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The Importance of Creating a Cohesive and Positive School Culture, Virtually

Updated: May 26

The school experience is more than cognitive development and factual learning - it allows children and young adults to further their social and emotional development. The school’s culture plays a large role in how the students develop socially and emotionally. It is easy to see how a culture can be created and reinforced when people interact face-to-face daily. However, when many schools go online for at least some of their curriculum, how do we best support the culture and continue to further social and emotional development? This article will provide some suggestions.

Students working on homework outside, sitting at a table.
Students Learning Outside

Importance of culture, especially a cohesive one:

School culture refers to students' relationships with teachers and other staff members and their shared beliefs, perceptions, and values. As the Great Schools Partnership shares, when teachers and students feel the sense of a community, they are more likely to:

  • be satisfied with the assignments done;

  • be punctual;

  • enjoy participation in activities; and

  • achieve more.

Research shows that school cultures that focus on collaboration, communication, productivity, strengths, relationships, and kindness will produce more successful students due to encouragement from their unity rather than feeling ignored and isolated. It also reduces teachers' and students' stress and, in high school, can even improve the retention and graduation of students.

Where positive school culture affects the productivity of the school, students, and staff positively, toxic or negative school culture would influence its output too. Dr. Kent D. Peterson, a lecturer in the Department of Education Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also a co-author of Shaping School Culture: Fieldbook, suggests these possible traits of negative school culture:

  • lack of determination;

  • norms that reinforce lethargy;

  • blame culture with students blamed for lack of progress;

  • discouragement of teamwork; and

  • hostile relationships among staff.

Creating a Positive School Culture

It is easy to see why we all want to create a positive culture and have the benefits of that, but how do we do that?

It all starts at the top. The school administration should create a set of values and find ways to reinforce those values. There are three basic rules school administrators can play their role in creating these standards.

  1. They observe their school by watching student-student, student-teacher, and teacher-teacher interactions.

  2. They should then note the positive and negative aspects of those interactions.

  3. Finally, create a list of the positive traits and, potentially, some positive traits that may counteract anything negative observed. Ideally, this is a list of 3-7 traits. You then share out those traits across the school, students, and parent community.

What can teachers do to make an environment productive?

As a teacher, your role is to reinforce the school's values. For example, finding classroom activities that reinforce sharing and kindness are great ways to foster a positive environment. Here are a few other things that can drive a positive classroom culture:

1. Give Help To Students That Need It

To promote sympathy between students, you must help them when they ask for it. Teachers play a key role in creating a positive environment. As a teacher, you shouldn’t pick favorites as it has a bad effect on students' minds. Help the students be productive and stay motivated all the time.

2. Ensure Justice and Equality Among Students

To maintain a positive class environment, providing justice to your students and treating them equally is essential. If you are unjust, they will take that as an advantage to perform unethical actions and create disturbance in the classroom.

3. Create a Responsive Classroom (RC)

Consider employing the Responsive Classroom teaching methodology. A responsive classroom is a teaching methodology focused on the belief that the combination of intellectual and social-emotional abilities provides a good atmosphere for learning. Teachers using this method provide a caring, open, warm, and relationship-based classroom with a frequent exchange of dialogue. Studies show that students with closer relationships with teachers are more engaged and achieve higher results.

Some important classroom practices to create a responsive classroom are to be highly interactive with your students and have a constant feedback loop. The feedback should include student feedback on the teaching methods and the more traditional teacher feedback to the students regarding their performance. Feedback-rich activities, such as quizzes, debates, question-answer sessions, or book reviews, should be arranged so that students can actively participate in healthy discussions.

Creating a Culture Virtually

Many of these tactics are easy to employ when you see your students 3-5 days a week in person. But with many schools starting the fall 100% online and other virtual-only schools, we have to adapt and find ways to create a positive culture virtually.

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