- Here are four ways to establish positive traditions and communication to cultivate culture. (1) Decorate your room and school with school colors so students identify as being a part of the community. (2) Explicitly teach school traditions like learning the Alma Mater words. (3) Celebrate students by creating a “Wall of Fame,” which is a collection of student pictures from sports or activities. (4) Take time to build relationships by having conversations, sharing interests, and stories.
- Building a strong culture and life-long traditions takes time and effort but can go a long way in establishing a life-long learning relationship with students.
Where I grew up near Nashville, Tennessee, we had teachers and staff that believed in cultivating a strong school culture, even in an age of grunge and apathy. Now I’m a high school teacher in the DFW area at a school around the same size in a town about the same size with long standing traditions that students haven’t been taught. Here are four ways that I am working to reestablish positive traditions and communication to cultivate a culture in my school.
1. Use the school color palette to cultivate school culture.
I decorated the room in school colors. It doesn’t hurt that we are black and red, favorite colors of mine, but if they were non-desirable combinations I would try to make an effort. My walls are adorned with the school colors along with the mascot featured throughout the room. This was a conscious decision. Even in my high school where my school colors were the equivalent of ketchup and mustard, the school made a clear effort to get the colors everywhere the student would look. Two very small districts around us have the school colors in all their elementary schools, middle school, and high school. It creates a family and the idea that (in one district’s case) you are a Bulldog for life. I want students to understand that we are a team, a culture, and in my room, they represent that.Sharing interests is the best way to build a culture of belonging. Once I start to talk about the great things my students are doing, I can’t help but smile. Relationships matter. Click To Tweet
2. Teach the tradition to cultivate school culture.
My class learned the Alma Mater and pep rally chants, cheers, and dances. In high school, I had an older English teacher for 9th and 10th grade. (She retired in 11th or I would have had her then too.) She made it her purpose to teach us the Alma Mater as the first assignment our freshman year. I have been out of high school for 20+ years and I can still sing every word. I was shocked when I went to my school’s graduation and the last part of the ceremony the students were to sing the Alma Mater and throw up their caps. The students had no clue what the words are and mumbled to the tune.
When I started teaching seniors, I decided to at least teach them the school song. I give my students a scavenger hunt. They have to go places such as the arena and take a picture and learn things like the Alma Mater, pep rally traditions, and famous people who have graduated from our school. If for only one reason then, they aren’t mumbling the Alma Mater words during graduation. Elementary schools do a fantastic job of teaching these kinds of traditions. Even in high school, I wanted my students to be familiar with the ways they may have not been taught.
3. Celebrate the wins to cultivate school culture.
I am the last person to go to sports ball games. I go to one football game a year and maybe attend a play. One of my co-workers went to all the things, and started putting the pictures on her wall calling it the “Wall of Fame.”
I embraced this idea when she moved away. I decided to start printing pictures from the social media accounts of our teams and activities and putting them on the “Wall of Fame.” My students are excited about this wall.
At first, I was worried that students would think I was weird printing their team pictures. I was wrong. Online students came specifically to my room when they were on campus to see the “Wall of Fame”. Students see themselves reflected every day in our classroom. This last year where everyone had to be facing forward and the walls were blank, students felt more at home when they saw themselves.[scroll down to keep reading]
4. Build relationships to cultivate school culture.
If you have been a teacher for a minute, you have heard some version of the aphorism, “They don’t care how much you know if they don’t know how much you care.” Sharing interests is the best way to build a culture of belonging. Once I start to talk about the great things my students are doing, I can’t help but smile.
I have someone from the dance team teach students and myself a dance. Being a former band student, I talk to the musicians about their music and routine, and the hot days in August I had to march. I already mentioned football, but our volleyball team and One Act Play are amazing state champions! Having those students take the time to share a story or the lingo helps others understand, become interested, and builds a valuable sense of trust. When I’m not telling about the amazing people in my class, I am sharing stories that their other amazing teachers are doing. For instance, I have a fellow English teacher that is a professional bodybuilder. How impressive is she!
Each and every school has a group of common traditions, core values, and students involved in fantastic things. Building a strong culture and lifelong traditions takes a lot of work. Maybe I don’t and probably won’t have it figured out. I won’t change it all with a few pictures and cheers. However, it also doesn’t mean that you can’t embrace the current structure. Work on building new traditions with your students and community. Imagine if each teacher in your building just decorated in school colors? Imagine if we recognize and applaud the chess champion in the cafeteria? Relationships matter. Embracing the legacy of your school can be the first step in establishing a lifelong learning relationship with your students.
About Meghan Wells
Meghan Wells is a high school teacher in the DFW area. After spending almost a decade in retail management and the financial services industry, Meghan has enjoyed education for the last 14 years putting a tech spin on all secondary levels of Language Arts.
Inspired by her 10 year old son, she has coached First Lego League, high school Esports, and continues to cultivate the (non ELA) interests of her young engineer. When she is not geeking out on edu or ed tech, you can find her reading a book, watching hours of home improvement shows, listening to true crime podcasts, or what she likes to call “serial crafting”.