A school is more than a building with teachers and students. It is a small city with its own culture and systems. A positive culture can empower teachers to thrive while developing a love of learning in students. A toxic culture can lead to frustrated learners and high turnover in teachers.
Culture doesn’t depend on resources or school sizes, it depends on the administration and teachers who work there. School leaders are increasingly noticing the benefits of investing in a positive work culture. Studies show that schools that invest in organizational culture – not just policies – have lower rates of chronic absenteeism in teachers. This means educators are more engaged and available to teach their pupils.
What does a positive school culture look like? What trends are leading to better teacher experiences? Here are five trends in education that are changing how schools are run.
1. Increased Teacher Collaboration
It takes a village to raise a child – but what about 500 children? Teachers are leaving their silos to collaborate on lesson plans and seeking help when working with challenging students. While online communities create spaces for teachers to connect with each other, school leaders are also working to create opportunities for collaboration.
“A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between the people in the organization,” says Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, an expert in education leadership and management. “In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions among all members of the organization.”
A culture of collaboration gives new teachers opportunities to learn from their peers. It allows new tools and technology to spread through the school. These collaboration efforts can also save time as educators can divide up their work and share which lessons, activities, and ideas work best – and which ones to avoid. These efforts make resources stretch farther while reducing burnout.
2. Social-Emotional Development for Educators
Social-emotional learning is the process of developing self-regulation and interpersonal skills. By bringing SEL to the classroom, students can develop emotional intelligence at a young age, which they can then use throughout their lives. However, some teachers can benefit from social-emotional training and resources as well.
One of the trends in education is introducing tools for teachers to evaluate themselves through an SEL lens. The team at Six Seconds has multiple assessments and models for reflection, but one of the most popular is the Know Yourself - Choose Yourself - Give Yourself framework.
- Know Yourself (What) - learn how to identify your emotions and evaluate a situation.
- Choose Yourself (How) - determine the best course of action in any given case.
- Give Yourself (Why) - reflect on the motivation behind your behavior, what drives you forward, and how it affects others.
When teachers have more social-emotional skills, they can tap into traits like patience and empathy when working with other teachers, students, and parents. This creates a culture of people working together toward understanding, not working against each other to survive.
3. Positive Feedback and Kind Words
Culture isn’t something you can introduce today and implement tomorrow. It is an evolving part of your school and is practiced every day. Small comments and statements can contribute to your school’s culture – for better or worse.
One way to improve your school culture is by ensuring all critiques and reviews come with positive feedback. For example, when a teacher’s classroom is observed, provide tips for improvement as well as statements for what that educator is doing right.
“Classroom visits focused on strengths shift a school away from a deficit model to an assets-based model,” says Mary Davenport at Edutopia.
This doesn’t mean that you ignore areas that need to be improved, but rather that you present both the good and the bad for teachers to learn.
Additionally, small, informal comments can make a big difference in your school culture. Teachers who compliment their peers on unique projects or lessons build each other up. Administrators who acknowledge the work a teacher put into developing a positive relationship with a difficult parent can make that educator feel seen. Everyone wants their hard work to be noticed, and these kind words can build a positive work culture.
4. Social Gatherings That Break Down Barriers
Digital technology allows teacher teams to communicate throughout the day without ever speaking face-to-face. While it is valuable, online communication can also create incorrect perceptions of people and actually lead to conflict.
“A person’s posture, tone of voice and facial expressions - all important cues in face-to-face communication - are missing from written messages, meaning it is harder to judge the tone or emotion in the conversation,” says Stephen Jones at Management Today. “Stylistic devices like an exclamation mark or capital letters may be intended to convey emphasis, for example, but could also be construed easily as angry.”
An email asking for clarification can seem like pushback. A short response might make a teacher seem curt or cold. Fortunately, in-person gatherings can break down these barriers. When you know someone in real life, you can better pick up their tone virtually. You can get a feel for how they talk and engage with others.
As administrators try to improve school culture, they should look for more in-person gatherings. These can include opportunities to socialize, like team breakfasts or teacher book clubs. These low-stress environments allow teachers to form personal bonds that result in fewer communication conflicts or breakdowns.
5. Higher Pay Rates for Educators
Social-emotional skills won't help you pay rent. You can’t use praise from your admin team to make your car payment. While a positive culture can motivate teachers and inspire them to do their best, fair pay is essential for retention. When schools experience high turnover, educators can’t develop long-term professional relationships. The culture also suffers as new hires are considered temporary.
There is some good news in regard to trends in education. Teachers across the country are seeing bumps in pay and bonuses acknowledging their hard work. In Alabama, teachers can receive up to a 21 percent raise depending on their experience levels – the biggest pay raise on this scale since 1983.
These changes are just the first step. The average teacher salary in the United States is $58,950 annually, but many teachers earn well below that. This pay rate also doesn’t account for the hours of unpaid overtime that teachers take on each year for grading, responding to late-night emails, and early-morning meetings with peers and parents.
Evaluate Your Current School Culture
Every school has positive and negative elements that contribute to the culture. Take time to understand what your school needs and where it thrives. Maybe your teachers need more in-person interactions but they share positive feedback with each other virtually. Acknowledge your successes and celebrate your strengths – then get to work making your culture as healthy as you can with the resources you have.