While popular kids do influence school culture, it only goes so far — and that influence on peers isn't always necessarily negative, The Atlantic reports.
Students are most influenced by their popular peers when it comes to music and fashion, as well as sexual behavior and substance abuse, according to Mitch Prinstein, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina.
Though popular kids’ actions and tastes do reflect on the student body as a whole, it is typically a student’s friends and parents that have more of an impact, and a typical teen’s behavior tends to land somewhere between their parents' expectations and their friends’ suggestions.
Developing a strong school culture benefits students, staff and the community, so cultivating a culture of inclusivity is worth the effort.
According to Psychology Today, about one-third of students at any given high school are considered popular. Another half of the student population forms smaller, independent groups that are loyal, caring and supportive of one another. The middle group tends to resent the popular kids while looking down on the lowest tier of the student group. That is the group that tends to be harassed and bullied.
The popular group can help develop the culture. While some cool kids are well-liked because they are smart, athletic and attractive, if they are also kind, they have the ability to encourage others to be kind, as well. While these kids can influence the culture, it’s the adults that continue to hold the most sway on culture overall because they are the consistent force in the building year after year.
Principals, vice principals and other influential adults can use their own charm and charisma to steer all the groups toward empathy and kindness. When adult leaders model inclusivity, student leaders can be inspired to follow. Students are more likely to want to be at school when they feel like they are in a safe place, and positive school cultures reduce harassment, bullying and unfair discipline practices.
Putting an emphasis on social-emotional learning can transform school culture and reduce suspension rates. At Langley Elementary in Washington, D.C., for example, a five-year effort by D.C. Public Schools to educate the whole child through a social-emotional learning strategy reportedly resulted in a dramatic decrease in suspension rates, from 65% to 23%. Meanwhile, student satisfaction rose from 70% to 86%.