Back-to-School Tips for a Positive School Environment
August 10, 2022
Student and staff well-being are critical concerns we hear from school leaders every day as we work alongside educators nationwide. Especially as a new school year begins, it is important for principals to set the tone and foster a positive school environment from the start. Below are a few practices that leaders can adopt this fall to make back-to-school time intentionally positive and create an environment where teachers and students want to be.
Shadow a Student: Seeing the School Environment Through a Student Lens
As you consider your school environment, you may want to start by thinking through the everyday experience of your students. This perspective can help to shape your support for the fuller school community. Here is a process to consider your school culture through your students’ eyes.
Choose at least two students who represent different parts of the school community. Walk through their day in your mind. Think about what experiences and interactions each student will have during their daily schedule. Don’t skip over anything that may feel non-consequential, such as a passing period or dismissal. [Bonus opportunity: Spend at least part of the day shadowing that student to observe what they see and experience in reality.]
As you walk through the day, reflect on the values that are being modeled – both what you would view as positive and what you may not want to see. How does the overall environment from your walkthrough reflect what you have set as a school goal or mission? How do the relationships and values being modeled for each of these students compare to the relationships and values you would like to see reflected in your students?
More questions to help you reflect are available in our one-page guide here.
Coaching Teachers: A Strengths-Based Approach
Having a strengths-based conversation with an educator requires a deep level of listening and observing, and it centers around the goal of maximizing an educator’s strengths to further their own instructional practice. It also helps the educator to be more conscious about what is working and facilitates a conversation around improvement that is rooted in their talents and strengths, not on weaknesses or negativity.
When leaders have an intentional focus on fostering a positive environment, they can still drive productive conversations about good teaching and learning. At NIET, we use strengths-based conversations with educators to support student engagement and ownership of their learning – the outcome of effective instruction. While there is no single model for strengths-based coaching, this document provides some guidance on how to structure and explore strengths-based coaching with an educator following a walkthrough or observation of their instruction.
BINGO: Involving Teachers in Building the Environment
One of the main aspects of a positive school environment is ensuring that teachers and students are valued, heard, and a part of the school’s mission and vision. NIET has created a BINGO card designed to help provide actionable ideas to do this for both leaders and teachers.
As a leader, consider using this tool to bring your educators together for a fun challenge, or simply as a catalyst for your own positive leadership practices throughout the week. If you ask staff members to compete and see how many of these positive actions they can take toward facilitating a stronger school culture, make sure to take it a step further and recognize and reward winners intentionally.