3 Elements of Effective School Environments

So, I get to work in a lot of schools.

I was a school and district leader for 19 years and now I work with educators across the country. I also wrote a book called Leading the Whole Teacher: Strategies for Supporting Educators in Your School. I am passionate about creating school environments where teachers feel safe, valued, and seen.

Now that I get into so many schools, I can see clear commonalities among the schools that are operating effectively. And when I say “operating effectively”, I am not talking about test scores right now. I am talking about working together in an environment where everyone feels safe and wants to grow and take risks. Where there are strong and trusting relationships. There are three things I’ve noticed that are common in these effective school or district environments.

The first is trusting relationships that are rooted in the knowledge that EVERYONE is doing the best they can at the time, with the information and skills they have. Everyone includes teachers, support staff, and leaders.

Secondly, in effective schools, communication is treated like liquid gold. It is the tie that binds because with a lack of information, our minds always go to negative places. But, if we are clearly and effectively communicating as a community, as a school, as a team, and also as individuals, we can support each other. With effective communication, there is follow up and questions and honest conversation. There are not discussions behind others’ backs but instead we actually go to each other and have conversations. In effective school environments, everyone understands that gold star communication is both crucial and precious.

The third thing in place in effective schools is systems, systems, systems. The response is often that systems can’t solve everything because there are individual situations that need to be taken into consideration. That is absolutely true. And, what solid systems provide is this fertile soil for everyone to root themselves in and grow strong so we feel equipped to make accommodations and changes. These solid systems help us feel firmly rooted, like we have something to lean on to always hold us steady.

These three things are always in place in effective districts and schools. If your district or school environment does not feel like an effective environment where educators can thrive and therefore students do not thrive, you may want to use these three elements of effective school environments as a framework. If your school or district does feel like an effective environment where everyone thrives, you can use these three elements as a reflective tool for continuous growth. Together, look for strengths and for areas to grow to make an action plan. Honest conversations about where you are starting can lead to real, sustainable change that works for everyone.

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

– Stephen Covey

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