- School and district leaders can foster better staff relationships and build a stronger staff culture by focusing on three key areas — the physical, the interpersonal and the historical, middle school principal Eric Saibel writes for Edutopia.
- Holding staff events like professional development or staff meetings in a fresh physical space, such as an outdoor setting or local recreational spot, helps school leaders increase the ability of staff members to interact with one another on a personal level and think outside the box about school and staff issues.
- Planning interpersonal events like staff cooking challenges allows teachers to develop human infrastructure — relationships, information and identity — rather than just dealing with the organizational elements that keep schools functioning, while historical focus allows leaders to help their schools “establish their historical narrative as a collective, collaborative and ongoing endeavor” to lead it to a unified future, Saibel writes. “More important than the influence leaders earn is the fabric of influence they help the members of their organization weave among themselves.”
Kent Peterson of the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison describes school culture as “the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of a school.” While the overall culture of a school is important, it is directly linked to the culture within the staff. Management consultant Susan Heathfield describes this culture as “the environment that surrounds you at work all of the time. Culture is a powerful element that shapes your work enjoyment, your work relationships, and your work processes.”
If teachers are not happy at work, students can take note of that and become more discontented themselves. Parents also pick up the signals and begin to look for reasons for the unhappiness. Teachers then might feel uncomfortable and look for excuses to leave the school, which affects teacher retention. And that, in turn, affects student achievement.
School leaders, however, can take steps to prevent a toxic culture or to repair one by working to develop a more trusting, positive climate. Dealing with frustrated, unhappy teachers is one step toward repairing the problem. However, leaders also need to nurture the relationships between teachers themselves and administrators if they are to promote a more positive staff culture. Staff members will rarely agree on all issues, but recognizing each other’s identities, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses helps clarify individual perspectives and allows everyone to see what each staff member brings to the table.