XQ schools are building strong, positive cultures as a core part of their work. For example, the culture at Washington Leadership Academy is built around trust, responsibility, and collaboration. Every morning the WLA staff lines up to greet students by name. Some schools, such as New Harmony High and Círculos, use community circles to bring adults and young people together to reflect and connect. Da Vinci RISE High puts relationships at the center of the school culture, “so students feel known, valued, and loved by adults who have no legal ties to them but purely want them to succeed,” according to co-founder Erin Whalen.
Culture is also built outside of the typical school day, through big gestures and small ones. Every Saturday morning, the bursar from Brooklyn Laboratory High School makes phone calls to five of the school’s immigrant families just to say hello, see how they’re doing, and ask if the school can help in any way.
Culture-building routines and rituals may be daily, weekly, annual, periodic. From a warm greeting for students in the morning, to staff meetings where everybody’s voice is heard and respected, to periodic potluck dinners where families share dishes from their childhoods, to regular team meetings to share insights on struggling students, to annual senior capstone presentations for parents and community, these actions build common ground and help turn a school into a community.
Watch a video about how Principal Rahel Wondwossen of Cohen College Prep in New Orleans revitalized the school’s culture after Hurricane Katrina.Watch
Culture is enacted in the routines and rituals that give a school its unique identity.
Step 1 – Research
Think through routines and rituals your school could implement to engage students, families, and staff, establish an inclusive culture, and help build a strong sense of common purpose. Include students, families and staff in the process so that everyone owns it and feels great about the culture you are building together. Research what other schools have done to gather additional ideas.
Step 2 – Share and Engage
Share findings with your team and discuss the following questions: