, addressing philosophical themes on an existential level that never fail to capture their attention—so much so, that a group of students painted a mural on the wall outside my classroom, a visual interpretation of Woolf’s essay that they titled Memento Mori .

The candor and intimacy of Dr. Oliver Sacks’s depiction of his final days before his death from cancer have engendered numerous touching and insightful comments from my students during our Socratic seminars analyzing his almost unendurably moving personal essay, “My Periodic Table.” 

Students respond viscerally, it seems, to the personal. Sadly, many students have been touched by some of the same tragic subject matter that we analyze through these texts. During our seminars and journal assignments, my students have revealed their own personal connections to some of the personal essays we read in class, connecting, I think, to the shared experiences that we have all had throughout human history. 

Our students often find themselves facing a vortex of standardized tests, AP exams, and benchmarks throughout the school year, which often emphasize the formulaic. The active process of personal choice on topic and subject seems lost. So often my students ask me questions when writing an essay, seeking a particular answer, as if literary analysis were calculus. Missing is the creativity, the exploration of writing free from academic constraints like rubrics and scoring guides. Writer-editor Steve Moyer asserts in  Edsitement , “Nuanced thought... requires a greater gestation period than the nearly instant gratification made possible on Twitter.” I have witnessed this impatience from my own students.

There can be a restlessness in the writing process, a hesitancy for revision or drafting. Personal essays require self-reflection and a free-flowing freedom from rigid form that my students embrace in a way that they don’t with an argument or research-based essay. On more than one occasion during parent-teacher conferences, I have had parents tell me that their child used to love creative writing, but somewhere along the way, the rigor of school seemed to have killed it.

Personal essays, then, restore that creativity, since they encourage a freedom from form. Students can experiment with style and figurative language and syntax in ways that the traditional academic five-paragraph essay often thwarts.

Personal essays also allow teachers to really get to know our students, too. The inherent intimacy of a personal essay, the connection between the writer and the reader—in this case, a student and a teacher—provides insight into the concerns, the dreams, the emotions of our students in addition to allowing us to assess how they exercise their compositional skills, including imagery, syntax, diction, and figurative language. Here, then, a teacher has the best of both worlds. We’re able to both connect to our students on an emotional level and evaluate their learning on an academic level. Personal essays also serve as an emotional outlet. 

There seems to be a common assumption that personal essays for high school students serve only the college application process, so the process begins during their senior year. Personal writing, however, should occur throughout a student’s academic experience. The narrative essays that most elementary school students encounter evolve into the more ruminative, philosophical, and reflective personal writing they will encounter during their senior year from many of Common App essay prompts.

Many teachers implement journal writing in their classrooms that provides a firm foundation for the type of personal writing that the college admissions essay requires. In my own class of juniors, the last assignment we complete for the year is a personal essay. My intent is to help prepare them for the college essay they will write, hopefully, during the summer so that they will have a solid draft before the application process begins. 

Teaching our students this strategy in their own writing benefits them in their futures, not only for the imminent college application process but also for job interviews. For example, I was mentoring a student, a senior who had no desire to go to college, about the job interview process he would soon face after graduation. We rehearsed and practiced the types of questions he might encounter from a future employer. I encouraged him to remember the personal details of his experience, personalizing everything in a way that would allow him to ideally stand out as a job candidate.

Through personal essay writing, my overarching, grand ambition is to instill in my students ultimately a love of reflection, looking back on their experience, reminiscing on significant memories that linger, carefully considering the seemingly little moments that, only upon reflection, have an enormous impact on us.

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Black History Month 2024: African Americans and the Arts 

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The national theme for Black History Month 2024 is “ African Americans and the Arts .”  

Black History Month 2024 is a time to recognize and highlight the achievements of Black artists and creators, and the role they played in U.S. history and in shaping our country today.  

To commemorate this year’s theme, we’ve gathered powerful quotes about learning, culture and equality from five historic Black American authors, teachers and artists who made a significant impact in the Arts, education ― and the nation.  

  Making history  

“Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.” – Carter G. Woodson, Author, Journalist, Historian and Educator, 1875-1950  

Known as the “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson was primarily self-taught in most subjects. In 1912, he became the second Black person to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard.   

He is the author of more than 30 books, including “T he Mis-Education of the Negro. ”  

Carter G. Woodson dedicated his life to teaching Black History and incorporating the subject of Black History in schools. He co-founded what is now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH) . In February 1926, Woodson launched the first Negro History Week , which has since been expanded into Black History Month.  

Carter G. Woodson

Providing a platform  

“I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent.” – Augusta Savage, Sculptor, 1892-1962  

An acclaimed and influential sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta Savage was a teacher and an activist who fought for African American rights in the Arts. She was one out of only four women, and the only Black woman, commissioned for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. She exhibited one of her most famous works, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which she named after the hymn by James Weldon Johnson, sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem. Her sculpture is also known as “ The Harp, ” renamed by the fair’s organizers.  

Photograph of Augusta Savage

Raising a voice  

“My mother said to me ‘My child listen, whatever you do in this world no matter how good it is you will never be able to please everybody. But what one should strive for is to do the very best humanly possible.’” – Marian Anderson, American Contralto, 1897-1993  

Marian Anderson broke barriers in the opera world. In 1939, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial in front of a crowd of 75,000 after the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) denied her access to the DAR Constitution Hall because of her race. And in 1955, Marian Anderson became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. She sang the leading role as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.  

what is school culture essay

Influencing the world  

“The artist’s role is to challenge convention, to push boundaries, and to open new doors of perception.” – Henry Ossawa Tanner, Painter, 1859-1937  

Henry Ossawa Tanner is known to be the first Black artist to gain world-wide fame and acclaim. In 1877, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts , where he was the only Black student. In 1891, Tanner moved to Paris to escape the racism he was confronted with in America. Here, he painted two of his most recognized works, “ The Banjo Lesson” and “ The Thankful Poor of 1894. ”    

In 1923, Henry O. Tanner was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government, France’s highest honor.  

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Rising up  

“Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.” – Phillis Wheatley, Poet, 1753-1784  

At about seven years old, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped from her home in West Africa and sold into slavery in Boston. She started writing poetry around the age of 12 and published her first poem, “ Messrs. Hussey and Coffin ,” in Rhode Island’s Newport Mercury newspaper in 1767.   

While her poetry spread in popularity ― so did the skepticism. Some did not believe an enslaved woman could have authored the poems. She defended her work to a panel of town leaders and became the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry. The panel’s attestation was included in the preface of her book.  

Phillis Wheatley corresponded with many artists, writers and activists, including a well-known 1 774 letter to Reverand Samson Occom about freedom and equality.  

Phillis Wheatley with pen and paper

Honoring Black History Month 2024  

Art plays a powerful role in helping us learn and evolve. Not only does it introduce us to a world of diverse experiences, but it helps us form stronger connections. These are just a few of the many Black creators who shaped U.S. history ― whose expressions opened many doors and minds.  

Black History Month is observed each year in February. To continue your learning, go on a journey with Dr. Jewrell Rivers, as he guides you through Black History in higher education. Read his article, “A Brief History: Black Americans in Higher Education.”  

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The Morning

Love letters.

Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday. It’s the one day a year when we endorse unfettered demonstrations of affection, but it doesn’t need to to be.

what is school culture essay

By Melissa Kirsch

It was customary when I was in grade school to bestow a valentine upon every person in one’s class. These valentines were not of the handmade or heartfelt variety, but rather bought in bulk from CVS, from the red-cellophane aisle, on the shelf next to the seasonal Whitman’s Samplers and conversation hearts.

Each box of cards had a theme — Disney characters, Garfield, the Berenstain Bears — but were otherwise generic, bearing anodyne tidings of holiday cheer. You’d scrawl your signature on each of the 25 cards, stuff them into their flimsy red envelopes and address them, painstakingly, to each member of your class.

The process might have felt impersonal to an adult, but as a child, receiving dozens of little envelopes that were addressed to me, in the individual penmanship of each of my classmates, felt heavenly. It was exciting to open each one and see which cartoon character hid inside, to be lavished with so much attention. It was an early exercise in seeing and being seen.

Love was, in this classroom scenario, democratic, if dutiful. Over time, of course, we become more selective in how we confer our affection. Eventually, Valentine’s Day, should we choose to participate, becomes a day for honoring one sweetheart, for celebrating a single relationship. One card, one box of chocolates, one dinner reservation.

Efforts have been made to enlarge the circle of those we honor on Valentine’s Day; in 2010 the television comedy “Parks and Recreation” introduced us to “Galentine’s Day,” when women celebrate their female friends. It seems to have achieved some staying power , both for its inclusivity and for its profit-generating potential. But at its heart, under the layers of commercialism and cliché, Valentine’s Day’s core proposition is still one of selectivity ( of varying degrees ), of special someones and Steady Freddies.

The modern phenomenon of Valentine’s Day gets weirder the closer you look at it: We have this one day when we focus on love, when it’s acceptable — nay, expected — that we communicate tender feelings, preferably in the form of a card, in which those feelings have been inscribed. We engage in a more or less choreographed, calendar-delimited expression of romance and emotion. Then it’s back to worldly cares and business as usual on February 15.

I’m exaggerating, of course — we’re not wholly cut off from our feelings 364 days out of the year. But we’re not necessarily focused on deliberate expressions of affection either, whether toward our partners, our children, our friends. It’s not because we’re heartless, but because we’re busy. A holiday reminds us to explicitly tell those we care about that we care, but a calendar alert that you set for a random Thursday in April would do just as well.

I always come back to those classroom valentines. They were wonderful because they were egalitarian, but also because they were actual artifacts of affection, however mass produced, bearing my name and the sender’s. They were mail , something that was exotic and exciting to receive as a child, that’s become even more exotic and exciting to receive in our paperless present. Sending a “thinking about you” text to a friend is a lovely gesture. Mailing a postcard, or a longer note, a more explicit demonstration of fondness, feels a bit magical. And even more so if you don’t wait for a birthday or holiday to do it.

Valentine’s Day, P.S. 183 in Manhattan , 1987.

Make a very cool homemade card with newspaper.

Is Valentine’s Day “a hallowed celebration, a marketing scam that entrenches the hegemony of the nuclear family or just a harmless convention that everyone needs to calm down about”? Here’s a bouquet of perspectives .

Bring back snail mail .


Toby Keith, who died this week, drew recognition beyond country music for his belligerent post-9/11 rallying cry “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” See a timeline of his biggest songs and career moments .

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The M.L.B. suspended Billy Eppler , the former New York Mets general manager, accusing him of fabricating injuries.

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Andrew LaVallee

By Andrew LaVallee

🎸 “What Now” (Out Now): Brittany Howard, the lead singer of Alabama Shakes, wrote and recorded the songs on her second solo album in the wake of both a divorce and the pandemic, and the result, as David Peisner described it in his profile of the musician , is “filled with wailing soul, jittery funk and buzzing grooves born of frustration, pain, love and intense questioning.” It all came together during a period when she, like many of us, was forced to stop much of what she had been doing, but the resulting music showcases her undiminished vocal power.

😹 “Have It All” (Tuesday): It’s not even mid-February, but it feels safe to say that Taylor Tomlinson — whom our comedy critic Jason Zinoman calls “one of the most acclaimed, in-demand superstars in comedy, the rare young stand-up with mass appeal in the current fragmented landscape” — is having a standout year. Last month she made her debut as the host of “After Midnight” on CBS, filling James Corden’s former late-night spot. On Tuesday, her third Netflix comedy special, “Have It All,” starts streaming, just in case you need a way to ignore the encroachment of Valentine’s Day.


Melissa Clark

By Melissa Clark

Is it even legal to have a Super Bowl party without a bowl of guacamole on the coffee table? You can’t do better than the chef Josefina Howard’s version, as adapted by Florence Fabricant. Served at the original Rosa Mexicano restaurant in Manhattan, it couldn’t be simpler, a mix of ripe avocados seasoned with onion, chile, cilantro and a little tomato for color and a juicy bite. The recipe as written feeds only two (or even one very ardent guacamole lover), but it’s easy to scale up for a crowd. And be sure to make a lot. Whether your team wins or loses, you’ll need plenty of guac on hand to see you through.


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In the Garden: When war came to ​Ukraine, Alla Olkhovska had been planning to open a rare-plants nursery. Now her Clematis seeds have an international following .

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Free skate: People around the ​U.S. are building private ​ice skating rinks ​in their backyards , sometimes using as little as a garden hose and lots of patience.


For valentine’s day procrastinators.

It’s not too late to hit a Valentine’s Day home run, whether you’re seeking the perfect present for a cherished friend or a low-key surprise for a new crush. Wirecutter’s experts gathered up the best last-minute gifts , none of which make it seem like you dipped into the drugstore for a day-of panic buy. I can’t stop talking about the long-stem Lego roses beloved by our experts, which have pretty petals and little thorns and would delight almost everyone I know. Of course, if you would rather go the real flowers route, more than a few of our favorite flower delivery services specialize in day-of and last-minute orders. — Hannah Morrill


UConn vs. South Carolina, women’s college basketball: This isn’t the biggest sporting event of the weekend, but it could be the best. These two teams topped The Athletic’s power rankings at the start of the season, and South Carolina has remained at No. 1. “It is overwhelmingly clear South Carolina is the best team in the country,” Sabreena Merchant wrote this week. Keep a particular eye on MiLaysia Fulwiley , a freshman who grew up minutes from South Carolina’s campus and whose moves have earned praise from Magic Johnson. Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.


Here is today’s Spelling Bee . Yesterday’s pangram was lengthened .

Take the news quiz to see how well you followed this week’s headlines.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword , Wordle , Sudoku and Connections .

Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times. — Melissa

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox . Reach our team at [email protected] .

Melissa Kirsch is the deputy editor of Culture and Lifestyle at The Times and writes The Morning newsletter on Saturdays. More about Melissa Kirsch


  1. School Culture: Examples, Types, Definition (2024)

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  2. Cultural Diversity Essay

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  3. Culture Essay Example for Free

    what is school culture essay

  4. School Culture Experience Essay Example

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  5. (PDF) School Culture and Its Relationship with Teacher Leadership

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  6. School Culture

    what is school culture essay


  1. When you use this in a school essay 💀

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  1. School Culture Definition

    The term school culture generally refers to the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions, but the term also encompasses more concrete issues such as the physical and emotional safety of students, the orderliness of classrooms and public spaces,...

  2. What Makes a Good School Culture?

    What Makes a Good School Culture? It starts with connections — strong and overlapping interactions among all members of the school community Posted July 23, 2018 By Leah Shafer Most principals have an instinctive awareness that organizational culture is a key element of school success.

  3. School Culture: Examples, Types, Definition (2024)

    School culture refers to the policies, interpersonal dynamics, attitudes, customs, and formal and informal rules of behavior within a school. School culture involves administrators, teachers, staff, and students. It has a tremendous impact on the functioning and effectiveness of the school.

  4. School Culture: A key aspect of positive and successful schools

    Kent What is Culture? School culture is the underlying set of norms and values, history and stories, symbols and logos, rituals and traditions that make up the foundation of a school's social and emotional ethos.

  5. PDF School Culture

    According to Fullan (2007) school culture can be defined as the guiding beliefs and values evident in the way a school operates. 'School culture' can be used to encompass all the attitudes, expected behaviors and values that impact how the school operates. National Culture

  6. 1 What is school culture and how does it impact on learning?

    a culture of innovation, curiosity and practical experience highlighting students' identities as 'learners' and creating an environment that enhances the potential and interests of each student messages that convey interpersonal relations, teacher attitudes, and norms and values that are part of the culture of the school.

  7. How does school culture affect student learning?

    School culture embodies a community's shared driving purpose. Mission statements and values are two factors that feed school culture, and impact the entire academic experience. Here's the six values we believe are most important to shape your school's culture and positively affect student learning: Be thoughtful. Be inclusive.

  8. PDF The Effects of School Culture on Students Academic Achievements

    The matters of culture, school culture, dimensions of school culture, strong and positive school culture and academic achievement have been addressed under this title. Culture When the related literature is examined, it is seen that culture has many definitions.For instance, according to Fitcher (2002), culture is the signs and

  9. How To Define School Culture and Elevate Your Teaching

    Culture is about implicit and explicit agreements, and defines the way that a school community works together. Culture is manifest in how people enter the building, what they eat and who they sit with at lunch, and who speaks and how much inside classrooms. It impacts the experience of everyone: staff, students, families and the community.

  10. School Culture: The Hidden Curriculum

    They define school culture as an "underground flow of feelings and folkways [wending] its way within schools" in the form of vision and values, beliefs and assumptions, rituals and ceremonies, history and stories, and physical symbols. 2

  11. A Principal's Perspective: The Importance of School Culture

    The following techniques and examples represent my top five. 1. Plan a Bridge Program for New Students and Staff. We were all newbies at one point. Plan immersive experiences that help newbies fit into the culture of the school. At University Park Campus School in Worcester, Massachusetts, students begin learning the culture curriculum before ...

  12. Why School Culture Matters and Strategies to Improve It

    School culture includes an atmosphere of mutual respect amongst all stakeholders where teaching and learning are valued; achievements and successes are celebrated, and where ongoing collaboration is the norm. Dr. Murphy is 100% correct in both of his assertions. First, school culture does matter.

  13. The School Culture

    The school culture is made up of diversity of students, teachers and non teaching staff. The diversity of students includes both male and female students from different cultural backgrounds and age, and students with various ages, just to mention but a few.

  14. Improving School Culture for a Better Learning Environment

    School culture is sometimes referred to as school climate and it includes everyone: students, families, teachers, and support staff. Why Does School Culture Matter? School culture matters because it can help improve quality of life. A strong school culture can help guard against the negative impacts of social media.

  15. PDF A Culture of Success—Examining School Culture and Student Outcomes via

    Keywords: school culture, school leadership, student absenteeism, suspensions 1. Introduction In this current educational context of high stakes accountability, public schools in the United States are under significant pressure to increase student achievement. This pressure is even greater in high poverty environments

  16. The Importance of School Culture Explained

    Culture is, therefore, essential for both employee job satisfaction and student learning and growth. Successful schools are deemed to have healthy and positive cultures. If the importance of school culture is disregarded, the school can become a toxic learning and working environment and fail to achieve its educational goals.

  17. School culture, leadership and relationships matter

    The multiple aspects related to teachers and teacher education, the work of teaching, learning, principals and leadership, and school relationships reported in this issue emphasise the complexity of schools as communities which support learning for all their members. The articles demonstrate how well-being, agency and trust among and between ...

  18. 11 Real Ways to Build a Positive School Culture

    What is 'school culture'? Culture, ethos, atmosphere, climate… What do these words mean for your school? Basically, a school culture consists of the underlying influences and attitudes within the school — based on the norms, traditions and beliefs of the staff and students. How important is school culture?

  19. (PDF) School culture

    In educational organizations, where humans are at the center, every school has a culture that is built in the process of its formation (Yunusa Dangara., 2016; Stoll, 2000). Organizational culture ...

  20. School Culture Analysis Essay

    School Culture Analysis Essay 1655 Words 7 Pages Running head: SCHOOL CULTURE ANALYSIS School Culture Analysis Lisa Mack Grand Canyon University EDA 529 Dr. Tony Elmer July 21, 2009 School Culture Analysis The term school culture describes the environment that affects the behavior of the entire school community.

  21. Culture and education: looking back to culture through education

    The essays in this issue of Paedagogica Historica are not consistent in their conceptualisations. That inconsistency is a virtue, because it points to the extraordinary range of historical phenomena that may be included in discussions of education and culture. ... Finally, Justyna Gulczynska draws a picture of secondary school students ...

  22. Five Characteristics of Effective School Culture

    The most effective school cultures support great teaching and learning. They empower teachers to communicate, collaborate, reflect, inquire and innovate. Everything that we do at UCDS is designed to promote innovation and excellence in education. In our more than 40 years of honing and evolving our programs, we've learned that school culture ...

  23. The Steps to Creating a Positive School Culture

    Be a Role Model, Set the Tone. As is best practice in instruction, modeling is key to understanding with anything in school buildings. Therefore, it is important to model these behaviors. School leadership and staff alike should lead by example. Students notice and can learn from our behaviors and the way we handle ourselves in daily situations.

  24. What you need to know about culture and arts education

    Dance and music lessons. School trips to museums. Dialogue with indigenous peoples. Crafts transmitted from a generation to another. Theatre festivals, web design courses and fashion workshops. These are just some of the many shapes and forms that connect education and culture. Together, they help us appreciate the beauty, diversity and complexity of the world, acquire essential skills and ...

  25. The Importance of the Personal Essay in High School

    The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

  26. Black History Month 2024: African Americans and the Arts

    Carter G. Woodson dedicated his life to teaching Black History and incorporating the subject of Black History in schools. He co-founded what is now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH). In February 1926, Woodson launched the first Negro History Week, which has since been expanded into Black History Month.

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    Ilana Hamilton is a writer and editor specializing in education and career topics. An Oregon native, Ilana lives in Portland with her family.

  28. Love Letters

    It was customary when I was in grade school to bestow a valentine upon every person in one's class. These valentines were not of the handmade or heartfelt variety, but rather bought in bulk from ...