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by Positive Adventures Tue Jul 24 2018

Guiding today’s youth to be passionate, invested members of society is something that we all strive to do. But, to provide students with the best chance to be successful, it’s essential that we create and maintain a positive school culture.

School culture, at its root, is about the way students, teachers, and administrators interact with one another. Culture is at the heart of learning. And creating a safe, supportive, stimulating environment is the best way for students to thrive.

Safety

Hand with marker writing: EquityCreating a school culture of safety goes far beyond an anti-bullying campaign. Keeping students safe both physically and emotionally requires an atmosphere in which students and staff are all working together to protect the learning environment.

This means fostering an inclusive environment, where students and teachers work and learn together, and where social-emotional learning is at the core of the culture.

It is not enough to let students know that they can seek help when they encounter a bully; you need to build an environment where the values and standards are clear and permeate throughout every extension of the school.

When students are learning together, there is a greater feeling of inclusion and safety.

Positive discipline is also key.

  • How are healthy behaviors supported and detrimental behaviors discouraged?
  • Is your discipline providing opportunities for growth and learning, or is it an arbitrary deterrent?

Utilizing social interaction in curricula helps to foster better relationships, and multi-grade collaboration fosters safety by expanding networks and experiences.

It’s also important to eliminate undue pressure and stress, much of which can be created by a lack of equity (equality of treatment for all students). But equity can only be achieved when your school culture is safe for both children and staff to authentically engage, learn, and take risks.

Teachers in an equitable school are intentional in understanding the school community both racially and culturally. This means recognizing their own biases and continuing to learn more about other cultures. Additionally, encouraging students to learn more about their ethnic background and share can help build better relationships between students!

Safety is paramount to student success. Until students feel physically and emotionally safe, they will be unable to engage and fulfill their potential.

Support

Once you’ve fostered a culture of safety, you need to continue by building a culture of support. An inclusive environment is the cornerstone of a supportive culture. Students and faculty alike are widely diverse and so are their strengths, learning methods, and emotional needs. We create a culture of support when we provide a wide variety of opportunities and resources that match the diversity of your school.

youth hands together school culture

Providing positive emotional support starts with a culture of safety in which students feel safe to seek help and discuss their struggles. Only then can they freely pursue their academic endeavors.

Providing academic support requires that we provide opportunities for ALL students. Start by promoting the development of a broad range of skills and interests that are mental, physical, social, and emotional.

By fostering many types of skill sets and providing ample opportunity for collaboration, students can discover their strengths and apply them socially toward a common goal. This helps create an atmosphere that promotes exploration and the fun of learning.

When students have an opportunity to become active participants instead of passive observers, they begin to understand that intelligence isn’t fixed, and that no single metric should define their ability to achieve and grow. 

This culture will always lead to greater motivation and increased achievement.

Stimulation

Once your school has established a culture of safety and support, you can begin to cultivate an environment that stimulates and excites. Stimulation is essential for youth so that they can grow as independent and driven individuals.

The best way to do this is by creating an enriched environment where children can thrive in several ways. Children are naturally drawn to that which is neither too simple nor too complex (the Goldilocks Principle). They need to be engaged, but not overworked. Because there are so many learning and personality types, providing opportunities for all students is important.

youth building bikes to donateMany students can feel trapped when they feel like there’s only one way to measure success. Providing attractive alternatives to standardized academic metrics – and removing dead ends in education – creates equity for students and promotes social engagement. The goal should be to stimulate all the senses, though not all at once. This gives opportunity for engagement without “overloading” students. A culture of stimulation should reach beyond the classroom, however, and the faculty have a responsibility to lead by example in all ways.

To promote and stimulate community and social charity, students and teachers should both be taking leadership roles in the school and the community. This is often referred to as “Service Learning”, and is a form of experiential education. Community engagement positively impacts student learning, as well as their ability to apply knowledge to everyday situations.

Working alongside both peers and leaders encourages and empowers youth to participate in their communities and other social constructs. We often declare our identity by behaving in ways that allow us to simultaneously fit in and stand out, so be sure to offer several learning opportunities and channels without sacrificing community and collaboration.

The keys to community, leadership, and social learning are safety, support, and stimulation.

Navigating these waters can be difficult, and there is no “one size fits all” curriculum. Creating a positive school culture can also be extremely challenging. Especially if you are starting with a toxic culture in which students and teachers alike have generally negative feelings about the students’ ability to succeed.

There is no such thing as a neutral school culture, and while making the shift from positive to negative can be a challenge, it is entirely possible.

Experiential Education

Safety, support, and stimulation are key pillars of experiential education. Here at Positive Adventures, we believe in a wide variety of curriculum and have seen the power of additional learning opportunities.

A positive school culture begins with the stakeholders; teachers, parents, and students hold the power to transform your school’s culture. We’re here to help. With over 10 years’ experience working with schools around the country, we can help with training, staff professional development, and student outdoor education programs tailored to your needs… and the kind of culture that you aim to build. Contact us today to learn more!

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