5 Strategies for Building Strong School Culture

Kelley Spainhour

Special Education Consultant

Embarking on a new school year, you and your staff may experience both excitement and stress as you help your students establish routines.

Families often have questions and emotions surrounding the return to school. A leader’s role includes ensuring that students and families feel welcome, in addition to providing communication about the new year and a successful transition back to school.

Teachers and school staff have many of the same questions and feelings as parents and caregivers. They also have the huge responsibility of planning comprehensive and differentiated instruction for a few dozen new students while working to maintain a healthy, safe classroom environment.

School leaders have a unique challenge to build a strong school culture and create a hopeful, ambitious vision for the year ahead. It’s about letting your teachers know that you are as committed as ever to their professional success and emotional well‑being.

We’ve put together five tips for school leaders to consider as your year gets underway.

5 Proven Strategies for School Leaders

School culture affects everything that happens at school, including both student performance and teacher satisfaction, behavior trends, attendance rates, emotional safety, staff morale, test scores, and learning objectives.

Often defined as the collective attitudes, expected behaviors, and values that shape how the school operates, a school’s culture encompasses administrators, teachers, staff, students, and families.

To build a strong culture this school year, plan to implement these five strategies.

1. Prioritize Meaningful Parent Involvement

It is important to involve parents in the life of the school. It is especially vital to do so this year as you seek to re‑establish a strong school community.

Parents and caregivers contribute to the positive development of the school by:

  • Reinforcing the school values and rules
  • Helping to develop important extracurricular programs,
    like community mentoring or a new playground
  • Shaping the attitudes of the students
  • Supporting the work of teachers

Involve the parents at your school by inviting them to volunteer, participate on committees, lead fundraisers, and help coach athletic teams. If possible, allow and encourage parents to visit the school with an open‑door policy. You want the feeling to be, “You are always welcome. Your voice matters. You belong.”

2. Celebrate Teacher Success

Among other things, calling out the big and small wins for your teachers is fun! Who doesn’t love being celebrated? In an email to staff, highlight a teacher who made positive contact with each family in their class within the first two weeks of school. Call out the teacher who ran their personal best time in the 5K over the weekend at the Monday morning huddle. Leave a hand‑written “good job” note for the teacher who planned and successfully executed a wonderful community field trip. Consider providing coffee and pastries at the start of each new quarter or the beginning of each testing season.

Celebrating teacher success is one of the best ways to build morale. Have fun and be creative with it!

3. Provide Choice Whenever Possible

Your teachers already know the importance of providing choice for their students. Options in the classroom create a sense of empowerment. Choice helps with behavior management, internal motivation, and classroom culture.

Adults appreciate choice, too! Some of your teachers will be seasoned veterans, and some will be brand new to the profession. One of the clearest ways you can show respect for the differences among your staff is to offer differentiated and optional professional development. While some professional learning may be required by the district or applicable to every teacher, much of it should be tailored to the needs and interests of individual teachers.

One way to accomplish this is through an open invitation for teachers to lead professional development or serve as model teachers when highlighting a particular instructional strategy or classroom management technique.

4. Invest in the Physical Space

The overall feel of your school matters greatly to student learning and staff morale. Think through all of these spaces:

Outside the school

Try to maintain neat landscaping, clear streets, and empty trash cans.


Aim for clean floors, colorful and neat bulletin boards, and celebratory displays of student or teacher accomplishments.


Keep them organized, clean and bright, with intentional use of workspace, flexible seating, and fully stocked materials.

Teacher workspace

Ensure this is comfortable, conducive to collaborative learning and individual work, and fully stocked with office supplies, coffee, and snacks.

Maintaining the physical environment of your school is also a great way to involve parents! Try forming a landscaping or school beautification committee to ensure a small team is consistently monitoring the upkeep of the entire school. Everyone will appreciate the difference!

5. Encourage and Incentivize Innovation

If your school truly values innovation, the school culture will be one of creativity, problem‑solving, and collaboration. How wonderful it is to teach and learn in that kind of environment!

To encourage innovation, provide intentional space for teachers to collaborate. Guided facilitation is important but should involve minimal rules and requirements so that teachers have plenty of time to brainstorm. This space can be used to plan novel instruction and supports for students, especially those with unique learning and behavioral needs.

Another way to encourage innovation is to actively invite teachers to contribute their ideas to solve problems. Are you facing an attendance issue? Staff morale shifting? Community unrest? Library need overhauling? No matter the issue—big or small—your teachers are some of your greatest assets to building a strong school culture. Invite them to participate in the big decisions and initiatives.

We hope you have a great start to school this year. May our schools be safe, stable places for teachers and students alike. With these tips, school leaders can begin to build a strong school culture that yields benefits throughout the year.

About the Author

Kelley Spainhour is a special education professional with a decade of teaching and leadership experience. She is passionate about the unique needs of children with medical needs and enjoys collaborating in multidisciplinary contexts. Kelley currently serves as a special education consultant and writer.