School culture and climate can often be elusive and hard to pin down. You know when it’s good, and you know when it could be improved. But how do you go about creating positive change as an administrator?
As Gemette McEachern and Latreicia Allen explain, it’s more than occasional pizza parties or snacks in the teacher’s lounge. As the principal and assistant principal of W.H. Owen Elementary, respectively, they have worked hard to build upon and improve the school environment. Read on for their tips on building a culture of learning and positivity that everyone can get enthusiastic about.
McEachern and Allen chose a theme this year to get staff and students excited to come back to school: superheroes. The hallways are decorated with superhero-themed materials and teachers dressed up as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others for their back to school night.
McEachern and Allen emphasize that this theme is more than just about having fun — it creates unity and a familial atmosphere for the school.
“William H. Owen is truly a family. We pride ourselves on being a cohesive unit in order to make sure students and faculty are growing and learning every day,” Allen said.
Below, they outline other strategies that have helped with their school’s success.
Find your community assets, not just challenges.
McEachern and Allen encourage administrators to see their community as an asset to the school and tap into what is already there. “My first advice would be to learn the community, listen to the concerns of the parents, find out where your students live, and what that looks like is getting on the school bus,” McEachern said.
She and Allen have traveled to student neighborhoods to empathize more with their experiences and how that might affect them at school. Once they have established those connections, they said, it’s easier to network within the community. Then they ask for volunteers to use their time and skills for the school. “When the community is engaged with the success of our school, they feel like they have a part of it too,” Allen said.
Tell your school’s story
Using social media has been a huge part of Owen’s success in showing the community what the school is all about. It’s a powerful way to give parents and families a look at what is going on in classrooms every day — expelling misconceptions about the school and spreading positivity. McEachern and Allen recommend starting small with one social media platform, like Twitter.
“It’s a learning tool, but what I would recommend is that those administrators should tap into the interests of teachers,” Allen said. She and McEachern started off by encouraging teachers to download Twitter to their phones, and then they led by example. You will often see Allen walking around the school taking photos and sharing student learning via Twitter. Social media is also a great recruitment tool for the school’s dual language program. It allows parents who are considering registering their kindergartners to see for themselves how the program expands young minds.
Build upon what’s already there
McEachern and Allen emphasize that you don’t need to change everything about your school’s culture to make improvements. You can build upon the traditions of the school. For example, William H. Owen hosts a picnic each year for students and their families. McEachern didn’t want to change that but wanted to improve the experience for everyone. The first year she was principal, the school did the picnic on the front lawn, people brought blankets and chairs, and there was a DJ playing music. The next year, the administration built upon that success by choosing to play music from different cultures, since they are a proud member of the Participate Learning Partnership. Overall, the community loved the event even more because of the changes that were made.
“Examine the culture first, tap into your teachers, your staff, your community and students to see what areas to improve, and then improve culture as a team,” McEachern concluded.
For more on building a positive school culture and W.H. Owen Elementary, listen to our four-part podcast series.