Developing School Culture No Matter Who You Are

Martin SilvermanBlog, Connect Better


  • When hiring new staff, consider those who move your vision forward. 
  • Non-teaching staff members (counselors, librarians, paraprofessionals, custodians, etc.) play a big role in developing school culture.
  • Parents and community members are vital to the building of school culture. 

My assistant principal is involved in a book study for a book that is based on the premise that you are potentially a leader no matter what your official title states.  I like the whole idea of this because often members of a school community rely on the officially-titled leaders to be the makers of school culture. 

As a school principal, I know that one of my most important roles is to encourage positivity and production in my school culture.  This task is not wholly my responsibility, however.  I know I can count on the members of my school community to use their strengths and talents to “brand” our school and move us toward our ultimate mission…to serve our community. 

The development and continuation of positive school culture is the unmeasurable essence of what makes a good school a great school.  I can’t emphasize the importance of deliberately building and nurturing a positive school culture by all members of the school community!

Every member of the school community is a developer as we build and transmit our school culture in our community. I urge you to look for your ability to lead the development of school matter what your role! Click To Tweet

When You Are the School Leader

So if you are a school leader, the stage is pretty much set for you.  You are the official keeper of the big picture. And you have an enormous influence on what the culture of the school entails, both in small, daily ways, and in more long-term ways as well. 

If you are lucky enough to get to hire new staff, you have the opportunity to select the ones who move your vision forward.  It is important for you to have a mini-vision for your school…a guiding principle that you keep in mind when going about your daily tasks.  I like to think of my school as a place where everybody belongs.  With that in mind, when I am selecting staff members to join our community, I think about how they can enrich and promote that vision. 

I try to put people where they can do the most to work with their talents and abilities.

I think about how they will meld with whichever team they will join, and what extra “something” they can bring to our community.  Thinking about some of my favorite interview questions for new staff, the second question of the interview is always, “Who is the best teacher you ever had, and why were they the best?”

As a matter of fact, this is the anchoring message of my podcast, The Second Question.  It is important for me to know what the future staff member holds as their highest values when it comes to being part of our school community. 

From their response, I will usually be able to tell how they will forward our mission and vision.  Another question I ask, usually next to last is, “We have many people that have expressed interest in this position…why should we select you?”  I look here for what the potential staff member sees as their added value to our team.  By the time they answer this question, they have told us much about themselves.  Now I get to see how they will fit in with the group!

Non-Teaching Staff…the Grandparents of the School

If you are a non-teaching staff member (think assistant principal, counselor, librarian, paraprofessional, or custodian, for example) you get to lightly touch just about everyone in the community.  Your skill set needs to be a bit different than a teacher in the classroom.  You are like a grandparent, you get to swoop in and have an impact. But you are not the “parent” that is with the children the entire day.  You are the movers of the vision…the ones who get your message across in bursts. 

As a non-teacher, you can spread your culture-building abilities in smaller doses over a long period of time.  This is crucial to the culture being positive and productive.  In my experience, the non-classroom staff are able to connect in both small and large ways with students and staff.  You may become their person. 

If you are able to provide a place where staff and students feel free from the everyday activity in their classroom, you can spread your message—one that promotes the general school culture—in a unique manner.  You are indispensable to building culture.  Most of us can think about someone in our lives who we connected with whether or not they were acting in their official role.  If you are one of those folks, you have the opportunity to connect students and staff to the school culture in brilliant ways. 

Lucky Enough to Be the Teacher!

If you are lucky enough to be a child’s teacher, you are the closest to a parental role as you can get in the school community.  It is vital for you to connect to the school culture vision so you can do the daily, often subtle, work of making students become part of the school and feel as if they belong. 

A long time ago when I was teaching elementary school, I would take time on the first day and look at my class and say, “If I could have chosen a group of students to spend the year with, this would be exactly what I would have chosen.”  It goes beyond just building relationships with students.  It involves consciously and deliberately teaching the expectations of the school culture in an explicit manner. 

I look for a teacher that can relate not just to what students are now, but who can help them see who they are to become in the future.  When someone tells a student to “behave” in school, it’s important for the students to be taught what that looks like specifically.  Teachers are presented with students who almost overwhelmingly want to be successful and happy.  It just takes the guidance of the teacher as the responsible adult to show them exactly how to get there.  Teachers are the ultimate builders of school culture and their power is awe-inspiring.

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Parents and Community Have a Role Too…

And of course, parents and community members are vital to the building of school culture.  We school folks need to remember that our parents have had different experiences in school. We may need to be as explicit with the vision and understanding as we develop and promote our school brand.  Our school mascot is the Rangers, and one way I communicate with our families is by calling our school Rangerland. 

This minor bit of language is powerful.  It establishes our school as a specific place, and all of the good things that happen are situated in this place called Rangerland.  Parents have begun using the word back to me in communications, Facebook comments, etc.  This tells me that they are helping develop our school culture in their families by associating our vision in the community.  I want everyone to want to be part of Rangerland!  It’s an amazing place.

So as you can see, it truly does take a village!  And every member of the school community is a developer as we build and transmit our school culture in our community.  I urge you to look for your ability to lead the development of school culture…no matter your role!

About Martin Silverman

Martin Silverman is a father, grandfather, husband, and long-time educator in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. He is committed to providing the best educational experience for the students and families at Salinas Elementary school where he is principal. Martin has worked in urban, suburban, and rural districts as a teacher and administrator. His interests are in creating and nurturing school culture, providing enriching experiences for students and families, and developing future teachers and administrators.

As a former bilingual teacher and administrator, Martin is committed to providing ELL students with quality programs to develop their unique skills. He hosts a podcast called The Second Question, which highlights educators and provides them a forum to discuss ideas, and to honor the teachers that have influenced their lives.