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Your climate, your culture

4 min read


The climate and the culture of your school are not the same thing.

The culture of a school is represented by its shared beliefs, its ceremonies, its nuances, the traditions and the things that make the school unique. School culture takes a great deal of time to create. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over years.

The climate of the school is represented by the immediate and current conditions that exist in the school. Many things can impact that, such as contract negotiations, a death of a faculty member, a state championship, perhaps a change in leadership.

Everyone associated with the school has the responsibility to contribute to the creation of a school’s culture, from the custodian to the community member. Everyone has the responsibility to contribute to the fundamental foundation of what the school is, how it functions, how it sustains itself and how it grows. Creating a school culture is always active, always ongoing and always a conscious consideration of leadership in everything it does. It’s a choice.

If you are interested in improving your school, add to the culture. Build the culture by adding things that create a uniqueness, that help kids grow as human beings, and that establishes and maintains the school as an essential and contributory member of its community.

You do that by first changing the climate of the school.

Because over time, the climate of the school informs the culture of the school. Over time, elements of a school’s climate can become part of its culture. Truly successful schools create the conditions that enable this to occur.

Of course, understanding this can help address how to build a school culture or how to add depth to an existing one in a positive way.

Here’s an example. Consider a 1:1 computer implementation. By adding computers, the learning climate of the school changes. Immediately. Students now have access to the information resources of the World Wide Web and can connect together as learners at any time and any place. These are two immediate impacts to the learning climate of the school, not to its culture.

The trick is to make the affordances of 1:1 technology part of what the school is and does — part of its culture.

So, how do you start? Begin by realizing that the most immediate impact of any change will be to the climate of the school. That impact can be positive or negative or somewhere in between. Knowing that, how will you intentionally and strategically put elements of that change into play in such a way that there is the greatest likelihood of a positive impact to the school’s climate, with the intent that these elements will become part of the culture over time?

In the case of the 1:1 initiative, it may be that students are empowered to select the apps (for example on an iPad or Chromebook) that they choose to use to support their own learning. App selection is not controlled by the district, IT staff or by teachers — students choose.

This promotes ownership of the technology and the learning.

In a contemporary school, do you want learners to have choice in their use of technology? If yes, such a decision says to the learner: “In this school, we believe that you should choose what you learn with — we’ll help you, but we believe you have the right to make that choice.” It also says: “In our school, the responsibility of technology integration for the purpose of learning is the responsibility of the student.”

Sustain that perspective, put it into play, live it, and grow it over time into other areas other than technology, and it has a good chance of becoming part of the school’s culture.

Your climate. Your Culture. Your choice.

David Jakes (@djakes) has been an educator for 27 years and currently serves Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, IL as its Coordinator of Instructional Technology.  Jakes blogs at