Toxicity and What to do About It?

What is a Toxic School Culture? Matt Foster

Author: Matt , Tags: Leadership

( words) minutes to read 

Toxic school cultures undermine improvement and kill motivation to learn (for students, staff, and leadership teams). You may have experienced a toxic school culture first-hand or know someone who has.

  • What is a toxic school culture?
  • Why do they exist?
  • What can you do about it?

It’s my hope that if you’re in a school with high levels of cultural toxicity, this post can relieve some of the pressure. If you know someone experiencing this, please share this post with them.

Let’s jump right into it.

What is a Toxic School Culture?

A toxic school culture is one in which people are “placed on the back burner.” That means other priorities are placed in front of the people of the school:

  • Instruction and Best Practice
  • Narrow Focus on Test Scores
  • Programs or the Newest Initiatives

In the TeamTom School Leadership blog it’s proposed, “The quickest route to a toxic school culture includes de-valuing humans:

  • Don’t smile.
  • Don’t talk.
  • Don’t compliment.
  • Criticize often.
  • Don’t listen.”

Why Do Toxic Cultures Exist?

Toxic cultures stem from leadership, or a lack thereof. It’s not so much that the culture is toxic, it’s actually that there just is not a positive culture.

A positive culture requires active building and crafting.

This is the job leadership. And in the absence of leadership, culture just swishes around like dirty bath water. There’s no focus. There’s no direction. It really feels like pendulum swings and moving targets.

I spent a few episodes in my educational leadership podcast discussing the reasons behind toxic school cultures. I hope you’ll check them out:

Hal Bowman Discussing Toxicity in Schools

What Can You Do About A Toxic Culture?

Your position is the starting place. Some would argue that roles and positions do not matter, but they really do.

If you’re a new teacher new to the campus and the culture is toxic, don’t stick around. Trying to fix things will just harm yourself.

No one is positively served by teachers getting burned out or beaten up!

However, if you’re an instructional coach or a campus administrator, it is in your job description to positively influence culture. People expect it from you, and filling this expectation is the quickest way to fix a toxic culture.

Here’s some great advice from Simon Sinek in this quick video:

How To Handle A Toxic Work Culture

I hope you enjoyed this post and found some insights into toxic school cultures.

Stay strong, stay positive, and be a light to those in your circle. Remember, it’s okay to take care of yourself first. Step back, if needed. Find a different circle, if needed.

Students deserve educators who function in a healthy school culture. And really that’s what it’s all about.

Don’t forget to share with a friend!

Learn more about school culture at Matt’s daily School Leadership blog.

About the Author

Matt is a learner, creator, and educator with k-12 teaching, administrative, and research experience. He tracks trends in education, travels the oceans, and fails at fishing.

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