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Do as I say, not as I do, generally doesn’t go over well when you’re tying to lead others. What does work well is setting a good example. People will be more likely to do what you ask of them if it’s something you do yourself.
People talk a lot about building a positive school culture. Making school a place where kids feel comfortable, free to express themselves, help each other, show respect, etc.. This could seem like an impossibly tall order. Kids – specifically teenagers – are at a place where uncertainty about themselves may lead to treating others, especially those who are different from them, in a negative way. With so many different personalities, the need to fit in often overrides respect and positivity. Added to that, a difficult home life, or lack of interest in the classroom can lead to negativity as well.
The aim of a good school culture isn’t that every single student is going to be perfect. But many schools have experienced a good school environment. They didn’t get there by simply sitting students down at an assembly and telling them ‘this is what we expect of you,’ or by putting up posters with inspirational quotes. That’s not to say that what is expected of students as to behavior shouldn’t be taught, or that positive visible messages aren't good. Kids need to know explicity what is expected of them. Included in this could be the school’s stance on bullying, language, and now more than ever, how to use social media responsibly, and what some of the consequences can be for not doing so.
But for most kids, this kind of instruction will fall flat if the adults in their school environment aren’t showing it themselves. Because let’s face it – you can tell a teenager what’s expected of them, give them a rule book, but they’ll be the first to call you out if you make a mistake. Instead, the staff themselves need to set the example.
Instead of a lengthy handbook that kids will never read, try modelling good pracitices yourself. Former Principal Brian Pickering says "What we decided to do as educators was, let's model what we want. Because they're not remembering page 56 section 3 article 2 of the tardy policy." By doing simple things, opening doors for students, greeting them by name as they came to school or walked into the classroom, picking up trash students in the cafeteria, he found students actually began doing those things themselves. They weren't perfect, but it transformed the school culture. What staff members do is crucial to this piece. Why?
When staff members respect each other, respect their students, show confidence in them, etc. THIS becomes the school culture. School culture is something at its core built by teachers and administators. If the staff culture is healthy, it only makes sense that the culture of the entire school would follow. Instead, if staff members don't respect each other and ignore or speak harshly to their students, can you imagine what that environment would be like for the students? Certainly not one that would make it easy to be kind and respectful themselves. It only makes sense. If you want a good school culture, it starts with you!