Positive culture matters. It matters especially in places where we want humans to be lead by purpose, feel inspired, and work hard to learn, thrive, and grow.
What exactly is culture? In any environment, culture is essentially that feeling you get when you walk into a room. You know the one... the feeling that makes you cringe when you witness one person address another in a particularly awful way. Or, the other one that makes you smile within the first 10 seconds. That feeling. It's the culmination of what could be described as the "temperature" of the room―the one well established by expectations, values, ethical decisions, habits, and social behaviors. Culture tells us how people are treated and how we are expected to treat others.
The culture of a work or school environment can be the difference between a space that thrives on success or a space contaminated by conflict and struggle. Humans work better in places where they have a sense of agency and purpose; where they can make an impact and make things better for the group and themselves.
Positive cultures matter.
Listed below are 20 mindful ways to cultivate positive culture. All engage natural reciprocity and can help shift the entirety of an environment to a higher level.
20 Mindful Ways to Cultivate Positive Culture:
A smile is a human social behavior. It increases levels of serotonin in both the giver and the receiver of a smile. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, important for cognitive functions, especially the functions of memory and learning. Smiling is a cross-cultural form of communication that fosters connection, relationships, and naturally causes people to relax. A smile is a simple act of kindness.
Kindness cultivates empathy, decreases stress, boosts the immune system, and reduces negative emotions. Negative and positive emotions are contagious. Kindness is a decision one makes... a sign of grit, strength, and resilience. It's what good humans do.
3. Tone of Voice
In communication, your voice is the most powerful tool. The tone of your voice can foster courage and bravery or eliminate self-worth and authenticity. Use it wisely.
Adults who use harsh tones can cause trauma through shame. “…consider whether you are unwittingly replicating a trauma… yelling at somebody who is already out of control can only lead to further (emotional) dysregulation… we humans respond to harsh voices with fear, anger, or shut down, and playful tones by opening up and relaxing.” - Bessel van der Kolk
Hang on to it hard for yourself and others. Whatever you are trying to get across may not stick the first time around… or the second, or third, or sixth. Teaching, guiding... growing humans requires great patience.
Take time to get to know others. Talking fosters connections and relationships. We are by nature social creatures. Face-to-face interactions are an important part of our mental health and well being.
Touch is the "most natural way that we humans calm down... It helps us feel intact, safe, protected, and in charge." Human touch promotes trust, safety, and security. This important human behavior can occur in the form of a handshake, fist bump, hug, or my favorite… a high five. It is a form of communication that requires literal human contact.
Listening is the key to all effective communication and all positive human relationships. Effective listening develops neurol residence skills, or the ability to adapt successfully in the face of stress and adversity. All it takes is for you to… stop, watch, notice, and not speak.
“People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This one is self-explanatory. Students are not numbers, scores, or statistics. We don't have to tell them how we feel about them, they can feel it.
"The brain and the heart both have electromagnetic fields..." The brain's electromagnetic field can be measured a distance of about two inches away from the body. The heart's electromagnetic field can be detected 10 to 15 feet away from the body. "Because the electromagnetic field carries with it an emotional content, we all quite literally effect one another's vibrations―good or otherwise."
Set people up for success. Always. Young humans learn more by our actions than by our words.
Children and adults affected by trauma function with a different nervous system. “(E)very new encounter or event is contaminated by the past…” Take purposeful time to teach, guide, and model. Be the example.
“Shout praise, whisper criticism.” – Jon Gordon. Hold the bar high for all kids and celebrate the good stuff out loud for all to see and hear. Expecting a student’s best gives a student the opportunity to believe in themselves.
It’s okay to apologize when you are in the wrong. We are human, and humans make mistakes. Show your students what it looks like, authentically.
Often, students are told to apologize. Forced apologies are inauthentic. According to Dr. Fredric Neuman, Directory of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plans Hospital, “Forcing the person to pretend to be sorry does no good. It makes that person less likely to feel sorry.”
Be honest with students. Trust happens when we practice honesty.
Trust first. Keep expectations clear, put yourself out there, and show students how to trust by trusting them first. Take purposeful time to reflect and use student feedback to guide the learning. Honoring feedback and using it to make change not only builds trust, but it helps students have ownership of their learning process. Keep your promises―follow through is hands down the most important component for building trust.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde. Making decisions congruent with what you value, teaches others to do the same. If you believe kindness is important, be kind to others. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.
Give it, model it, and then expect it in return, but don’t expect that it will come quickly. Good things take time to develop.
Give yourself grace first. You are better to others when you are good to yourself. The best way to teach grace is to gift it to yourself first.
We must hold onto hope, all of us. Hope is a dynamic cognitive motivational system. ”Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope… the place of truth-telling… the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be...” Hope, by Victoria Safford
"We are what we believe we are." -C.S. Lewis. If those around you do not yet believe in themselves... believe in them first, until they can begin to believe in themselves.
Learning requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is the center of love, belonging, and joy. Without it, we cannot have courage, empathy, trust, innovation, creativity, accountability, adaptability, hard conversations, feedback, problem-solving, or ethical decision making.
“The greatest casualty of trauma is vulnerability.” – Brené Brown. Environments where shame, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are allowed, vulnerability cannot and will not exist.
Empathy is the ability to recognize the perspective of another person. Pay attention to what others feel, ask what they are feeling, and make a commitment to understand.
It is most powerful. It is what drive us… it is what should drive us. Whether you do or do not love working with kids (or other humans), it shows. Take time to think about and notice your own impact. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa
Positive cultures lead by purpose, inspire humans to learn, thrive, and grow. These environments nurture creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Here, humans are driven to their fullest potential.
When every human experience shapes the brain, environments that practice mindful positive human interactions do more than help us feel good, they change us.
"We don't have to offer some grand gesture to students to make our interactions memorable and meaningful." We can begin with one small positive interaction at a time.
How will you begin cultivating positive culture in your environment?
References & Resources:
The Power of Positive Leadership, by Jon Gordon
Daring Classrooms, by Brené Brown (YouTube): Click here.
Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, by Aaron Hogan
Culturize, by Jimmy Casas
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
Enlighten Up, by Lynell Burmark & Lou Fournier
Scientific American, How You Feel What Another Body Feels: Click here.
Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308) is a California native, National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, dual language teacher, and Kidblog Ambassador living and teaching in Texas.