Positive School Culture: Why Some Schools Have It and Some Schools Don’t

To describe culture is as elusive as asking someone to describe what a Yeti looks like. Depending on where you grew up, what stories you heard as a kid, or how many late night documentaries you watched, expect several different answers. All will be correct to the presenter, and rest to sure there will be similarities between each description.

The same is true when defining what a positive, successful school culture looks like, smells like, and sounds like. Depending on who is asked, and their experience, you can expect a myriad of explanations. Some good, some bad, but in the end, all representing the various shades of school culture. And, like our Yeti descriptions, there will be emerging common traits between them all.

I’ve had the pleasure, and some regret, to work in all types of school cultures. Schools where students were banging on the front doors at 6:30 AM, and still found in the building at 10:00 PM. Vibrant schools, those that once you stepped foot into the door you felt the energy, it was contagious, and you knew you were somewhere special. Student art and achievements plastered the walls, everyone greeted you with a smile and nod. Even the security guard made you feel welcomed. It’s like walking off of a soundproof subway car into grand central station. It is alive through its own fruition, and you want nothing more than to take it in and be a part of it.

On the other hand, there are the schools where five minutes before first period there is a flood of activity. Students meander in, find their way to class, sit down and reach for their phones in one full swoop. Teachers face the board, occasionally looking over their shoulders to great students. The walls are stark, institutional in appearance, just a different shade of any 1970’s government complex. There is an overwhelming sense that no one wants to be there, and you want nothing more than to get in, do what it is you have to do and get out. By 2:30 PM, the place is a ghost town.

So what contributes to one school feeling so welcoming and success driving, and the other feeling desperate and focused on the status quo? It is the people within them, their actions, or inactions, that set them apart. While there are always several factors at play that impact a school’s culture, I would argue that it is the choices made by the inhabitants of these schools, and the boundaries set and modeled by their leaders that define their culture.

This is the driving motivation behind this blog. To analyze and interpret the practices and behaviours that lead to positive, successful schools. I am excited to begin this journey, and I am eager to hear your voices along the way.