School culture refers to the way teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share. A positive school climate and school culture promote students’ ability to learn (ASCD, 2017).
Students, staff, administration, and parents are influential to the school culture, but so is the facility, the history, and the community. Each component can have a positive or negative effect on the school culture, but none can take the entire credit or blame for the school culture. Together, they collectively contribute.
I have worked in a handful of different schools, and each school had its own culture. This differences didn’t really become apparent to me until I moved to the district level where I often visit several different schools in one day. With 35 schools in our district, there is a wide variety. Some facilities are old and some are new. Some are more rural and some are more urban. Some are larger, some smaller. Some are high poverty, others not so much. All of these factors along with the different groups of stakeholders have an impact on the school culture.
Is your school culture “positive” or “negative”?
In a school with a positive culture, there’s an informal network of heroes and heroines and an informal grapevine that passes along information about what’s going on in the school: a set of values that supports professional development of teachers, a sense of responsibility for student learning, and a positive, caring atmosphere exist (Education World).
On the other hand, in a toxic school environment, teacher relations are often riddled with conflict, the staff doesn’t believe in the ability of the students to succeed, and a generally negative attitude prevails (Education World).
School librarians CAN have an effect on school culture.
The school library can have either a positive or negative effect on the school culture, and the responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of the school librarian. With great power comes great responsibility, right?
Well how do we use our “powers” for good and to have a positive effect on the school culture?
Keep your collection current: Budgets are always shrinking, but that’s a fact of life! Weed those dusty, outdated books and watch your circulation grow. Look for grants, hold book fairs to generate funds or advocate to community groups for donations. But equate collection development to laundry…one is never finished! It’s an ongoing task.
Move things around: Moving some bookshelves, discarding old map stands or rearranging tables can boost some interest in your space. Be sure to carve out different nooks for independent reading or small groups. Introduce some flexible seating and arrange things so that several groups can use the facility at the same time.
Establish a reading culture: Stay current on award-winning books. Start a book club. Establish a “readers only” zone with a comfy couch or bean bags. Create book displays for different genres and events. Promote School Library Month, Teen Tech Week, or Banned Books Week. Celebrate reading all year long with different themed events. ALA provides a list of events on its website.
Stay on the cutting edge: Attend school library and technology conferences. Connect with educators that are movers and shakers and follow their lead. Last June, the US Department of Education recognized the leadership capability of school librarians and launched the Future Ready Librarians initiative. To learn about how school librarians can be an integral part of Future Ready Schools, register for the webinar series beginning February 14.
Be a team player: Maintain a welcoming space for stakeholders. Open your school library for different clubs or school events. Host the occasional baby shower or staff meeting. The school library should be the hub of the school, and school librarians should be the stewards of that space. Allow stakeholders to take ownership of the school library and watch how their support for your program grows.
Be there: Don’t hide in your office. Greet students and staff members as they come in. Keep the school library open for staff and students as much as possible. Open early and stay late. Recruit library helpers (parent volunteers, staff, or students) to help make this happen.
Web presence: Your website should be the portal to your school library. Make your school library available 24-7 by keeping your website up to date and easily accessible. Keep links to digital resources easy to find on your webpage. Show students and staff how easy it is to use and refer to it often. If possible, activate a “hit counter” to measure traffic on your website.
Get social: Establish a social media presence. More and more districts are warming up to social media so check to see what is currently permissible in your district. Connect with stakeholders and build excitement by promoting events through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Already on Twitter? Connect with other school librarians by searching #FutureReadyLibs.
Do you have other ideas about how to positively affect school culture? Continue the conversation by sharing your ideas in the comments below.
ASCD. “School Culture and Climate.” School Culture and Climate – Videos, Articles, Resources. ASCD, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
“Is Your School’s Culture Toxic or Positive?” Education World: Is Your School’s Culture Toxic or Positive? N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Miller, Dawn. “Librarian’s Hard Work could Change School Culture.” The Charleston Gazette, Mar 13 2010, ProQuest Centra.
“Michael Moore Quote.” A-Z Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Author: Sedley Abercrombie
Sedley Abercrombie is the current past president for the North Carolina School Library Media Association. She is also the lead library media coordinator for 32 school libraries in Davidson County, NC as well as an adjunct instructor at East Carolina University.