Build a Culture of Safety and Trust

Community engagement is key to building trust and support in a school district. ThoughtExchange is ready to help.
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November 14, 2022

Sarah Mathias

How Education Leaders are Achieving Their Goals: School Culture

6 minutes
A healthy school culture supports student success. Education leaders can help build that culture by promoting student voice, engaging the community, and recruiting and retaining the right staff.
The New Superintendent's Guide to Community Engagement
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ThoughtExchange lets education leaders tap into their community’s insights to improve school culture quickly and easily.

Accessing student voice for better learning outcomes and school culture

Dr. Marie Wiles, Superintendent at Guilderland CSD, has seen her students become more engaged with their learning and take on advocacy projects that have had a significant impact on her district. She attributes their increased involvement to the consistent use of student voice Exchanges. “ThoughtExchange has helped us change the culture of how our students think about their experience of school," Dr. Wiles shares.

Promoting student voice boosts learning outcomes, contributes to leader success, and improves culture. With ThoughtExchange, you can engage your students, get their insights, and build your community’s trust and support.

U-46 students shape curriculum

When a group of Illinois’ Elgin School District U-46 students requested a mandatory African American Studies course, Dr. Teresa A. Lance, Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Innovation, had the perfect platform. With ThoughtExchange, she tapped into student insights and created an inclusive, student-led curriculum.
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“The student Exchange we ran helped our curriculum team more deeply understand the essential nature of some critical pieces that were missing... We now feel confident that what’s being developed will reflect all voices more equitably.”Dr. Teresa A. Lance, Ed.D
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Anonymity, anti-bias, and moderation features create a scaled conversation

ThoughtExchange allows anonymous sharing and randomized peer-to-peer rating, helping participants avoid bias and encouraging honesty—even with sensitive topics. Use the Moderation feature to remove hurtful comments, identifiers, off-topic answers, and duplicate thoughts.

Lance appreciated that these features allowed students to share without fear of judgment. She said, “What I love about ThoughtExchange is that there’s this opportunity for ideas to be put out anonymously, and then a coalescing around ideas—and that’s what I was looking for.”

Increasing school safety with community input

An international study revealed that 1 in 3 students don’t feel safe in school, and that students feel safer when they have healthy, caring relationships with their teachers.

As an education leader, you can help—but you’ll need your community’s support. Listen to your students to establish trust and transparency. Get your community’s input on school safety initiatives. As a leader, you don't have all the answers, but by including your community in the conversation and asking the right questions, you'll have access to a bounty of innovative ideas and solutions.

Brighton Central School District improves school safety

Brighton Central School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Kevin McGowan, understood that transparent, two-way communication was key to his district’s safety initiative.

That’s why he used ThoughtExchange to gather insights about law enforcement in schools. While a survey would have amplified the loudest voices, acting like a vote on his initial strategy, an Exchange surfaced marginalized voices he may have otherwise missed.

Understanding his community’s feelings helped McGowan make better, more inclusive decisions about school safety initiatives.

Dr. Kevin McGowan explains how he used ThoughtExchange for more inclusive safety planning.
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Differences feature identifies common ground

ThoughtExchange’s Differences feature identifies common ground by revealing where participants agree and disagree in real time to help discover strategies everyone agrees on.

While having law enforcement in schools remained contentious, McGowan used Differences to find common ground on other initiatives like crossing guards, social workers, and outdoor lighting.

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Enhancing staff retention and recruitment

Districts struggle with principal turnover rates as high as 21% each year, impacting student trust and achievement. A Brookings study revealed that “test scores decline in the first year of a principal transition,” and that negative effect continues for several years into the new principal’s tenure.
Hear about how Orange County Public Schools (FL) is using feedback they gathered with ThoughtExchange to help their staff succeed.
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Hiring new education leaders is challenging. How do you find the right fit and ensure they’re set up for success? Your community can help. Just ask.

Lebanon High School seeks community input in new principal search

Education leaders at Lebanon High School know that community involvement is essential for successful leadership recruitment and retention. So they asked their community to help find their next principal.

With ThoughtExchange, they asked:

What are the most important strengths and opportunities for growth of Lebanon High School that our new principal should be made aware of in order to be successful?

Here’s one of the top-rated thoughts:

Ability to connect kids to career pathways outside of college.
College isn't for everyone, and parents and kids need help with learning about other career pathways.

With this insight, Lebanon High School chose a candidate who had previously served as a Career Center Director.

Understanding what your district really needs helps new leaders succeed in their job, whether that’s improving a district strategic plan or financial efficiency.

Help your principals engage with their schools, and see how successful they (and their students) can be.Get the Guide

Ratings feature reveals priorities

Like Differences, the Ratings feature helps uncover common ground. While not the most frequently mentioned concept, participant Ratings showed “career pathways outside of college” had significant majority support. Without Ratings, Lebanon High School’s leaders may have missed this crucial thought.
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Building school culture with ThoughtExchange

If your district works to empower student voice, increase safety, and improve staffing, you’ll want to hear from those affected. With anonymous sharing to eliminate bias, Differences to identify common ground, and Ratings to prioritize ideas, ThoughtExchange helps education leaders improve school culture by bringing the community into the conversation and empowering them to be part of the journey to student success.

Positive school culture paves the way for student achievements, and your community cares about its students. Culture is based on shared ideas, actions, and achievements—so give people an inclusive, anti-biased space to share their real experiences with each other. Invite your district into the discussion, and watch your students thrive.

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Engage your district on your decisions, and build a culture where students can thrive
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Sarah Mathias
Sarah discovered her love of words when she penned her first journal in grade 4—she hasn’t stopped writing since. With a BA in Sociology and an MPC in International/Intercultural Communication, Sarah honed her corporate writing skills in the travel insurance and fashion industries before working with ThoughtExchange. She brings her collaborative spirit and commitment to antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with her penchant for grammar jokes.

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