How to Center Your Teachers & Staff in Your School’s Culture

Creating a positive school culture for students and families means setting your teachers and staff up for success. Here are a few ways to ensure they have what they need to thrive.
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Blog date
9/27/22
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In thinking about positive school culture as a school leader, you’re most likely considering the learning and development of the students in your care and how to cultivate a school environment that helps students feel safe, engaged, and accepted

This makes sense, of course—making sure your students have what they need to succeed is a big reason why you became a principal in the first place! But, we also know that a positive school climate isn’t just about students feeling supported. It’s also about setting educators and staff up for success so they, in turn, can pass that success on to your students and families.

When we create a school culture with teachers and staff at the center, they’re more likely to thrive—and when they thrive, it’s more likely they’ll want to stay in the classroom. While we know developing this environment takes time and deliberate effort, here are a few simple shifts you can make as you work to put the needs of your teachers and staff at the forefront. For our full list of strategies, read Innovative Ways to Create a Positive School (and District) Culture.

When we create a school culture with teachers and staff at the center, they’re more likely to thrive—and when they thrive, it’s more likely they’ll want to stay in the classroom.

Lead with a “culture of care”

You and your team have been through a lot over the past two school years, and there’s no telling what this year might bring. That’s why it’s critical to build more care into your school culture. We’re not referring to self-care, although that’s important too. We’re talking about the care that comes with building relationships with your teachers, as well as setting aside time for them to get to know their peers, students, parents, and other members of the school community. 

When care is a part of a school’s DNA, there are plenty of benefits—improved teacher retention rates, a sense of belonging and ownership, and an increased feeling of psychological safety, where teachers and staff have the confidence to take healthy risks. 

When care is a part of a school’s DNA, there are plenty of benefits—improved teacher retention rates, a sense of belonging and ownership, and an increased feeling of psychological safety, where teachers and staff have the confidence to take healthy risks. 

Developing a culture of care can start with these small yet significant actions:

  • Acknowledging and highlighting the accomplishments of your teachers and staff. Did a teacher run a marathon over the weekend? Did a staff member go back to school and earn their degree? Make it a habit to celebrate important milestones, even if they happened outside the school building. 
  • Adapt your leadership style to meet individual needs. There isn’t one leadership style that works for every person or every context. Being able to adjust your style as needed can go a long way in making your team feel supported.
  • Visibly demonstrate care. Make it a habit to regularly ask how your teachers and staff members are doing. Sometimes, all we need is for someone to listen—and listening is an important form of care. 

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Rethink your school vision with your teachers and staff in mind

Your school’s vision is its goal for the future. It’s the values your school community holds, what success looks like, and how everyone works together to make that growth possible.

As you continue to keep that vision front and center, consider thinking about your success and growth through the lens of your teachers and staff. These questions can help you on that path:

  • What is the ultimate goal for the teachers and staff at our school?
  • What do we want teachers and staff to believe about themselves and their potential?
  • What does success look like for them?
  • What values should our larger school community model to help them reach these goals?

In our book Breakthrough Principals, we say a school vision is most impactful if it grows out of the needs of your school. Engaging with your team around these questions creates a shared sense of ownership and may also help you determine professional development or leadership opportunities. 

Commit to dismantling systems that lead to stress and overwhelm

It’s tough to talk about establishing a positive school culture without identifying a key piece that contributes to the opposite: teacher and staff burnout. Many of the larger issues that contribute to teacher burnout—covering other classes because of staff shortages, the loss of planning time, and the continued anxiety about the pandemic and its effects—are simply beyond their control. Yours, too. 

But there are broader and more systemic changes that are within your control—changes that could reset or remove the inequitable and outdated practices that have long existed in education. Teacher time is one. While this issue looms large, there are ways to start small to better value and protect this critical resource. Can you leverage adult volunteers or create a rotating schedule, so teachers can limit the amount of time they’re serving during recess, duty, or pickup? Can you make teacher time the top priority by scheduling dedicated planning and prep time for those teaching the same grade level or subject?  

Taking the time to think through and innovate on these challenges with the well-being of your teachers and staff in mind can not only help improve your school culture and drive student achievement but also creates an environment where teachers want to stay in their profession.

Taking the time to think through and innovate on these challenges with the well-being of your teachers and staff in mind can not only help improve your school culture and drive student achievement but also create an environment where teachers want to stay in their profession.

Bring teachers into parent and community engagement decisions

Centering your teachers and staff in your school culture can also help to forge stronger relationships with the other adults in your school community, such as parents and community members. 

As your teachers have a direct and close connection with parents, talk with them about their ideas to make families a more integral part of school life. What are the ways they’ve invited parents to participate more fully in their child’s education? Are there approaches that have led to more trusting and genuine partnerships? Paying attention to what’s worked in building these relationships can help your teachers and staff better connect with parents and families.

As your teachers have a direct and close connection with parents, talk with them about their ideas to make families a more integral part of school life. 

Involve and consider your teachers and staff as you’re looking to partner with your broader school community—the local businesses, affinity groups, nonprofit organizations, and government entities that are part of your neighborhood and district. Are there mental health or wellness supports that exist in your community that could benefit your teachers? Or, are there initiatives and opportunities your staff members are interested in leading? Making space for your teachers and staff to provide input and help lead these efforts means increased optimism and confidence, as you’re providing avenues for learning and support. 

Adult success + student success = positive culture

Focusing on the visibility, support, and development of the adults in our building is a necessary component of creating incredible school environments for students. When school leaders center teachers and staff in these efforts, they’re creating a positive culture that serves and benefits everyone.

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