Differentiating and Defining School Climate and Culture, and what happens if you don't value it.

In my continual effort to understand everything, I have fixated, lately, on culture and climate. For the sake of common vocabulary, I reference this article because it really gave me a jump start on what I believe about school culture and climate.

In that article, Grurenert and Whitaker say the following when differentiating and defining culture and climate:

This comparison is necessary as we find many school leaders using the terms interchangeably. Culture is the personality of the group, which is influenced by the leadership, the community, the school's history, and the unwritten rules people abide by. Climate is the general attitude of people in the school relative to specific situations. Culture is our "brand." Climate is how our brand makes us feel.

Culture can be thought of as our professional religion, climate is simply the mood we tend to be in while at work. Climate is given permission by culture to allow members of an organization a range of responses to any given situation. For example, in some schools the culture whispers in teachers' ears to look forward to weekends and summer breaks. In some schools, Mondays are celebrated.

Climate is one of many footprints of the culture. It allows us to better understand the culture and perhaps leverage change within the culture. To change the climate one could bring donuts to school on Monday. To change the culture, bring donuts to school every Monday. Soon it will become an anticipated event. However, bringing donuts to school as a school improvement strategy will not change anyone's disposition toward learning.

So, it took me reading this article to clearly understand culture and climate. Simply stated:

Culture is who we are. Climate is how we act.

A culture is a set of beliefs, values, behaviors, and characteristics of a group. Further, this shared set of beliefs, values, behaviors, relationships, and characteristics can be used to identify members of that group.

So, a culture is not only what you believe, it is how you are identified. The culture you ascribe to groups you in the view of others, and, more importantly, has a powerful effect on your decision making. It is shared thread in the fabric of who we are; as individuals, and as a group.

Climate is how we act. I’ve talked about operating from a position of unified thinking, well, climate is the forward operating base that guides that thinking. How do people carry themselves at school? When people say, “this is who we are,” what does that look like in a verb-driven definition? How do people talk to other teachers, administrators, students, or parents.?

Climate is about more than what kind of mood a teacher, or group of teachers, is in. Motivated by culture, climate is how we operate and respond to the day to day goings of school.

Important not to miss, positive or negative, all schools, all organizations, have a culture and a climate. When addressing concerns in your school, how much do climate and culture play into behavior, morale, attitudes? Well, let’s say that you ignore climate and culture. Let’s just say. What is the cost of devaluing culture and by that, climate?

When the culture requirements are not met, the easiest thing to see and measure is morale. When teachers do not feel supported, or feel that support is inconsistent, they begin to question what the can count on. This increases the amount of complaining, affects their perception of the the quality of the school, and strains interpersonal relationships.

The next thing that changes when you stop valuing positive culture is that behaviors change. Both students and teacher can be affected by this. Teachers are less patient. Students push the envelop. Things that were expected when the culture was good, are no longer reliable. This speaks to the heart of climate. Expected behaviors are no longer expected. We lose the sense of who we are, and begin to act and make decisions that serve ourselves rather than the group.

The changes in morale and behaviors shape how people act in the environment. There can be a sense of isolation among people who have related in the past. Because I don’t know what to expect anymore, I can’t always trust those around me. Where my early reflex was to collaborate, to protect myself, now I keep my distance.

Now, the last thing that changes when you devalue culture surprised me. The thing that surprised me was that a lack of good culture can cause emotional instability. Reactions trump responses. Emotional eruption take the place of deep breaths. Slamming doors replace rational conversations. A poor culture changes how you act, and it changes how you feel. I didn’t realize that until I saw it.

Now, I expected that I would talk much more about what happens when you devalue culture than I did about those culture requirements, but I think that just shows how crucial the requirements are. If you surrender communication, consistency, leadership, and support your result will be low morale, unacceptable behaviors, and emotional instability. That’s not much to talk about. Value culture. It’s what makes everything else possible.


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