School Culture: The Principal's Greatest Responsibility

By Lloyd Knight

Lloyd Knight is the Principal at Charter Schools USA, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Mr. Knight began his career as a student teacher and has worked at every level including curriculum resource teacher, classroom teacher, and assistant principal. Before moving to Indianapolis, he was the lead principal of North Carolina for Charter Schools USA, he spearheaded the expansion of five new buildings and the largest portfolio of charter schools in the state of North Carolina.Mr. Knight is a trained peacekeeper, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Shaw University in North Carolina, and earned his Master of Arts degree in Education Leadership from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Knight is also a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, a public service organization founded in 1911.

As a school leader, I have many conversations with principals during this time of year.  One question keeps entering my mind.  'What does it mean to be a student at your school?'  The questions can be considered the foundation of a positive school culture.  Of course, we must begin first with our students.  The key to building an amazing school culture is to define what it is that all of are stakeholders are supposed to be.

What should are students look like? How should they speak to one another?  

For students, this should be spelled out explicitly and taught over the first two weeks of school.  At CICS Lloyd Bond we focused on the CARRES model.  Cooperation, Assertion, Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control were used in all interactions whether positive or negative to drive home our expectations.  The dress code and rules are given to students through modeling sessions so that 100% of our students understand them.  

How should our teachers interact? What should they believe about our students?

For teachers, this is modeled through the way administration interacts with them.  Expectations like greeting each other every day and speaking to each other in the hallway in from of students sets an atmosphere of care that students will pick up on and model as well.  Administrators must explicitly say that all teachers must believe the impossible for our students or they will not have an opportunity to teach them.  We cannot move forward as an organization if there are people in the organization that put limits on our students.

Who are our parents and why are they an integral part of what our schools are?

For parents, this is established on the first interaction they have coming into our school.  All parents are welcomed warmly and given time to discuss the progress of their student.  Parents are given an expectation to volunteer within our school and rewarded when they hit certain milestones.  When major issues arise, parents that play a role in the school are notified so that the message out to community is one that doesn't get out of control.

These are questions we must answer in order for us to build the type of culture that creates earth-shattering results. We must plan for these ideas before we enter the school year so that everyone is on the same page on DAY 1.