School ethos is hard to define in absolutes: at its most basic level it is a feeling when you walk around a school and catch a glimpse of the beliefs and values of the school.
However, how this is reflected in a culture is more evident. It can be seen in the daily transactions between adults and pupils and through the respect they show to visitors.
It can be seen in the language used in pupils’ reports and the comments made to parents about their children’s progress. It can be seen in the daily routines; how the pupils arrive at school, how they are welcomed and how they are dismissed at the end of the day.
It can be seen in the celebrations of every aspect of pupils’ success and if tragedy strikes, how the school pulls together and supports all its members.
There is no unique recipe for creating a great school culture as no two schools are the same. School leaders need to create their own recipe, ensuring the quality and quantity of ingredients suit the local context. This is a recipe I made earlier that was successful. However, feel free to adapt this recipe or develop your own.
Creating a great school culture takes time. You need time for reflection; time for strategic thinking; time for planning; time for communicating this to all members of staff and time to repeat this message regularly at staff meetings, briefings, in newsletters and on the school’s website.
Do not underestimate how much time this takes!
· Generosity of spirit to share out tasks (a large helping of)
· Emotional intelligence of leaders at all levels
· Belief in the skills and abilities of others (a huge dollop of)
· A coaching model
· Attention to the wellbeing of all members of staff (the cake will burn if left unattended)
· A nurturing environment helping others to grow (keep the temperature at the correct level)
· Inclusion of all members of the school community
- Ensure pupils are at the centre of every decision that is made in school. Get used to explaining ‘This will benefit the pupils by …’ or asking, ‘How will this benefit the pupils?’ Put pupils first.
- Embed your beliefs and values into the recruitment process. Does your advert reflect your ethos? Do your questions enable you to elicit information to know whether an applicant will support your school culture? Make explicit what is important in your school.
- Develop your induction to encompass not just processes but ‘what we believe in’ and ‘the way things are done here’. Customs and practices can be questioned but only if there is additional benefit for the pupils, at school level, department or team level. Reinforce your ethos and culture.
- Provide regular performance management opportunities to discover individuals’ talents, abilities and motivations, for all teachers and support staff. Get to know your team.
- Nourish these talents by providing appropriate training and opportunities to use these talents in a school or team context. Develop your team.
- Allow individuals to take responsibility for and be accountable for their work. Delegate.
- Provide coaching training for all staff and create opportunities to have peer coaching conversations. This professional dialogue will encourage a growth mindset in all staff. Develop a ‘problem-solving’ attitude.
- Build capacity in school to ensure the best practice is not lost when key individuals leave school. Provide teachers and support staff opportunities to develop their skills through observing others and further training. Consider retention of staff.
- Celebrate together by sharing the success of pupils’ outcomes, in the widest sense. The cyclical nature of the school system dictates forward planning to meet the needs of the next group of pupils. However, take time to look backwards, building your catalogue of success stories to celebrate.
It takes hard work and energy to build up a school culture. A number of key individuals leaving the school can alter the balance of the school culture. Similarly, a few poor ingredients in the wrong quantity can prevent the cake from rising. So, ensure you build capacity to perpetuate the school culture.
Jean is a development coach and facilitator on our Teaching Leaders programme. Teaching Leaders is a leadership development programme for high-potential middle leaders looking to improve pupil outcomes and increase their impact as a leader.