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Deputy principal Bruce Farthing of Otumoetai College in Tauranga, New Zealand believes the college's culture of inclusion is driving its success.

“There is an absolute acceptance here of one and all,” he told New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty Times.

The news site recently featured the school as an example of excellence, which Farthing credits to the principles of socialization, openness and acceptance the school’s founders weaved into the institution three decades ago.

“I think the strength of this place lies in the school’s ability to be able to do exactly that,” Farthing said.

Students seem to agree.

“The most significant factor to why I believe Otumoetai College is the best college is the instalment of what I like to call our Otumoetai culture, which is a culture of acceptance, diversity and overall caring of each other,” 17-year-old Redemption TeWiki said. “That is why I think we are such a great school.”

Principal Russell Gordan told the news site he took the job as head of the school six months ago, and has been impressed with what he’s seen.

Gordan noted the school takes its name from a Maori word that means “still waters.”

“Still waters run deep,” he said. “What I have seen in my sort time here, is a depth of character,” he said. “There is something particular and peculiar to the culture at this school.”

That culture is something that’s passed down through students, head student Thomas Chaney explains. The 18-year-old explains new students are introduced to school’s positive culture on day one, and are expected to carry on Otumoetai’s inclusive traditions.

“It’s one of those things that have been passed down the generations,” Chaney said. “You look up to those role models who are older than you, and you want to recreate what they are doing. It is a bit of a circle.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, noted the powerful influence of culture in forming character in his book “The Death of Character.”

“Much of our moral sensibility, of course, is acquired in our early socialization through the acquisition of language, and in our participation in everyday life,” he wrote. “Yet primary socialization is also that stage in life when moral instruction is articulated.”

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a group that represents 114,000 educators in 127 countries, delves deeply into school culture and climate, and explains how those important factors influence its goals of “advancing student achievement and supporting the whole child.”

ASCD offers articles, books, webinars, online learning and other materials, including a video highlighting what the experts have to say about culture and climate titled “When A School Feels Inviting.”

“School climate and culture have a huge impact on student learning,” ASCD author Peter DeWitt said. “It’s something you feel when you walk into a building, and students feel that, as well.”

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