March/April 2017

Superintendent Jill Gildea, Communications Director Margaret Van Duch, and Director of Innovative Teaching, Learning & Technologies Elizabeth Freeman represent Fremont SD 79 in Mundelein.

School climate and culture have a direct correlation to employee morale. Every school has a unique context built upon the student body, parent base, and community. Recognizing the characteristics of the school and district context allows school district leaders to communicate effectively. Effective communication strategies can boost morale by building a positive climate, and over time, a highly effective culture.

So what is the difference between climate and culture? See the table below for a summary of the research.

There are several techniques for getting a read on the morale in your buildings. Focus groups can be assembled to discuss hot topics. Teacher surveys and polls can help gauge and measure employee morale over time. Less formal, but effective, is spending face time at team meetings and association meetings and informal, spontaneous hallway conversations. Each is an opportunity for evaluating individual employee morale. Caveat: Remember that one person’s voice cannot be the voice for your entire staff or district. Check with others to confirm your findings.

Morale is like your bank balance. Even when you have money in your account, the balance can always be higher. Consider “building morale” an assignment, to approach in a strategic and systematic fashion. Just as you carefully craft a school improvement plan, you can encourage district leadership to plan a strategy for boosting morale.

Appreciation of efforts

Expressing appreciation of staff efforts can go a long way towards building morale. This should be done regularly. In order for appreciation to be effective, however, it must be authentic and personalized. Employee recognition programs are associated with feelings of greater satisfaction at work. Employee recognition programs do not need to break your budget. Simple acknowledgments of extra effort, such as handwritten notes, can be given to any staff member who is going the extra mile. In today’s world of constant electronic communication, there is still something special about receiving an envelope in the staff member’s mailbox. Although you might be surprised how many staff members post these for their colleagues and students to see, a privately delivered note is more appropriate for staff members who may not appreciate being put in the spotlight.

“Shout outs” in your district newsletters can be a regular feature. Put these at the top so that the newsletter always starts out with a positive message. Encourage staff members to “shout out” other employees - they can be your eyes on the street looking for employees who are making a positive impact. This strategy works when the staff member doesn’t mind being the center of public recognition. These “shout outs” are also a subtle way to reinforce the types of behaviors you want to promote among your staff.

An internal staff website is also a terrific location to post personal and career milestones. Did someone complete an advanced degree program? Get married? Had a baby? Help create a sense of family by posting these moments and photos in a secure location on your website for staff to share and enjoy.

Externally, short articles with photos can be sent by the district directly to local news outlets. The photos bring the story to life Try to capture pictures of adults working with students and focus the story on student learning. Catch staff members in action to promote the positive work of your school. Social media engagement is another external tool that can expand your reach. Inform your stakeholders about activities and events that they can in turn share with others.

Back-to-school videos can be a fabulous way to start the school year. Ask all staff members to send in one or two summer photos. Compile a slideshow set to snappy music and you will feel the energy surge in your staff as you begin the year. Everyone likes to catch up by seeing where people went, whom they visited, and how they spent their summer. Administrators should join in, so staff can get to see what they enjoy doing outside of the office. This has become a tradition in our district and all look forward to connecting via this brief social activity.

Consider boosting staff morale to be a primary outcome of your communication strategies. Teachers and staff members feel good when their hard work is promoted publicly. Take a few moments every day to boost morale by being a positive influence in your school. Positive morale starts in the leadership and front office and reaches every hallway and into every classroom.

Climate is the “mood” of the school

Short term, prone to fluctuations, more easily changed.

Includes leadership, organizational structure, historical forces, rewards, trust, commitment, connectedness.

Culture is the “personality ”   of the district

Long term, takes years to evolve, influences all aspects of the organization.

Includes values, beliefs, myths, traditions, norms.


White, P., Educational Leadership magazine, February 2014