5 School Culture Tools for Principals

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A written plan and shared language are key components of the school culture systems at the four schools that make up the United Schools Network (USN). Without a shared language, it’s impossible to set goals and continuously improve our culture systems. The tools described below are used by our school leaders to train teachers on our systems, and live on as foundational resources through leadership transitions.

#1 Culture Manual

Each school at USN has a Culture Manual. It’s akin to a football team’s playbook (with the Super Bowl this past weekend, I figured a football analogy was well-timed) and includes a description of all of the most important culture, discipline, and management systems used at USN schools. It also outlines a shared language for all things culture, so that teachers and school leaders can speak effectively and efficiently about our systems. Writing down our culture plan is the first step to ensuring we have consistent management from classroom-to-classroom in our schools.

SPI Resource: Culture Manual

#2 Big Goals

The Culture Manual at each USN school includes big goals for school culture. Here’s an example: At least 75% of our students will maintain STRIVE Paycheck averages of 70 dollars or above and 90% of our students will maintain STRIVE Paycheck averages of 60 dollars or above as tracked and measured by trimester. USN has developed a weekly STRIVE Paycheck system as a communication tool between school and home. A student’s weekly STRIVE Paycheck total is impacted by his/her fulfillment of behavioral, academic, and attendance expectations. The STRIVE Paycheck system makes it simple to quantify, measure, and track progress toward meeting this big goal. Big goals like this create a shared sense of purpose and an improvement mindset within the school community.

SPI Resource: The STRIVE Paycheck

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#3 Shared Language: The STRIVE Paycheck

When Tom Brady called a play in the Patriots huddle this past weekend, it sounded something like this, “Let’s go G BROWN RT 74 HOSS X-FOLLOW on two.” It’s like a foreign language to you and I, but every player in that huddle knew exactly what it meant. Similarly, when you talk STRIVE Paychecks at USN middle schools, every student can tell you how they earn and lose money off their paycheck and how it relates to their school’s STRIVE values. Every staff member can tell you the role that STRIVE Paychecks play in their school’s management system. Teachers and students have a shared language around the paycheck system, and can often be heard working together on ways to ensure that paychecks remain high.

#4 Culture Communication: Culture Calendar

At USN schools, the Dean of Students maintains a comprehensive Culture Calendar for student life and culture events. While it’s a living document, the Culture Calendar is created before the school year begins, so that teachers know of any events that could impact their lessons. The sample calendar from CCA-Main St. outlines some of the key culture-building events that occur on a regular basis. One of the core components of our culture is a weekly grade-level Morning Meeting during which the Spirit Stick is presented to a student who has best embodied the school’s values. The calendar ensures that we are intentionally building school culture throughout the year.

SPI Resource: The Culture Calendar

#5 Culture Communication: UPrep Weekly

All USN school leaders send either a weekly or daily email to their staff to communicate a number of important culture items. At UPrep-State St., School Director Ben Pacht sends his UPrep Weekly to staff members every Saturday morning. The Weekly is packed with mission-aligned messages, bright spots, instructional and cultural data points, and professional development focus items. Many of the items in the weekly also play a role in staff huddles and professional development sessions.

SPI Resource: UPrep Weekly

More on SPI’s Best Practices

At the School Performance Institute, we are studying school design best practices within the United Schools Network and sharing them with others. Join us for our next Study the Network workshop to learn how the school uses the culture tools described in this blog to get results in a high-poverty context.