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Building Your School Culture...1 Relationship at a Time

The first two questions I asked myself as I prepared for my first Principal position were - 1. What is a successful school culture? and  2. What will it look like at our school?  I spent a great deal of time and energy putting my thoughts to paper.  The answers to questions #1 & #2 became the foundations of my personal educational core values.  I believe a successful school has a culture of personalization, collaboration and excellence.  I explain these in greater detail in my post Principal entry plan - the 1st 100 days. I was confident in my personal vision of culture, but now needed to answer the most critical question of all - how do we build it at our school?  As a former coach I have always believed in establishing a family style atmosphere, emphasizing shared ownership and postive relationships.  My philosophies are inline with those of highly respected educational leaders Roland Barth and Todd Whitaker.   

"The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else."
Roland Barth
"It's people not programs"
Todd Whitaker @Toddwhitaker

I believe we build our school culture with people, one relationship at a time!  I decided at our school it would start with our teachers.   

5 Simple Ways to Involve Teachers in Building your School Culture:
  1. Say Thank You!
    • Have a stack of assorted thank you cards and share them with staff as a token of appreciation
    • Purchase a variety of little "smiley guy" faces and trinkets & drop them in teachers mailboxes
    • Say thank you in person (privately)
    • Say thank you in public - at staff meetings, PTO meetings, public events & @school committee meetings
  2. Show Appreciation!
    • Nominate them for local, state and national awards-i.e: teacher of the year
    • We held a holiday party celebration at our December staff meeting!
    • We feature teachers on our school blog: check it out- 5 Quick Things
    • I raffled off 2 "get out class free certificates" at our last staff meeting. The certificates are redeemable for me to come in and teach the class while teacher gets a well deserved break :)
    • After a tough week, make it a point to let teachers out early!
    • I bring in coffee, muffins and breakfast treats every Friday for our hard working administrative assistants
    • Send cards for births, weddings and other celebrations
    • Call and/or visit them if they are out for a prolonged time with an illness

    3. Involve Them!

  • We thought it important to have one committee that EVERY teacher could participate on.  Our "Good to Great" committee has open enrollment. We are building our new RTI model with this committee!
  • We have a weekly newsletter "The Friday Focus" that communicates clearly to our entire staff all the great things going on at our school. Check it out-Normandin MS Friday Focus. We send copies to our Mayor, school committee and central office personell.

     4.  Get out of their Way!

  • Our teachers have started their own group called "simply sharing" that meets regularly to focus on ideas that will positively impact our school culture - the group successfully ran an indoor yardsale that involved students, parents and teachers to raise $ for our 8th grade class.
  • A motivated staff is capable of bringing any school to the next level.  Our staff is responsible for bringing New Bedford Mayor Mitchell (Mayor Mitchell Visit) and MA Congressman Bill Keating (Congressman Keating Visit) to our school.  Our teachers hosted a community spaghetti supper serving 100's (Spaghetti Supper Story) and have brought in guest speakers such as @Jeffyalden (Jeff Yalden Visit), bullying prevention specialists, outside agencies, and so much more.
  • Our staff has also secured close to $500,000 in grants for our school that they have written & participated in directly. Most recently we received the MA 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Grant and are extremely excited for the opportunities it will bring our students. 

     5.  Trust them, Push them, Challenge them, Support them & Lead them! 

**You may be surprised at what such highly educated and passionate people can do when driven**

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Comment by Dr. Maria V. DeChristofano on June 20, 2013 at 1:05pm

I most certainly agree with your belief statement and strategies. I also recommend that you read the book by Dr. Neila A. Connors, If you don't feed the teachers they eat the students! The short read will make you laugh and reaffirm your beliefs regarding school culture and how beginning with the teachers is the only place to start.

Comment by Jason Johnston on February 11, 2013 at 9:36pm

Since you have been a teacher and now a principal, have you noticed that it is the teachers that set the tone for a school's culture?  Do you believe that it starts at the top and then trickles down?  I'd like to know what you think.

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