Positivity can come from many things; an inspirational quote, a warm hug, or an inviting environment. K-12 school principals and superintendents understand the importance of a positive environment outside of school, which is why many are determined to create positive environments for students, staff, and faculty within school grounds as well. Maintaining a constructive school culture has been shown to have a great impact on student academic performance, as well as teacher retention. One Massachusetts school linked a positive school culture to a 100% college acceptance rate, and another Colorado school found their positive school environment reduced teacher turnover, according to Education Dive.
So, how could your K-12 school or district build a positive school environment?
6 Ways to Build a Positive School Environment
- Avoid Negative Messaging
This may be self-explanatory, but negative messaging in any way can be detrimental to a school culture. Susan Kessler, the executive principal at Hunters Lane High School in Tennessee recommends the following, "A good starting place is to look at the walls. What do the walls of your school say? Are they filled with messages like 'Don’t do this…' or 'No students allowed'?” She goes on to explain that at her school there is absolutely no negative signage. On the school walls the messages say ‘Keep walking’ as opposed to ‘No Standing’, or ‘Thanks for putting your cell phone away’ instead of ‘No cell phones allowed’. Keeping the messaging positive does more than you may think. Kessler continues by explaining, “The no negative signage rule is the foundation of an environment where our communication is positive and affirming. What we believe about students and school is communicated not just in what we say, but also in how we say it.”
- Invest in & Build Relationships
One of the most important ways to establish a positive school culture is by building and investing in relationships. When teachers, staff, and students feel valued and appreciated they are more likely to work harder, stay the course, and most importantly, enjoy their work. According to ASCD, when students feel that they are respected by their teachers they find more success in school both academically and behaviorally. “Programs are only as good as the paper they are written on without the people who implement them. A school culture doesn’t exist because of a program. It exists because of the people within the building. That includes aides, secretary, food service, teachers, administrators, parents and most importantly students.”
- Encourage & Reward Risk-Taking
Nick Polyak, superintendent of Leyden School District 21 in Franklin Park, Illinois is a big advocate for encouraging risk-taking when improving school culture. He explains to Education Dive, "If you want to create a positive culture of innovation in your schools, think about how you encourage and reward risk-taking by your staff and students. Do you start with a 'yes' and try to help new ideas become realities, or do you start with a 'no' and list the reasons why something new and different would not work? Our students are getting ready to enter a future that is different from the [one] we experienced. Their schools need to evolve and move forward, and that starts with the culture you create in the buildings."
- Be a Supportive Role Model
Setting a good example for students is a great way to build a positive school environment. ASCD explains that school leadership and staff should always lead by example. By doing so, students will recognize and learn from these behaviors and the way teachers and administrators handle daily situations. By being a role model, you’re showing students how to be kind, caring, and that you value them. Always consider whether teachers and staff are modeling the behaviors you’d want to see if the students were put in a similar situation. Candace Singh, superintendent of Fallbrook Union Elementary School District in California explains to Education Dive, “We set the tone through our words and actions, and [we] should take every opportunity to model the behaviors we expect from others. Culture is built through every interaction we have with our students, staff and families, and those interactions must be optimistic, inspiring and supportive.” She continues by saying, “The most effective superintendents understand the power their words and actions have in creating a culture that serves as the foundation for high levels of learning for students in our schools.”
- Praise & Celebrate
All victories of building a positive school environment should be praised and celebrated! Being recognized for the good things teachers, staff, and students are doing is a great way to make them feel respected and valued. There are a variety of ways to do this, according to ASCD, including; hand-written notes, creating a certificate, a bulletin board, a phone call home, or a school or class newsletter. Doing any of the following shows your appreciation to those who contribute to a positive school environment.
- Creating a Culture of Safety
School safety is paramount in playing a role in a positive school environment. Teachers, administrators, students, and staff cannot feel positive if they do not feel safe at school. Unfortunately, the increase of active assailant incidents and severe weather events have impacted a school’s foundation of safety, which is why many K-12 districts have looked to school safety technologies to help protect their school community.
Technologies to Improve School Safety Culture
Protecting a K-12 school community is a big task, but there are helpful technologies available which make that task easier for superintendents and school district decision makers.
A mobile panic button application is a school safety technology that is designed to improve the outcome of an emergency on school grounds, enabling faster response and effective communication between first responders, 9-1-1, school faculty and staff. With the push of a button, either medical, fire, critical report, active assailant, or non-emergency, the appropriate people are notified with key details about the emergency type and location.
Seconds count in an emergency, which is why many K-12 school districts have chosen the Rave Panic Button to protect their students, faculty, administrators, visitors, and staff. Watch this short video below to learn more.
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