School culture includes students, parents, and staff. It is how the school is viewed by the community and how the school is part of the community. But it starts with the staff. The teachers, administrators, and other employees of the school set the tone for student interaction and well-being, parent communication, and are ambassadors to the community. Staff can either take a proactive, unified role in defining that culture, or the culture can be created in bits and pieces around them, by default.
In choosing to create a school culture, the staff is wise to bring as many stakeholders as possible together for a two-part discussion: What do we want the culture of our building, our schools, our school community to look like? and, What do we as a staff need to agree to do to create that culture?
Let’s talk a moment about what this is not. This is not a strategic planning discussion. This is not a list of rules that students will have to follow. This is not a wish list for must-haves when the budget will allow. Rather, this is a discussion of norms the staff will agree to in order to create a work environment that will make room for these other things to happen. Because when staff don’t know how to work together, strategic planning becomes a moot point. Because when staff aren’t on the same page, student discipline becomes a growing problem. Because when staff aren’t working together, budget scarcity turns into fighting your neighbor instead of looking at what’s best for the students.
So how do schools determine staff norms?
- It’s a process of defining what the ideal work environment would be without getting stuck on past examples of what hasn’t been working.
- It’s a process of defining what the school values. Timeliness? Professionalism? Respect? Right to learn? Accountability? Achievement? Communication?
- It’s a process of breaking down those values and determining what they mean. One person’s definition of professionalism probably isn’t the same as the next person’s.
- It’s a process of prioritizing. A staff can work with five norms, or ten norms. Having a list of thirty means people are going to see it as overwhelming and will likely not follow the list. What is manageable?
It then becomes a process of keeping the norms visible and adhering to them. When issues arise, put the issue in the context of the norm. Instead of saying, “You’re always late.” Go into the conversation with, “We agreed to be on time for meetings.” Make the norms visible by publishing them in handbooks and newsletters. Make the norms part of employee reviews. There is the saying,”What gets measured gets paid attention to.”
For information about staff training on Creating School Culture, please feel free to contact me.