How Leaders Shape Culture


When I was in my very first leadership position, a significant amount of professional learning time was spent getting us to understand the importance of building a positive school culture. Picture this – a school where students feel excited to come to class, teachers are passionate about their work, and parents are actively involved in their children’s education. Sounds pretty amazing, right?

Well, that’s the power of a positive school culture. It creates an atmosphere of trust, respect, and collaboration that inspires everyone to do their best and reach for the stars. This dynamic atmosphere, composed of shared beliefs, values, traditions, and practices, plays a pivotal role in determining the overall success and well-being of a learning community. Our job was to serve as the architects of a nurturing environment where all members could thrive and grow.

However, as time has passed, conversations about culture seem to be few and far between. It almost felt like a “good” or “bad” culture was determined by fate – you were either lucky to find a good one or unlucky to find a bad one and there was nothing you could do about it. But make no mistake, building a positive school culture doesn’t just happen by accident. Cultures are created by the action (or inaction) of current leaders and all who have gone before you – it takes dedicated leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work to make it happen.

So how can you play a role in creating a better workplace for everyone? Here are my top 4 suggestions:

1. Leaders must “walk the talk”

First and foremost, leaders set the tone for the entire school community. Leaders must lead by example, embodying the values and behaviours they wish to instil in others – their words and actions speak volumes and send a powerful message about what matters most. Whether it’s promoting inclusivity, respect, or a growth mindset, leaders who model kindness, empathy, and integrity in their words and actions set a powerful precedent for others to follow. They create a culture of accountability and integrity, where trust and mutual respect form the foundation of relationships between all stakeholders.

2. Create a Vision for the Future

It’s not just about leading by example – leaders also play a crucial role in creating a vision for the future. By articulating a clear vision and values that reflect the aspirations of the school community, leaders provide a roadmap for success and inspire everyone to work towards a common goal.

This sense of purpose creates a shared sense of belonging and pride that unites students, teachers, parents, and staff in their quest for excellence.

3. Creating and Supporting Open Channels of Communication

Leaders also play a key role in fostering open lines of communication within the school community. By creating opportunities for dialogue and feedback, they ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and valued. Whether it’s through regular meetings, newsletters, or informal chats in the hallway, leaders make it a priority to stay connected and engaged with the needs and concerns of their staff, students and community.

4. Focusing on How you Communicate

Finally, how you communicate lies at the core of effective leadership in building positive school culture. Leaders must cultivate open channels of communication that encourage transparency, collaboration, and feedback. By fostering a culture of dialogue, where every voice is heard and valued, leaders create a sense of belonging and empowerment among students, teachers, parents, and staff.

There is certainly more I could add to this list but this is a great start. The role of leaders in building a positive school culture is absolutely crucial. From setting the tone to shaping a vision, from fostering communication to celebrating success, leaders have the power to inspire, empower, and transform lives, leaving a lasting legacy in the minds of all stakeholders.

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