This is the fifth post in the series “How to Select an Appropriate Secondary School”.

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What is Culture? 

Culture refers to the the general atmosphere of the school among students and teachers. This is highly dependent on the the principal’s style of management and their beliefs in handling the situation. You can tell a lot of how principals run the school based on how students and especially teachers act in front of visitors. It can range from a culture of fear to one of a family warmth.

Types of Culture

I am listing some experiences I came across when visiting certain schools. Notice that I put a “?” beside the sub-headings as I am not entirely sure of their nature.

Fearful?

I remembering visiting a school for the first time for a particular event. After I registered my presence, The first thing I noticed were the stoic faces in the office. Everyone seemed to be very busy. The staff members and teachers wore lanyards with their MOE cards within. I enquired for the directions for the venue but the receptionist was not particularly helpful. Answering in short sentences, she made it clear she was not answering more than necessary. When I bumped into a teacher later on and made the same enquiries, his face was full of fear and his reply somehow struck me deeply, “I don’t know, I don’t know. You have to ask someone else.”  The second teacher I enquired with waved me in off the same manner. Somehow I managed to find my way to the venue but I was really puzzled by their responses.

Independence?

It was a Friday when I visited this particular school and I must admit, I was blown away by its spirit and culture. Various CCAs had commenced their activities and I could sense their independence of the students and unity spirit all around. What blown me away was the sense of leadership displayed by the students as they conducted games and activities within their CCAs. For example, I watched intently as a group of Secondary 2 students communicated instructions effectively  to the Secondary 1 students. With such flair and poise, I had mistaken them for a group of Express students and was pleasantly surprised to learn that they were from the N(A) and N(T) batch. As I walked along the aisle, I noticed many other CCA groups being managed by the students with aplomb. It was truly fascinating indeed.

Another school I visited had a vision their N(T) students were truly stars and it actually amazed me that the N(T) students were the ones who helped out during the school events. It was clear that the program was a success as I observed the teachers of that particular school shared their practices with strong enthusiasm. The students present were also ever-ready to provide assistance to both teachers and visitors.

How Can One Observe the Culture? 

One way is to observe how teachers communicate with one another. If there are often smiles between various teachers (not just 1 or 2), it is likely that the culture is one of a family. Students are likely to treat their teachers with respect and smiles. If you observe that the teachers often have stoic faces and students present are often from the Express stream, it is very likely that the better levels tend to receive more attention than the weaker ones. In short, watch how teachers treat each other as well as the students. That should likely give a general impression.