5 Ways to Build Strong Mission and Culture

What values motivate you as an educator? How would you describe your ideal school culture? These…

By Hana Beach

What values motivate you as an educator? How would you describe your ideal school culture? These questions are important, because when schools have a clear sense of purpose and community, students reap the benefits. That’s why this week, we’re focusing on our XQ Design Principle Strong Mission and Culture—defined as a clear set of school values that unify stakeholders under a common purpose. We’ve gathered resources that dive deep into how you can empower your students by building a strong mission and culture in your classroom and school. Let’s jump in!

Take time to express your hopes and dreams for your students and school—and then put that vision into writing. 

Why It Matters: Having a clear vision unites community members in a shared purpose. Getting specific about this vision will also hold you accountable for putting your ideas into action. Draft (or revisit) your vision for your school using these tips from Education Elements:

  • Gather a vision-setting group that represents multiple perspectives
  • Set protocols for the conversation (this XQ worksheet can help!)
  • Get specific, and avoid overused jargon
  • Get feedback on your vision, and revise as necessary

Extra Credit: Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | TED Talk

Strong mission and culture can’t happen from the top down. To be successful, schools need to involve students at every level of defining the school that will work for them.

Why It Matters: At OneStone, an innovative high school in Boise, Idaho, students set the culture. Students work with educators to make decisions about how and what they’ll learn—and as a result, feel a deep connection to the school community. Involve your students in setting your community’s values and culture:

  • Include students on decision-making committees
  • Use projects in the community to connect students with their passions
  • Invest in student-centered pedagogies

Extra Credit: How an “Our Kids, Our Goals” Approach Works to Support Students

No matter what your goals are on paper, strong culture begins and ends with how your students actually feel. 

Why It Matters: Students learn best when they feel secure, safe, and included. Creating this culture of belonging empowers students to take bold risks and succeed academically. To build supportive culture, try these suggestions from high school teachers:

  • Open class with having students share a rose and a thorn
  • Hold morning meetings as designated community time
  • Play Snowball Toss: Have students write a stressor on paper, crumple the paper, throw it in a “snowball fight,” then finally read the paper

Extra Credit: Survey: Students Say Schools Don’t Give Them Skills They Need to Succeed After Graduation

The most effective school cultures balance challenge with care, empowering students to be the best version of themselves. 

Why It Matters: Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) in Providence, RI embodies strong mission and culture in action. They combine a culture of high-love with high-rigor, understanding that caring for students is inseparable from giving them the academic challenge they deserve. TAPA enacts this culture by:

  • Investing in challenging curriculum
  • Collecting detailed data on student outcomes
  • Letting students fail, within a network of support

Extra Credit: Oakland’s Graduate Profile: A Spotlight on What Matters Most

Too often, high schoolers get the message from school that they are not enough. Make sure your students know they are valued and capable of achieving success. 

Why It Matters: In this video from the Barr Foundation, students explain how attending a high school with a supportive mission and culture helped them overcome difficulties and believe in themselves. Based on their experiences, consider how you can:

  • Celebrate the gifts of every student
  • Use restorative practices to uphold community norms
  • Check in with students to provide individualized support

Extra Credit: Ten Principles of Equity Literacy

Today’s high school students deserve a math class that helps them understand their real world. Our students are demanding more from their schools and our new Algebra 1 curriculum can help meet their needs

Here’s what we have to offer: 7 modules, 6 weeks each (classroom dependent), 5 phases, 4 modules use tools and building, 3 modules are technology-based, 2 ways to engage in professional learning and support, and 1 fantastic time being fun for your math classroom.  

These programs give students the chance to solve problems about issues in their real world. No longer are students given arbitrary examples like toting around 50 apples. These projects will have students exploring environmental changes through data analysis, planning for a financial decision by designing an algebraic model, finding the relationship of their heart rate to listening to their favorite song, and figuring out how a TikTok video goes viral using exponential growth. 

Be a part of this groundbreaking work to revitalize the Algebra 1 classroom. Join us in our piloting series where you can test one or all seven modules. 

For more information, please visit https://xqsuperschool.org/math/.