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The Principal's Role in Shaping School Culture

Many factors contribute to thriving school cultures, but principals are the driving force behind them all. Skilled multitaskers with constantly evolving roles, these valued administrators are responsible for engaging and inspiring teachers, students and the community as they work to achieve common goals. Here are some simple but essential steps principals can take to shape the culture of their schools.

Establish Clear Lines of Communication

By maintaining open communication and involving teachers in academic planning, principals empower them to be more confident and effective. Similarly, administrators who actively engage parents and seek community input establish invaluable partnerships in their mission to build a strong culture. Demolishing thought silos and incorporating those who feel isolated are proven strategies for principals seeking to unite teachers, students and the community to pursue a shared vision of success.

Create a Sense of Belonging

Just as principals can empower teachers, they are similarly able to engage students by creating a sense of belonging. Successful principals do not limit their focus to facilities and test scores; instead, they seek to build strong relationships with students. By demonstrating that administrators and teachers are caring adults invested in their lives, they forge bonds with their students.
Ideally, this type of emotional support will completely change the mindset of students who may have previously disliked going to school. Principals can encourage reluctant students to both attend and achieve by merely greeting them as they enter the building each day. Showing genuine interest in their academic progress goes a long way.

Train and Hire With Culture in Mind

Principals set the tone for the entire school by modeling their educational philosophy daily. One surefire way to weave a unified and positive mindset into the school culture is by curating professional development opportunities that reflect core values. Simply put, effective principals teach and lead according to how they want their students to learn. They understand that ongoing training and staff development should reinforce the school's overall mission.

When hiring, principals must be diligent about discussing overarching philosophies with their potential employees, and what their expectations of employment may be. Harvard Graduate School of Education associate professor Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell encourages principals to gauge whether a prospective teacher's beliefs align with those of the school community. This process is of vital importance because, according to Bridwell-Mitchell: "Those beliefs and norms will only grow stronger in a tight-knit community."

Clearly Establish and Convey Your Goals

Achieving school goals or meeting state standards is challenging enough for teachers and students without struggling to decipher murky expectations. A straightforward path to success is more evident when leadership communicates specific purposes to them. Shelly Habegger's fascinating and informative article, The Principal's Role in Successful Schools, suggests there are simple, effective methods to demystifying both expectations and the definition of success. For example:

  • Clearly posting goals in classrooms and other prominent school locations can increase students' awareness of the expectations.
  • Many schools have been successful at rephrasing state standards to make them simpler to understand. This includes incorporating "I can" statements into lesson plans or class discussions.
  • Some principals make a practice of reading the school's mission statement on the daily announcements.

Experienced, well-educated administrators understand that establishing a successful culture does not require sweeping changes or a drastic overhaul. Sometimes a simple, clearly conveyed message is all it takes to unify students and teachers behind a shared vision.

Establishing or changing an entire school's culture doesn't happen overnight – and nobody does it alone. Astute principals recognize that the teachers, students and community surrounding them are vital collaborative partners. Communicating clear goals and taking time to celebrate successes are essential steps toward a cultural sea change in any environment.

A strong educational foundation gives prospective administrators the skills and understanding needed to be successful. An advanced degree is a key step for any passionate, forward-thinking individual seeking to become a principal capable of changing the world one student at a time.  

Learn more about Emporia State University's online Master of Science in Educational Administration.


Sources:

Harvard Graduate School of Education: Building a Strong School Culture

National Association of Elementary School Principals: The Principal's Role in Successful Schools: Creating a Positive School Culture


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