The last 18 months have been the most challenging that schools can remember. The impact of the pandemic has really taken its toll on the mental and physical health of staff and students. It would be a mistake, however, to think that unhealthy levels of workplace stress are experienced only at times of crisis. Most wellbeing initiatives these days seem to focus on managing stress rather than preventing it but I would argue that schools need to focus more on developing and maintaining a positive school culture as a pathway to support wellbeing. I am sure that most schools feel they already have a positive culture yet the UK Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020 reported that 38% of education professionals considered their organisational culture had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
What do we mean by a Positive School Culture?
So what do I mean by a positive school culture? A school has a positive school culture when high levels of trust, mutual responsibility and reciprocity are experienced in the interactions between stakeholders and they feel a sense of belonging to the school community underpinned by a shared identity and shared values. Research shows that for staff, positive school culture brings higher levels of collaboration, improves wellbeing, retention, morale and productivity and reduces incidents of burnout. For students, a positive school culture improves engagement and social skills, enhances self-esteem and leads to improved behaviour, academic success and overall wellbeing.
The brain is hardwired to notice and emphasise the negative so a positive school culture needs to be intentionally crafted. The main components are the development of a shared vision for the school community, based upon the common values that they hold dear and a focus upon building positive relationships through positive communication.
How do we improve school culture?
The first step in improving school culture is to acknowledge the importance of relationships. Positive relationships in school are the core from which everything else flows, rather than the soft or trivial aspects of school culture. For both young children and adolescents healthy development depends on the quality and reliability of their relationships.. Many studies show that the primary factor in building resilience for children and adults is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.
Maximise Staff and Pupil Wellbeing
A school will not achieve optimum functioning if the relationships within and between stakeholder groups and individuals are lacking. A study by New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People in 2009 showed that what children want most from their teacher was very similar to what teachers want most from their colleagues -to be greeted by name and with a smile; to have others believe in them and value their strengths; to feel respected and have their efforts acknowledged and their opinions sought and to have others support them to feel good about themselves by helping them to achieve things. These simple steps go a long way to creating a school culture that maximises wellbeing for all, yet these ordinary things seem to have been lost in many schools.
Take the first step towards developing Positive School Culture by booking our INSET CPD course for the staff at your school
“engaging, inspiring and reflective”
Ross Montague, Head of Upper school, Hampstead Hill School
“We were all buzzing when we left”
Aly Tresize, Canadian International School of Hong KongDelegate feedback on the Positive School Culture INSET
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