- School leaders can produce a more positive school culture by encouraging students to help shape the learning environment, Shukella L. Price, an assistant principal for a public high school in the Conroe, Texas area, suggests in an Edutopia article.
- Suggestions include scheduling a regularly monthly meeting with a student council that is representative of all groups at school — not just the most academically gifted; discussing behavior and school culture priorities with these students, and setting up a peer-to-peer mentoring program to help improve school climate and reduce behavior referrals.
- Having students develop a system of predictable consequences for themselves and their peers through a social contract is another helpful strategy and is especially effective if accomplished with the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework, Price suggested. Schools also need to give students a sense of ownership of their learning environment by allowing them to use social media and other methods to tell the school’s story, and encouraging teachers to spotlight individual student success.
School culture is intangible, but it is important because it not only influences academic achievement, but also affects how comfortable students and staff members are in their learning environment. The Glossary of Education Reform defines school culture as “the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions." But the term can also refer to whether students feel physically and emotionally safe, how orderly the classrooms and common areas are and how the school handles issues of diversity.
These elements require the input from all stakeholders. Students are likely more perceptive about their school's culture than adults. According to a YouthTruth Student Survey, only one in three students across all grade levels rate their school culture positively. That perception appears to diminish the longer students remain in school: 44% of 6th graders said their schools had a positive school culture compared to only 28% of 11th grade students.
Since students are the most heavily impacted by school culture and, in some ways, the most responsible for its implementation on the ground level, it only makes sense for school leaders to include their voices in efforts to create a more positive school culture. The level and type of student input may vary from school to school, but all schools can include student voice through student councils, asking for feedback from students, and allowing them to have their say either in public forums or by more private means. While educators are tasked with instructing students, there are lessons that educators and school leaders can learn from students as well, especially in relation to the school climate they would like to help create.