The Cornerstone of Great School Culture

Every morning before the first bell rang at my school, my buddy Sean could be found on the basketball court, practicing free throws. He was a bit of an oddity freshman year. While other players were just rolling in, he was finishing up on honing skills that would ultimately set him ahead of the pack.

“So do you just shoot free throws?” I asked Sean one day at lunch.

“No, I stick to the fundamentals,” he answered, “lay ups, free throws, dribbling…”

“Sounds kind of boring,” I noted.

He nodded, “It used to be, but now it just makes me feel like I’m in the groove.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, Sean understood an important secret: you can’t win if you don’t have the fundamentals locked down.

Over the past few years, we’ve offered a wealth of advice through this blog series. We always try our best to base our posts on relevant issues, and more often than not I choose what to write based on conversations that I have with teachers and administrators. Sometimes someone offers great advice and I have to share it. Other times, I get asked a question that I imagine is relevant to most schools. This month, I want to step away from that and take a look at what I think truly is the biggest factor in a school’s culture.

In education, there is a single point that we can focus on which influences every other aspect of school culture.


Every single piece of your school day is dictated by how positive or negative the relationships in your school are. Education is necessarily a social activity, and as such it hinges upon positive, healthy relationships.

It makes sense, right? If you have a host of teachers that can’t stand each other, how can you expect anyone to bring a team mentality or a positive attitude? Most of us have endured an unhealthy social system at some point in our life, and we all know it’s almost impossible to focus on getting any actual work done when we feel stressed, insecure, unappreciated, disrespected, or otherwise unfulfilled socially.

Alternatively, most of us have likely enjoyed a healthy social system, and have discovered that we can walk in the door feeling ready to take on the world.

This post isn’t designed to get clicks or throw a snappy activity at you, instead I’d like you to take a moment and consider whether or not the relationships in your school are functioning well.

Are people in your school generally…

– Positive?
– Communicative?
– Energetic?
– Playful?
– Trusting?
– Helpful?

If they aren’t, imagine what it might look like if they were. Imagine walking into your school knowing for sure that everyone was going to behave in that way. Wouldn’t it be a game changer?

It’s for this reason that I want to put this message out: if you focus on just one thing this year, make it building strong relationships. It is absolutely the single most fundamental piece of a healthy school culture.

I’ll never forget when Sean became a starter in his Junior year. He wasn’t the most flashy player, but he always had a spot on the court. All the other players knew they could count on him to capitalize on the fundamentals, and by Senior year he stood out as a steadfast and consistent leader.

And it all started before school, keeping it simple, practicing free throws.

President & CEO, TEEN TRUTH

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