Exploring The Essence Of School Culture

Posted on: 08/09/2023

Every term, our staff meet prior to the children returning to school for preparation and training days. Earlier this week, as well as rigorous Safeguarding, Cyber Security and Health And Safety training, we had a superb session on ‘Culture And Behaviour’ led by Mr. McLaughlin. The session was very thought provoking and inspiring. It also led me to ponder how much you, as our parent body, had deeply thought about our school culture and the behaviours and expectations we set for not only the children but also the adults supporting them (both staff and parents). This short blog below may give you food for thought. I would love to hear your reflections on our school culture and, as always, any feedback from our parent body is appreciated. 

Schools are more than just bricks and mortar; they are dynamic ecosystems that foster the growth and development of our future generations. At the heart of any educational institution lies its "school culture." But what exactly is school culture, and why is it so essential? 

In this blog, I will delve into the concept of school culture, exploring its components, significance, and the impact it has on the pupils, teachers, and the entire learning community. 

School culture can be likened to the personality or character of a school. It encompasses the shared beliefs, values, traditions, and practices that shape the daily life and interactions within an educational institution. It's the intangible essence that defines what a school stands for and what it aspires to achieve. 

Key Components Of School Culture 

Shared Values and Beliefs:

A strong school culture is built on a foundation of shared values and beliefs. These could include a commitment to academic excellence, respect for diversity, a focus on character development, or a dedication to community service.

Our aims at St. Helen’s College are:

Love of Learning - We aim to inspire a lifelong thirst for creative, stimulating and rewarding learning, leading to the full development of every child’s academic potential.

Personal Growth - We aim to instil core moral values, inspiring virtue, responsibility, resilience, independence, mindful self-awareness and a desire for continuing self-development.

Involvement and Challenge - We aim to inspire an ongoing desire to develop talents, nurture the widest possible range of interests, and contribute to society as confident, compassionate and responsible citizens and leaders of the future.

St. Helen’s College inspires academic excellence, mindful self-awareness and creative self-development in pupils and staff alike. It is an inclusive, happy, vibrant community of pupils, staff and families, where love, respect, teamwork and teaching by example prevail. At its heart are our core values: love, harmony, spirituality and growth. 

Norms and Expectations:

Every school has its own set of norms and expectations, which guide behavior and interactions. These could involve rules for conduct, academic standard or even dress codes. 

We pride ourselves on our high expectations for how the children conduct themselves and it is important that, at the beginning of term, we remind them of our expectations. Children love routine and structure and over the course of this week we have introduced them and reminded them of our norms and expectations, including how they line up and move around school, playground etiquette, dining room etiquette and classroom routines. Ensuring that there is consistency in what we are all expecting from the children is key. 

Traditions and Rituals:

Schools often have traditions and rituals that help to build a sense of belonging and identity. These might include assemblies, house events, plays, or annual events that bring the school community together such as our STEAM Day, Sports Days, Speech Competitions etc. This year we are very excited to be celebrating our centenary and over the course of this academic year there will be many events arranged for us all to celebrate ‘St. Helen’s College’. 

Leadership and Role Models:

The leadership within a school plays a significant role in shaping its culture. Principals, Head, teachers and staff members serve as role models, influencing the attitudes and behaviours of children. I also include all parents as key to influencing the attitudes and behaviours of the pupils; this is why it is so important that you understand our expectations and fully support the school in its endeavours and all adults act as a team around the child, singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak.

Pupil Engagement: 

The level of pupil engagement in school activities, clubs, and sports can also contribute to the overall culture. A vibrant extracurricular scene can foster a sense of enthusiasm and school spirit. We pride ourselves on our co-curricular provision at St. Helen’s College and your children are exposed to such a wide range of activities to enrich their opportunity and experiences. 

So what is the significance of ‘School Culture’?

Academic Success:

A positive school culture can enhance academic achievement. When pupils feel connected to their school and believe in its values, they are more likely to be motivated to excel academically. This goes without saying here at St Helen’s College and our pupils achieve significant academic excellence during their time with us - all pupils make excellent progress and our Year 6 leavers’ destinations are testament to this.  

Social and Emotional Well-Being:

School culture has a direct impact on the emotional well-being of students. A supportive and inclusive culture can help students feel safe, accepted, and valued. I am sure that one of the main reasons for you choosing St. Helen’s College is the strength of our pastoral care and strong well-being emphasis, which is a golden thread throughout the school.

Teacher Morale: 

Teachers who work in schools with a positive culture tend to be more satisfied and motivated in their roles. This, in turn, can lead to better teaching practices and improved student outcomes. We have such an excellent staff team here at St. Helen’s College - there is superb collegiality and a recent staff well-being questionnaire affirmed this. Staff retention is very strong. 

Community Engagement: 

A strong school culture often extends beyond the school gates, involving parents and the wider community. This collaboration can lead to enhanced support and resources for the school. We have many links forged between parents and the wider community and it is an aspect of the school which we need to continue embracing and growing. 

Preparation for Life:  

School culture plays a vital role in preparing pupils for life beyond the classroom. It instils values, ethics and skills that are crucial for success in the real world. We are developing our ‘Life Skills’ programme over the course of the next couple of years but the children’s independence and acquisiton of life skills is dependent on school and home working together to enable their life skills to develop.

Creating and nurturing a positive school culture is an ongoing process that involves the entire school community.

Some key strategies include: 

Effective Leadership: School leaders should lead by example, promoting the values and beliefs of the institution - we hope that you agree that our leadership at St. Helen’s College is as such.

Open Communication: Encourage open and transparent communication between all stakeholders - pupils, teachers, parents, and all other staff members. We are a large community and do our utmost to ensure good communication channels. Our recent ‘Meet the Teacher’ evenings are one aspect of this. We also hope that each year group will embrace the new communication app being set up for parental communication, ‘Class List’, and continue to maintain open and transparent communication in the parent body. 

Inclusivity: Promote an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and respects individual differences. We have undertaken so much work over the past few years on Diversity/Equality/Inclusion and this continues but we also appreciate parental involvement to keep improving this aspect of school culture.

Celebrating Achievements: Recognise and celebrate the achievements and contributions of students and staff. This is one aspect of our school culture which I feel is embedded at St. Helen’s College and we appreciate that parents also inform us of the children’s achievements from outside of school and even when they have left us and moved on to senior schools and beyond.

Continuous Improvement: Regularly assess the school culture and make adjustments as needed to align with the school's mission and vision.  We are constantly reflecting and evaluating what we do, why and how. It is through this approach and gaining feedback that we can continue to make improvements to what already is an incredible school!

In conclusion, school culture is the heartbeat of any educational institution. It sets the tone for learning, shapes character and prepares pupils for the challenges of the future. By understanding and actively nurturing a positive school culture, we can create an environment where students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally, ensuring that they are well-prepared to become tomorrow's leaders and responsible citizens.

Thank you all for being part of this unique community. At the staff training day I spoke to the staff about how, after 34 years in education, I still feel the ‘wiggles’ the night before we return to school each term and especially at the beginning of a new academic year. Those wiggles are excitement, adrenaline, the anticipation of what lies ahead! I hope I never stop ‘wiggling!’. Wishing us all a superb new academic year.

Ms Drummond