How to Create and Maintain a Joyful School Climate

For when the luster from the beginning of the year starts to wear off.

Your students came to school in August excited to start the year. Teachers began with team building, classroom procedures, and establishing relationships. There was a blank slate for everyone, and teachers and students were energized by new possibilities and were ready to learn. Now it’s the middle of fall, and that luster is wearing off. The routines and repetition are sapping energy from classrooms and hallways, and they’re even starting to make things a little boring. Luckily, it’s not too late to get that vibe going again. Here are seven ways to spice things up and maintain a joyful school climate throughout the year.

1. Get out of your office.

Greet kids and staff daily as they walk into school. Give high fives, fist bumps, and secret handshakes. Roam the halls on your skateboard or mobile desk so that you can constantly be connecting with students. Learn the students’ names. You are the leader, and the school’s attitude and climate start with what you model.

This might mean getting into classrooms regularly, and not just to observe teachers. Team teach for an hour or a day with a teacher. Read with kids during silent reading time or work on a project with students. Your interactions with the school when you leave the front office can have a tremendous, joyful impact on everyone (yourself included!).

2. Feed your people!

Everything important in life is centered on food: weddings, funerals, graduations, etc. Everyone responds to food! Buy donuts for your staff. Get local restaurants to sponsor lunch or breakfast for teachers, or donate BOGO coupons to pass out. Schedule a staff potluck with a theme: soup, salad, or tacos are great and easy ideas.

Organize a school tailgate for your students. Grill burgers and dogs. Bake cookies for people’s birthdays. There’s no way to go wrong with this! Food has an amazing way of bringing people together. It also breaks the monotony of eating a sack lunch or cafeteria meal. 

3. Use postcards to send joy to staff and students.

Everyone loves being recognized. A great way to do this is by putting blank postcards in the staff lounge where everyone can easily access them. Inspire staff to write encouraging notes to students. You can even schedule time in staff meetings for teachers to write a few. Model this by writing one postcard for a staff member and one for a student whom you see doing good work each week. This is a quick and easy way to spread joy in your school.

4. Make school fun!

Education is important work, but it doesn’t always have to be serious. Dance, smile, sing, lip-sync, or rap with students. Play music during passing time and lunch. Celebrate Throwback Thursday by dancing to old music. Tell corny jokes, make fun of yourself, and laugh a lot.

What if you organize a school-wide design challenge, have a staff vs. students kickball game, play trivia, or plan a scavenger hunt? Make joy a priority in your school. Don’t just do team-building activities at the beginning of the year; schedule them throughout the semester. Activities like these build up relationships with your staff and can be leveraged with students for learning.

5. Plan service-learning opportunities.

Students and teachers alike can get a bit burned out by the same kinds of lessons. Launch a service learning project for your school. Try using a project-based learning framework to have kids solve real-world problems that matter. A great place to start is to visit local businesses and ask for projects that your students can do for them. Plant a school garden, paint a mural, clean up garbage, fight invasive species, or make a rain garden. Partner with a school from another country and have your students design solutions to their challenges. Doing meaningful work engages students and makes learning a joyful process.

6. Listen to your staff and students.

Pay attention to your staff and students. Ask regularly how it’s going and wait for a genuine response. Let them know that you are always there for them. To show that listening is a priority, designate a place where students and staff can give private feedback and requests to you. Show that you care and are listening by responding to their suggestions and concerns. Be a servant leader who responds to people’s needs.

7. Share what your school is doing with the community.

There are too many negative stories about education and schools. Help change the narrative by using social media to share what your staff and students are doing. Bragging about the staff and students is your job! Use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to show off student learning. Call up your local—and even national—education reporters for websites and TV news. Invite the news to cover special events and those service learning projects that your kids are rocking. The news is constantly in need of stories. Help them out by letting them know what is going on at your school and let your school be recognized for the great things it is doing.

One of the greatest things a school leader can do for their school climate is intentionally bring joy. Take this part of your job seriously, and it will help so many of the tedious and more stressful parts of being an administrator feel worth it. It will also make your school a place staff and students are excited and proud to be a part of.

Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.

Plus, check out this article on building schoolculture.

Posted by Mike Kaechele

Mike is a Project Based Learning Teacher Consultant and National Faculty for Buck Institute for Education, leading PBL workshops across the country. He believes that we don't need to prepare students for "someday," but that they should be doing meaningful work right now!

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