There’s a cost effective and simple strategy, implementable by all levels of leadership, in schools of every size that will help build a strong positive school culture in your school: “Mind your language!”
There are two key messages in this strategy:
- How a leader speaks about their school (or how a teacher speaks about their classroom, a team leader about their team, a Parent Club president about their Parent’s Club etc.) will form the basis for what their followers believe and think about their sense of belonging in that school/classroom/club.
- Community members who feel connected to the school/club/cause will then work for you in further strengthening the positive culture within and outside that cause.
Increasing a sense of belonging
The key to increasing that sense of belonging in your community is to use inclusive language that draws them into the cause and puts everyone within the cause on an equal footing (therefore valuing the contributions/skills/thoughts and attributes of all stakeholders).
As leaders, we need to ensure the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ are at the forefront of our mouths and fingertips when communicating with our communities.
|Words/sentences that are in||Words/sentences that are out|
|our school||the school/your school|
|our classroom||my classroom (e.g. “don’t come into my classroom and behave in that way)|
|our students||the students|
|as a community, we need to…||parents need to|
|we don’t do that here at ….. Primary School/that’s not who we are here at …. Primary School/that’s not how we roll here at …. our school.||Don’t swear at school|
Strengthening the positive culture
As a leader it is a good idea to imagine that each and every member of your community has a megaphone attached to their hand, ready to repeat your messages to the local and wider community whenever they feel the need.
Everything you say can potentially be shouted through this megaphone at any time.
Be smart! Use this knowledge to your advantage by making sure you only communicate messages you want shouted from the rooftops by all of your community members. “We are doing great things in our school” vs. “We have a bullying culture in our school and it needs to stop.” Try your best to ONLY communicate the good news stories. Leave the negative things for the small specific number of trusted people who need to know and discuss it.
Consider this newsletter snippet from a school principal who is trying to rally the support of the community:
“The enrolment trend is continuing to slide as the community deserts its local school instead of standing up for its local school and supporting the leaders and college council to make the improvements for the local children. Our work is challenging as we learn to cope with students arriving below expectations, assimilate new arrivals and do our best to have students achieve their best. As parents I expect you to have a big say in making sure your child’s work is passed in on time, use the student planner for communication with the teacher and monitor that your child is doing their best no matter what the subject or event they are accessing at the college.”
Do you feel a sense belonging to this community? A sense of pride? Does it make you feel like rallying for the cause? What message would you be telling other people about how your school is travelling after you read this?
What message would be coming from your megaphone? (our kids are below par academically, the refugees are dragging us down, everyone is leaving and I can see why!)
How would the tone and message of the snippet be changed if inclusive and positive language were used?
“We have unfortunately seen a downward trend in our enrolments lately. We know we have work to do and we know we all need to come together to continually improve what we are doing as a school and as a community. There are a number of challenges in our school but there are also many great opportunities and wonderful people who can help guide us through these challenges. We have overcome issues in the past and we will do it again, that is the spirit of…. (suburb name).
Let’s all join together and commit to giving our best in everything we do and come out a stronger community as a result! It will take us time, but I know we can do it”
The language of a positive school culture costs nothing to use yet, used over time, can pay big dividends. It’s time to get the megaphones working for you!
I recommend keeping your ears and eyes out for opportunities to “mind your (and others’) language” this week.