What We’re Reading: 4 Resources for Improving School Culture

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Improving school culture is high on many school leaders’ lists of building priorities.

When teachers feel valued and supported within their school community and environment, student learning is also better supported. But cultivating a strong school culture doesn’t happen without intentional thought and planning.

We’ve rounded up four resources that provide best practices for improving school culture, including how psychological safety is crucial for educators and strategies for valuing and supporting teachers.

Check out the highlights of what we’ve been reading below, as well as links to the full resources.

Teacher self-efficacy is grounded in instructional confidence

This Edutopia article provides the research-based importance of teacher confidence:

“Teachers’ high self-efficacy [are associated] with better classroom management, closer relationships with students, and high-quality lessons.”

Why is this key to improving school culture?

Feeling confident in their instruction empowers teachers to feel autonomy in trying new instructional practices and continuously growing in the classroom.

The Edutopia resource shares ideas to implement for teachers who are working on building their confidence. Here are some of the highlights:

Engage in lifelong learning and seek feedback

“By focusing on continuous professional development, consuming educational research, and learning from peers and experts, teachers solidify their expertise and confidence. To avoid the shame trap, savvy educators don’t compare their knowledge and skills with others’.”

Perhaps as a school leader, you engage in regular instructional coaching conversations to provide teachers feedback.

Avoid perfectionism

“According to research by Dr. Brady Jones, educators who perseverate on achieving idealized standards—that is, perfectionists—are ‘more likely to become overwhelmed and leave’ … There’s no perfect lesson, just as there’s no perfect teacher. Moreover, adaptable thinking, when combined with collaborative support, can lead to creative solutions and bolster self-assurance.”

Micro-teaching is an approach involving short, measurable cycles of instructional “experiments” based on improvement science and proven to have the greatest effect on teacher improvement.

Find the rest of the strategies for helping teachers build confidence at Edutopia: How Teachers Can Build Confidence

Developing a “culture budget” is key to shaping school culture

“Strong leaders work to ensure that the culture supports the school’s mission.

… When we are conscious about our culture, we work hard to embed practices that create a sense of belonging and advance learning. This means being deliberate about the values we want to instill and setting expectations so that the behaviors become routinized.”

This ASCD blog post doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the critical role school leaders play in shaping school culture.

Principals, PD leaders, instructional coaches, and other school administrators must be intentional in embodying and modeling the culture they want to set schoolwide for teachers.

A “culture budget” is how school leaders can identify and provide their school staff with the resources they need to live into that school culture.

Here are two examples of improving school culture by allocating a “culture budget”:

Boost staff relationships and provide productive learning opportunities

“It’s important that staff members are friendly and open to working with one another, so I invested some PD funds to boost staff morale and relationships. Spending funds to spread positivity and strengthen collaboration—knowing that this would lead to benefits for students—is a good example of how a culture budget works.”

There are other strategies to build culture that don’t cost money. If we want our school to be a learning organization, for example, we need to ensure that our faculty meetings are learning meetings, occasions when teachers learn with and from one another, not times when they simply ‘sit and get’ information from administrators.”

Consider how teachers can get more out of schoolwide collaboration time and professional development without scheduling more meeting time.

Independent teacher reflection is one way for admins to enable teachers to actively work on their learning without “sitting and getting” during long PD workshops.

Learn more about shaping school culture at the ASCD blog: Developing Your School “Culture Budget”

AI Coach by Edthena

Supporting teacher learning?

Provide structure for teacher self-reflection.

Supporting teacher well-being is integral to improving school culture

Teacher well-being and a strong school culture are interconnected and it’s up to school leaders and those who support educators to address both.

This District Administration article talks about the potential consequences of poor teacher wellness:

“When teachers are stressed and demoralized, they struggle to build strong relationships and manage the needs of all students, affecting the learning environment.”

These are two of the big ideas shared in this DA resource for making changes to and improving school culture when it comes to teacher well-being:

Teachers need to reconnect with their jobs emotionally

“Humans deserve to feel connected to their purpose and fulfilled by what they do. This doesn’t mean any job will be perfect, but teachers need to feel satisfaction in the parts of their job that are most meaningful—most often, building relationships and supporting students to succeed.”

Remember to check in with teachers about more than just their instructional strategies. Ask teachers how they are cultivating strong classroom connections with and among students.

Teachers need to be trusted and respected

“Teachers are experts in their field and have been hired for that reason, but education systems often don’t provide the recognition they deserve or the autonomy they need to do their best work.”

Teachers should be in the driver’s seat of their learning and development; a school culture of “tell me what to do” doesn’t often promote teacher autonomy.

Read the rest of this article about paying attention to teachers’ needs at District Administration: Why 2023 needs to be the Year of the Teacher

Positive psychology and coaching expert Christian van Nieuwerburgh has strategies for teacher well-being. Find them on our blog:

What Positive Psychology Has to Do with Supporting Teacher Well-Being

Promoting Teacher Mental Health? Ask These 5 Questions to Create a Well-Being Plan

Leading by example and other strategies for building school culture

This TCEA blog post outlines five ways school leaders can improve school culture.

Here are two of the strategies:

Develop a shared vision

“The school’s mission and vision are essential elements of the school’s culture. It often happens that leaders set their own goals and ideas for the school. Instead, include staff in crafting the school mission and vision statements.

That way, all stakeholders will be personally invested in making the school’s goals a reality, creating a strong, positive, and collaborative school culture.”

Including teachers in the schoolwide goal-setting process can help boost alignment to those higher-level instructional goals when teachers are working on specific, bite-sized classroom strategies.

Recognize and celebrate achievements

“Regularly acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of students, teachers, and staff. Implement recognition programs, highlight success stories, and publicly appreciate the efforts and contributions of everyone at your school. Celebrate everything from birthdays to academic and instructional successes.”

Ensure educators are recognized for their positive growth and work.

Read all of the five strategies at the TCEA technotes blog: Five Ways Leaders Can Improve School Culture

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