Children in school courtyard holding hands and looking at the camera

How school culture shapes student success

We recently learned about a school once plagued by low morale and dwindling student performance that underwent a transformation. The change wasn’t in the curriculum or the teaching methods, but in the school’s culture. This shift led to not only improved academic results but also happier, more engaged teachers and, in turn, students.

The culture of a school plays a pivotal role in shaping the success of its students. It’s not just about academic achievements, it’s about creating an environment where teachers feel empowered and students feel valued, understood, and motivated to learn. In today’s rapidly changing educational landscape, understanding the profound impact of school culture has never been more crucial.

From tradition to transformation

Kids playing with a tree, laughing and looking at the camera.

Historically, schools operated with a strict hierarchy and rigid structures. The focus was primarily on academic results, often overlooking the emotional and social needs of students. However, as research began to highlight the importance of holistic education, there was a shift in perspective.

Today, there’s a growing emphasis on creating a positive school environment. Schools are recognising the value of fostering a culture that promotes both academic excellence and emotional wellbeing and social development. As Edutopia suggests, a positive school culture boosts student learning and morale.

The foundations of learning: How culture impacts outcomes

A positive school culture creates an environment where students feel safe, respected, and encouraged to take risks in their learning. Such an environment is conducive to higher levels of engagement and achievement. According to the OECD, students who feel a sense of belonging at school are more likely to perform better academically and show more interest in their studies.

High school students laughing and enjoying each other's company

Moreover, the ripple effect of a positive school culture extends beyond academic performance. It plays a crucial role in students’ emotional and social development, preparing them for challenges beyond the classroom. As highlighted by the Learning Policy Institute, schools that prioritise a nurturing culture witness a decline in behavioural issues and an increase in collaborative learning.

This is an important part of what’s known as the hidden curriculum.

Blueprint for success: Cultivating a thriving school culture

Classroom scene, teacher standing in front of the board and explaining something, all students looking at him

The first step to building a strong school culture begins with the teachers. Institutions need to create environments in which education flourishes and students excel because teachers thrive. By doing so schools can not only attract and retain the best teachers, but those teachers feel empowered, supported, and inspired to be the difference young minds need in their lives.

This is the other side of the hidden curriculum, but one we hear much less about. To get it right, schools need a clear and well-communicated vision, with strong leadership, a supportive working environment and ample professional development and mentoring opportunities.

Defining school culture

Kids learning in an open space.

But if achieving all that sounds easy, it isn’t. What makes great leadership and vision? How do the best leaders communicate well? How can you measure a supportive working environment? How can success be objectively analysed and benchmarked?

It’s these fundamental questions that led us to found Best School to Work as the gold standard for good school culture. It’s an independent, evidence-based mechanism for certifying those schools that have built the best working environments for their educators, but also providing detailed feedback, actionable insights, benchmarking data, and courses led by award-winning school leaders to help everyone raise their standards.

By setting that bar, and arming themselves with that knowledge, schools can elevate their culture for teachers and students. 

Multi-stakeholder approach

Building a positive school culture also requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. Schools can start by promoting open communication, valuing diversity, and providing professional development opportunities focused on emotional intelligence and culturally responsive teaching.

Additionally, engaging parents and the broader community plays a crucial role. Schools that actively involve parents in decision-making and regularly seek feedback tend to have a more positive and inclusive culture. Such an environment not only benefits students but also attracts and retains quality educators.

The lasting legacy of a positive school culture

The culture of a school leaves an indelible mark on its students. It shapes their academic journey, influences their emotional growth, and prepares them for the challenges of the future. As we stand at the crossroads of educational transformation, prioritising school culture is not just desirable – it’s imperative.

In a world rife with challenges, schools have the power to be beacons of hope and change. By fostering a positive culture, they can mould future generations who are not just academically proficient but also emotionally resilient and socially responsible. The legacy of a positive school culture is, indeed, a legacy of hope, growth, and endless possibilities.