School Climate & Safety

What Teachers Say It Takes to Build a Positive School Culture

By Caitlynn Peetz — October 24, 2023 3 min read
Image of educators walking down a hallway.
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As schools across the country struggle to fill all their open positions, more have invested greater effort in getting employees to stay once they’re in the door.

Part of getting staff to stick around is creating a positive school culture, where teachers feel valued. But what do teachers think makes a school culture great?

Education Week posed that question on its social media accounts this week. Dozens of teachers chimed in when asked to share their thoughts on the No. 1 factor that goes into fostering a school culture that they wouldn’t want to leave.

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Principal David Arencibia chats with a student as they make their way to class at Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, Texas, on April 18, 2023.
Principal David Arencibia chats with a student as they make their way to class at Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, Texas, on April 18.
Emil T. Lippe for Education Week

Many teachers who weighed in said having caring administrators in the building who focus on building trusting relationships had the biggest impact. Here’s a roundup of their thoughts.

Relying on relationships

Some educators said that taking the time to build strong and respectful relationships among all school community members—administrators, teachers, students, and their families—can go a long way toward creating an environment where people want to be.

“Relationships!! Admin with faculty staff…. Everyone with students and their families.”

— Rebecca M.

“Human connections! Starting with the school principal who should model empathy, respect and integrity.”

— Denisse P.

“Respect between the ‘legs of the stool'……. Parents, students and teachers (schools). It’s simpler than you’d think.”

— Cesar C.

“People who work there who actually love children. If you teach with love children know and will learn.”

— Melanie D.

Principals set the tone

Educators also emphasized the importance of having the right person in the principal role, particularly someone who takes the time to get to know staff members and show appreciation for their work.

“Administration who treats their teachers as the professionals they are and doesn’t micromanage.”

— @Lal1286

“A principal reflects the culture of a school. Meet all new students with parents and be very positive concerning school culture. Meet students in a positive way as they enter school every day. Be positive during morning announcements.”

— Bob Y.

“Admin that checks in on you and provides small gems of gratitude like taking your class for an hour so you can grade the tons of assignments!”

— Veronica L.

Trust your teachers

Strong leadership doesn’t mean principals are making decisions unilaterally, educators said. Instead, teachers should have some autonomy that allows them to prove their expertise.

“Trust. No, wait... Communication. No… can I make a new word? Trust-ication, communi-trust.”

— @teachingtells

“Trust. Trust staff in teaching to be experts and celebrate their skills and showcase talents. Trust allows colleagues to share ideas. Trust allows feedback to all levels when things are not working, for the collective to feel safe to problem solve together.”

— Jenna-Marie L.

“Trusting relationships and the willingness to be open to change.”

— Linda T.

Collaboration is key

Having the ability to collaborate was another theme in educators’ responses. Schools should be collaborative spaces where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and experiences, they said. That collaboration can take some of the work off teachers’ lengthy to-do lists and ease stress.

“Leadership that works with their staff, respect for time and enough support staff to actually support students and teachers.”

— @AymeeTiffany

“Respectful Collaboration.”

— Margaret B.

“Collaborative collegiality.”

— Terry K.

“When teachers feel like they can handle what’s on their plate and have energy in their bucket to give their best for that day.”

— Alejandra S.

Always show appreciation

Sometimes, much of what it takes to make staff want to come to school every day is consistent and genuine appreciation for their hard work, some say.

"#1 factor = how people feel. There will always be areas of growth and improvement and no place is perfect, but positive school culture is based in how people feel. Respect, love, autonomy, freedom, among lots of others.”

— @wondercentric

“Rules that apply to everyone, Acknowledgement of hard work, and teamwork.”

— Lisa D.

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Marina Whiteleather, Director of Social Media & Audience Engagement contributed to this article.

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