Create an Inclusive, Supportive School Culture — Even (and Especially) During Distance Learning

Close your eyes and ask yourself, “What does a positive school culture actually look like?”  

Is it a place where staff, students, and families feel connected, supported, and involved in ensuring the school is meeting all students’ learning needs? Is it an environment where teachers have enough time to plan their lessons and have access to opportunities for collaboration and mentoring? Is a positive school culture where students feel welcome and engaged in their learning? 

Turns out, it’s all of these things.  

School culture can sometimes be an afterthought, but it is an integral piece of a successful school or program. It takes inspired, engaged teachers and staff to ensure students thrive; a safe and supportive environment to nurture student growth; and  strong socialemotional skills for students to be positive and engaged participants in their learning. 

Here are a few benefits of a positive school culture, including practical tips to build morale, inclusivity, strong relationships, and a sense of safety and support. 

Benefits of a Positive School Culture 

A positive culture has benefits beyond happy students and staff. Developing a positive school culture can: 

  • Decrease chronic absenteeism: Research shows that schools have lower absentee rates when students feel their school culture is caring and supportive of them.  
  • Improve educational equity: SEL — through quality professional development, coordination with Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and equitable assessments — can help promote equity so all students are treated fairly and receive the resources they need to achieve. 
  • Reduce bullying: Studies show anti-bullying campaigns are most effective when they include school-wide training and awareness, classroom instruction and activities, and intervention. 
  • Increase academic performance: Many studies have found evidence that quality SEL programming promotes higher test scores and GPAs; increased graduation rates; meaningful connections between educators and peers; positive social behavior; and improved attitudes toward self, school, and others 

Building a Positive School Culture During Distance Learning  

Even when students are learning remotely, educators can keep them connected and learning in a safe, caring, and inclusive environment. Here are a few ways to continue building a positive school culture during distance learning: 

What School Leadership Can Do: 

It is important to keep a close reading on the culture of your school. How are educators, parents, and students dealing with extra pressures caused by distance learning?  

Here are some ways you can support each group:

  • Teachers and staff: Provide quality professional development that helps your staff build critical social-emotional skills. Support new teachers by pairing them with a veteran mentor teacher. Set up dedicated and regular times to ask for feedback, address concerns, and problem-solve challenges. Consider using our tool, Educator Social-Emotional Reflection and Training (EdSERT), a comprehensive program to enhance the social-emotional knowledge, skill set, and well-being of educators. 
  • Parents and families: Host virtual parent nights to help family members continue to feel connected to the school. Conduct regular surveys to check in on how they are doing. Visit our SEL at Home web page for more resources to support families during this transitional timeStudents: Take time to participate in virtual student learning sessions so you get a clear picture of how students are responding to remote learning. Host virtual school-wide assemblies and give out personal achievement awards. A school-wide competition can help build morale and keep students connected, especially during distance learning. Have students participate by posting pictures of their entries on the school’s social media channels. Contests can be anything from writing and sharing a poem to creating cool chalk art. Contest winners can win a small prize.  

After you get a sense of your school culture, show staff, parents, and students you care about them by taking action to address and resolve concerns. Continue regular communication to keep connected with staff, families, and students and build school-wide morale. 

What Teachers Can Do:  

The best way to keep students engaged and learning during remote learning is to show them that you care. Empathize with your students and know that some students might find the switch to distance learning extremely difficult. Some students might be experiencing financial hardship or increased domestic turmoil, and students who were vulnerable or at-risk prior to distance learning are probably even more at-risk now.  

Here are some ways teachers can promote a positive school culture: 

  • Encourage innovation in the classroom as students adjust to new ways of learning. For example, consider game-based learning, incorporate multimedia, and utilize assignments that promote student creativity.  
  • Keep prioritizing goals. Helping students set meaningful, attainable goals is important for their motivation and confidence. This free activity can be used in class or at home and will teach students how to set a goal and create a plan to achieve it. 
  • Prioritize building relationships with students. Strong teacher-student relationships matter now, more than ever. Host regular video meetings for lesson delivery, and record the sessions so students can watch them later and learn at their own pace. Also consider using an instant messaging platform, like Slack, where you can set up a personal chat channel for each student. Encourage students to message you if they have questions, are struggling with the class content, or are having a personal problem. 

Teachers play an important role in building a positive school culture by being a rock of support, a source of much-needed routine, and a presence of normality 

Developing a positive school culture will not only boost morale during distance learning, but will also increase connectedness within the school, increase engagement, and improve students’ academic performance.  

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