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Developing and Nurturing a Positive Culture and Climate in your School

From the Desk of Kristi Henderson

As a consultant I have had the opportunity to visit schools all across the nation.  What strikes me most is how positive and student-centered the campuses I visit are. Teachers are in the hallways not only supervising students, but are creating a more welcoming experience by talking and sharing smiles with them as they walk through the door.

I love to see positive affirmations posted throughout campus hallways and classrooms. The names of colleges are prominently displayed so that every child knows that great expectations are in place for their future. What really places a smile on my face is the beautiful student work that is displayed on the walls. Large graphics designed by students depicting beautiful scenes from a novel that has just been read, family trees that proudly display the cultural diversity on the campus, and letters that go home to mom for Mother’s Day with precious little handprints and sentiments are a few of my favorites. This relationship is what motivates students in school and what makes them shriek, “That’s my teacher!” in the grocery store.  It develops and nurtures character in students that prepares them for life beyond the classroom.

Developing and maintaining a positive school climate takes time and effort, but the results are well worth it once the goal is achieved.  At the forefront of determining campus climate are the campus leaders. They have many important decisions to make. Will this be a campus where parents and visitors feel welcomed as soon as they enter the door? How will they convey that message? Is it the smile you receive from the receptionist as you sign in, the kindness of the office staff as they ask if you need assistance or the respectfulness demonstrated by the student worker as he escorts you to your destination. Those small gestures change the demeanor of an upset parent or make a nervous new student fell welcome and at ease. A positive school climate sets the tone for learning. Some campuses are utilizing professional learning communities, mentoring programs, and peer support groups to build a sense of community and connectedness.

Having high expectations for all students is evident in the daily flow on the campus. Inclusive practices are evident everywhere with students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers working collaboratively on projects and assignments. Special education and general education teachers are meeting on lunch breaks or during conference periods to discuss strategies to be implemented to assist all students in.  Core subject area teachers and elective teachers engage in cross curricular projects that demonstrate an understanding that learning is cyclical and should be meaningful and fun for students.  Everywhere you turn a positive, collaborative atmosphere is being nurtured by caring educators that want the very best for their students.

From my years as a teacher, counselor and administrator I learned that for most students sharing a relationship with their teacher or a school professional is everything. If I could engage with students beyond the textbook, build a relationship that makes them feel not only physically safe, but mentally and emotionally safe as well, then they would always give me their very best.  When you have not just one teacher, but an entire campus that makes a vow to create a school with children in the center and presents the mantra that they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure student success, then great things can happen.

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