02 Approaches to School Culture
Changing school culture isn’t about treating the individual problems, but investing in larger structural and community change. It’s about creating a positive vision for students and staff, with frequent feedback, reflection, and celebration.
In today’s landscape, PBIS and SEL reign supreme. Each is a systematic, culture-shifting approach to changing how students view their role in the broader school community, with the ultimate goal of improving school-wide outcomes. Over 81% of respondents cited using PBIS and/or Social-Emotional Learning in their schools.
Chart 4: Behavior Management Approaches
PBIS is a proactive, positive, and school-wide approach to behavior. PBIS uses a tiered system of supports to differentiate the level of support that students receive based on need. PBIS includes a set of school-wide behavior expectations, a universal system for recognizing and rewarding positive student behavior, and the use of data to prioritize resources.
When implemented with fidelity, PBIS impacts both individual student behavior and overall school culture. A PBIS system provides a common language for cultural expectations, which in turn supports more effective communication between students and staff. The rewards systems used to recognize students provide ample opportunities for positive interactions.
Schools often personalize their PBIS system to the pillars of their school culture. This can include incorporating mascots, historical figures, sports teams, and more. These cultural touchpoints further connect the PBIS system to the school’s culture.
Given the extensive research into the efficacy of PBIS, the framework is a natural choice for schools looking to improve their underlying culture in order to address diverse challenges like student behavior, attendance, and teacher morale.
Social and emotional learning is the intentional teaching of skills for emotional awareness, self-regulation, and healthy social relationships. SEL is a powerful tool for rebuilding the skills that were lost during online learning.
The cultural impact of SEL teaching can be profound. School culture is heavily influenced by the relationships between students and staff. SEL, like PBIS, can be used to develop common language across the school building for what’s expected and celebrated within a school community. As one administrator explains:
We have focused greatly on SEL for students and staff. It is part of every day, where in the past it was random at best. Our goals are to instill in the students that they don't have to be perfect, but they need to try their best and show what they know; take school seriously, and be at school regularly. We built a program that the students love and look forward to daily.
Charter School Admin, Arizona
SEL can be used to infuse positivity into daily interactions, which is fundamental to momentum with school culture improvement. The teaching of self-awareness and self-regulation can decrease negative interpersonal interactions between students and staff. Over time, these improvements can compound into significant gains in school culture.
SEL is likely to see continued adoption as schools grapple with the post-COVID challenges facing students and staff. One area to watch is how SEL continues to evolve from an instructional program to a daily practice that is integrated into the cultural life of schools.
We also included an open text field asking what other resources schools need for culture change. The most common responses included funding for support and behavior incentives, as well as staffing and clear guidelines around behavior and conduct.