Creating a Positive School Environment From the Outside — In
As a new school year begins, setting the tone and creating a positive culture for a school is critical for creating a successful environment for learning and achievement. As a school administrator, your daily activities in working with your staff in implementing school-wide initiatives, helps create a solid structure and positive environment in your school. Although this is vital for school success, it is just as critical to get students, parents, teachers, support staff, and the community on board with building a positive culture which helps build the foundation for a positive school climate. You play a key role in bringing these groups of people together to help create such an environment.
Establishing a welcoming environment for all and eliciting parental and community involvement are key elements in building this foundation.
A Welcoming Environment and Encouraging Involvement
When we feel welcomed in an environment, we tend to be more positive, accepting, and at ease about participating in activities in that setting. This is particularly evident in a school environment for students, staff, parents, and community members.
Examine the following self-reflective questions about your school:
Do students feel they simply go to your school? or Do students feel they belong and are welcomed at your school? Are new students/parents welcomed to your school?
Design everyday practices to help students feel welcomed at school, whether it’s the first day of school or the last. As students feel welcomed, they will be comfortable in their learning environment and more apt to learn. Here are a few examples:
- Get all staff members on board with greeting students when they arrive, throughout the day, and at dismissal.
- Identify specific staff members to help students and inform the students who they can go to for help (teachers, counselors, administrators).
- Have teachers create buddy systems in the classroom so students can use each other for help and support.
- Encourage teachers to facilitate a Get To Know Me survey outlining the students’ likes/dislikes so they get to know their students better.
- Have faculty members visit incoming students at their present schools prior to coming to your school to introduce them to their new school.
- Provide information and training for the staff with regards to cultural awareness of their students, teaching a variety of learning styles and working with students with disabilities.
- Host events that celebrate the various cultures of the student body and display images of the various cultures so students can identify with the school.
- Offer a variety of opportunities for students to be involved in extracurricular activities aside from established programs such as athletics, cheer, theatre, band etc. For example: cooking club, book club, chess team, Lego club, and any other organization that appeals to students so they feel a part of the school. These can be sponsored by faculty, parents, or community members with interests in these areas.
- Allow students to personalize assigned areas (in an appropriate fashion) such as cubby boxes, lockers, etc.
- Create policies for new students that help them and their parents alleviate the anxiety of a new place and culture. Schedule an orientation session with new families soon after enrollment to provide them with critical information about the school, helpful people, contact information, and available parent resources.
When a parent/guardian walks into the front office of your school, are they greeted in a friendly manner? Are they seen as partners in the educational processor as a disruptive influence?
Whether it’s the school secretary/administrative assistant, attendance clerk, cafeteria manager, or other faculty member, setting the expectation of being friendly and helpful to parents is vital in creating a positive partnership with the school. Parental involvement is also vital as it creates a positive collaboration and a mutual respect between the parent and school. The more parents feel involved, valued, and regarded as a partner, the more they will support the school and encourage their child. Consider the following:
- Training may be necessary for some of these key staff members so that they are equipped on how to handle parent requests, who to direct them towards, and how to handle egregious situations. Remember, your office staff is your PR firm!
- Have all staff members greet parents with a common language of: Hello, Welcome to our School, How can we help you?
- Provide a list of department representatives, staff members, phone numbers, and email addresses that would be helpful to parents for various situations.
- Encourage parents to join your school PTO/PTA by stressing the importance of their opinion and feedback.
- Establish scheduled parent meetings, apart from PTO/PTA meetings, with specific topics that are helpful for parents (academic support at home, area resources for parents, behavior strategies for the home).
- Create a parent volunteer program with specific activities that draw upon their individual strengths (computer skills, artistic skills, organization skills) that will enable them to contribute to the school.
- Publish a routine school newsletter with current events occurring at school, volunteer opportunities, student recognition, staff recognition, and lists of school and community resources.
- Make yourself and your administrative team visible and available to parents for help and support .
Do you embrace community members at your school? How can they help you? How can you help them?
Greater interaction between the school and its community can help strengthen and reinforce the academic and social outcomes of your school. By exposing students and parents to positive influences and resources in the local community, the school serves as a helpful resource to educate the whole child. The community refers to the residents and business owners/employees in the local area. The following are some examples of how to foster a community partnership:
- Make space available in your school for your community to hold meetings, events, etc.
- Invite specific community members to offer low or no cost services to parents in their areas of expertise, enabling parents to see the school as a resource.
- Have skilled community members present content in real-life situations to students as part of instruction.
- Have identified and screened community members serve as tutors, mentors, and advisors to students as well as Career Day presenters.
- Have community members serve as part of the new student/family orientation process, to help them transition into their new location.
- Form a partnership with local businesses to have students visit their facilities and learn how academics plays a part in their profession or for internships for career building opportunities.
- Allow community members to advertise in the school newsletter.
- Locate business owners that will allow the school to display student exhibits such as art projects, student recognition awards, staff recognition, upcoming events, etc.
- Ask community members to help with school initiatives such as clean up around the school grounds, promote school activities, provide supplies or materials for school functions (posters, drinks, food, coupons, etc.).
- Have student groups and organizations assist in civic events in the community
These are just a few examples of how you can welcome students, parents, and the community into your school. These partnerships create a positive school culture and climate that enhance the students’ overall educational experience. As you can see, it takes everyone involved in and out of the school environment to truly create a positive school climate. Have a great school year!
“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel”
– Dr. Thomas L. Garthwaite
About the Author
Roland Espericueta has over 20 years of experience in Special Education and Educational Administration. He taught in Special Education in the San Antonio Independent School District as well as the Northside Independent School District, where he also served as a Campus Administrator and Coordinator of Behavior Programs. In 2009, Roland joined the Review360 team as an Implementation Specialist. In this role, he trains teachers and administrators on using Review360 and provides continuous behavioral support to partner districts. Roland also brings his extensive expertise to The Behavior Matters Newsletter as a regular contributor.