Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fostering a Positive School Culture

     It can be felt by EVERY SINGLE PERSON that enters your building. The minute anyone opens your school doors and walks inside, an immediate impression is felt. Often it is one of happiness, structure, and confidence. Sometimes a building may have a sense of chaos, frustration, and discontent. Regardless of whether it is good or bad- the point is that it is there.
     Now, you might be wondering why this matters. One might say, "Who cares what I feel when I enter the school. As long as kids are learning and teachers are teaching, and administrators are dealing with discipline, then everything is right." Sadly, they couldn't be MORE wrong.
     In that instance someone comes into the building, an important connection is being made in their minds- this school is a good school, or, this school is not. It sounds so cliche and corny, but I truly believe that it happens.
     So, that being said, how does a school foster a positive culture? One where students enjoy coming each day to school, teachers are empowered to be their best, administrators devote their time to leading, and parents are confident and feel supported in the education process. 
     It isn't an easy undertaking, and one that may take months or even years to correct. 

     Let me share my experience with my school. I lucked out this past year, when I came to a new school as the 6th grade teacher. The school was in the midst of a massive turnover due to retirement, and the then acting administrator wanted to make several changes to the format and structure of the school. School-wide rules were created as a staff. Discipline procedures were put in place, and teachers teamed and worked together to come up with ideas about how to make classrooms work and run more smoothly. 
     I can't give evidence of my school before I came, but I have been told it was a bit chaotic.
     Due to a series of circumstances, I was made 1/2 day interim administrator and 1/2 day 6th grade teacher of the school the end of September 2014. I continued the process of change we began and I started upping the ante. I made changes and started positive awards for classes to earn. I think the biggest change was that I simply made an effort to expression my appreciation to my faculty and staff, AND to let students and parents know that I appreciated them, respected them, and wanted what was best for them.
     The year seemed to end with agreement from all parties that we had a successful and positive year. Parents commented on the fact that the school "felt "different- several even commented that even driving by felt different (in a good way). I took that as a sign that our school- working together- was on the right path to having a flourishing positive culture in your building.
     Over the summer, I pondered on what I could do (having been hired as the full-time administrator) to help maintain and building our positive culture. Then it hit me!

     I decided to do a theme for my faculty and staff. After all, I didn't have a class or classroom anymore (a post on that coming soon), and I needed to have a focus. I decided on a SUPER HERO theme. Working with my amazing secretary and also with my wife, the three of us came up with some fun ways to surprise the teachers and get the year off to a great start. My wife did the bulletin boards pictured above that is in our front entry of the school. 
     We decided that for the first week of school, we would have a small gift or treat of some kind for each day for each person who worked at the school. We had backscratchers, hand-decorated clipboards, new lunch totes with the school logo, and more! We also had an amazing spread of treats each day for the first week during morning recess! Everything had a note or memo expressing appreciation and excitement for the coming year!
     I am pretty sure the faculty and staff LOVED it, and I feel this set the tone for the year as one of appreciation and dedication.
     Friday of the first week was my favorite day, and one that we will build on for the rest of the year. My wife and I wanted to give each teacher a cape to wear to help students remember that their teacher was a super hero! After much discussion we came up with a plan and made a trip to Wal-Mart.
     Buying all the biggest shirts we could from the clearance rack (over 30), we headed home. Next came the logo design for the cape. We settled on SC for "Super Colts" with the horse from our logo. My wife made a stencil and then spent the next several days cutting shirts and spraying on the logo!

My wife and I also found these awesome Captain America shirts on clearance and you will notice my wife was able to add "Co-" to my secretary's shirt! AWESOME!

     On Friday of the first week, we went to EVERY classroom and presented each teacher (and aide) with his/her cape. I told the students that I had to share a secret about their teacher that they didn't want them to know. They sat right up and were totally interested. When I showed them the cape, the cheered for their teacher. My wife also had a sucker for each student with a mini paper cape and sticker that reminded them that they too, were super heroes. 

    We also gave a cape to every paraprofessional, custodian, lunch lady", speech therapist, computer lab managers...if they worked in the building, they got a cape!  My head custodian LOVED his cape and wore it all over the school grounds and also to the hardware store and any other errand he had to run. As you can see below, he even posed on the school roof while fixing an air conditioner for a picture!

     At the end of the day, we had a fire drill, and it was SO AWESOME to see the faculty and staff walking around outside in their capes and enjoying it. What an amazing group of people!
     You might be thinking, "Well bully for you Mr. Hughes. So glad you could do all these things for your staff and faculty. Not all of us can do that." Or, "I am just a teacher. I can't do all this for my school. It isn't my place to do so."
      If that is your impression- then I have failed in this post. It isn't just about only the school leader making the effort, though I concede when the school leader is leading the charge for a positive culture, it tends to work easier, faster, and is more widely accepted. Even if you start in your own little corner of the school by creating a place your students LOVE to come, and then reaching out to your teammates- leaving notes or appreciation, small treats, kind words. You will be amazed at how fast this will move through your school- and soon, your school, regardless of what it was- will become even better! And, it is all because of YOU!

     Our school is moving along this year and I am LOVING the culture of our building. Expectations are set high, and students work to achieve them. Teachers and staff are working well to help and support each other, and parents are coming to the school with praise and concerns for me/us to address. What more could we really ask for?

     Here are some of my year-long goals and plans to keep this positive culture rolling forward:
=I try to make it to every teacher weekly to observe and leave a note about all the good things I see them doing.
=We highlight 4 students each week for the local newspaper- Students of the Week.
=We use Positive Office Referrals (check out the format HERE).
=We have the "Colt's Club". Student earn tickets for a weekly drawing by going "above and beyond". And adult in the building can award them- all have tickets they use.
=We have and maintain a school Facebook page. I am amazed at the positive effect it is having.

     These are just a few of the strategies we are currently employing to foster and maintain a positive school culture. As a school, we will add and remove strategies as needed- but we will ALWAYS be looking for ways to make our culture more positive!

    I am one lucky administrator, that is for sure. I can't wait to see where our school goes next!

-John, Created by MrHughes


  1. I knew you would do an AMAZING job! Congrats on your success so far. Continue to keep up the great work at your school, and thank you for sharing about it here. Everyone wants to work in a positive school environment, so I appreciate you sharing for others to learn.
    ~Heather aka HoJo~

    1. Thanks so much Heather! I can't thank you enough for your support. You are an awesome administrative cheerleader.


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