School culture relies on the values of the head and other senior leaders, the attitudes of teachers, parents and students and the level of open communication within the school.
School culture is incredibly important in the wider context of society. It is in school that we learn how to be citizens, and school culture is crucial in ensuring this. Deal and Peterson present the view that “school culture fosters improvement, collaborative decision making, professional development and staff and student learning.” (Deal and Peterson ‘Shaping School Culture’: 1999).
School culture is evidently imperative to helping students progress, and we can clearly see the benefits of schools having a positive culture. In order to understand school culture properly however, we need to understand what it is comprised of.
Understanding school culture
What is school culture?
School culture is the shared beliefs, attitudes and values of stakeholders in a school as well as the relationships between school staff, students and families. There are many elements that influence a school’s culture such as their policies and the school’s history.
Schools strive to have a positive culture which is defined by elements such as the way stakeholders appreciate and interact with each other, how well students learn as well as the how the safety and wellbeing of all parties are looked after.
It is important to understand where a school culture stems from. In most cases school culture usually begins with the headteacher. It is often the case that schools will have particular focuses and these are typically in response to the priorities and goals of the headteacher.
For example, if a school has historically had issues with students' behaviour, then the head may place special emphasis on monitoring and encouraging good behaviour. The emphasis that is placed on this facet of school life will mean that it becomes a central part of the schools culture. In this regard, school culture can be seen as an extension of the Head’s vision for the school.
Different Elements of School Culture
An influential aspect of school culture is the attitude that those within the school express on a daily basis. If the attitude of the teachers are indicative of disenchantment, apathy and dissatisfaction then this will undoubtedly be reflected in the school’s culture.
The same applies for students, the attitude that students have towards their school and their teachers is hugely influential in the formulation of culture. Let us not forget that the majority of people within a school are students, and their opinions and feelings will be reflected in the school’s culture and how it is perceived.
It is also important to understand that parents have a huge impact on a school’s culture. If parents are engaged with the learning process and are active in the school community then this will engender a more positive school culture.
Parents that take a more laissez-faire approach to their children’s education will also contribute to the school’s culture, but not in a wholly positive way. Even something as simple as attendance at parents’ evening can be a big factor in culture. If students’ parents don’t seem to care about their child's progress, then why should they?
Finally, another key aspect of a school's culture is communication. If clear channels of communication exist between different levels within the school as well as between staff and parents, this will help to foster a positive culture.
Having communication as a pillar helps to promote a more collaborative and community-focused experience and when teachers, students and parents have a voice and are listened to - the more likely they are to share their time and get involved with school activities. Conversely, if teachers do not feel like they have a voice, this can lead to dissatisfaction and low retention rates. This is why, when trying to understand a school’s culture, communication really is key.
As mentioned earlier, the culture of a school differs from one to the next, depending on their faith, objectives and challenges. However, what they should all have in common is a strong leader, with all stakeholders aligned in their values and actions that are reflective of this, as well as clear lines of communication which promote honesty and transparency school-wide.