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We Are Crew: Chapter 1: Creating a Culture of Crew

How can a schoolwide culture of Crew cultivate courage, compassion, and success?

A culture of Crew is the most important holistic indicator of the health and quality of a school. It demonstrates that school staff and students respect each other, support each other, and work together as a team. It shows that they hold themselves and each other accountable to high standards, stand up against bias and racism, and work together to make the world a better place. A culture of Crew is EL Education’s term for this positive, inclusive, equitable school culture that pushes everyone to be their best selves. This chapter describes the key elements of a Crew culture—how they are aligned with EL Education’s character framework, and what they look and sound like in exemplary EL Education schools.

“Compelling research demonstrates what parents have always known—the success of young people in school and beyond is inextricably linked to healthy social and emotional development.” The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

Learning Targets

  • I can name the key elements of EL Education’s character framework. 
  • I can describe what a culture of Crew looks like and sounds like. 

Watch: The Power of Crew

Crew has the power to transform your school into a place where every students feels they belong and can be successful. In this video, students and teachers at 21 schools across the country describe what Crew means to them and why it matters. As you watch, reflect on the following questions:

  1. How do you see students in this video being Crew, not passengers who simply go along for the ride in school?
  2. How do you think a culture of Crew like this could change the way students in your school develop a sense of belonging, purpose, and agency?

Review: EL Education Dimensions of Student Achievement

In today’s education conversation, “student achievement” has often been constrained to a dangerously narrow definition: scores on basic skills tests in math and literacy. Of course, basic skills in math and literacy are important, but student achievement that relates to life success is so much more than that. Our nation’s one-dimensional view of student achievement damages everyone, but disproportionately damages students in historically underserved communities. EL Education instead promotes a three-dimensional vision of student achievement—mastery of knowledge and skills, character, and high-quality student work—that embraces a whole-child vision of student success.


After reviewing the Dimensions of Student Achievement, consider the following questions:

  1. What does the term “achievement” most often mean in your school?
  2. Which of the teacher and leader actions do you see in your school? How can you build on them to strengthen student achievement?

Review: The EL Education Character Framework

Within the dimension of character, EL Education defines character growth as having three goals: becoming an effective learner, becoming an ethical person, and contributing to a better world. 

Our work to support students to achieve these goals will not be successful without our unwavering commitment to antiracism and to honoring and respecting all of our students’ identities. It is a fundamental equity challenge for all of us in education to ensure that all students from all backgrounds can carry their identities from their homes and communities into school so that they develop a positive, integrated academic and personal identity. This requires addressing the harm caused by cultural stereotypes, racism, and bias connected to gender identity, sexual orientation, and other dimensions of personal identity. Students and teachers need to feel safe and respected for who they are, and must be supported to recognize privilege where they have it and harm where they have caused it. We must support our educators and young people to refine their sense of how they want to treat people and why, and how to translate those aspirations into ethical lives.

Review the Attributes of Positive Identity Formation below and reflect on how your school culture might be different if students had regular time in Crew to focus on purpose, agency, and belonging.


The outer two rings of our Character Framework—Academic Supports for Developing Student Character and Empowering Leadership—create the conditions in which a culture of Crew can grow and thrive across the school. We’ll explore these conditions more deeply in Chapters 2 and 3 of this PD Pack. Before you continue, respond to the following questions:

  1. Does your school have a set of character traits that are commonly understood across the school? If so, how does it compare and contrast to the EL Education character framework?
  2. Which aspect of the EL Education character framework could most benefit your students and staff as you build a culture of Crew?

Watch: Crew across the School

Crew is a way of being that creates a culture of compassion, respect, teamwork, and shared responsibility. It is evident in school structures, such as family events, service learning, peer mentoring and tutoring, and student leadership.  As you watch, look for moments when you see student character in action.

  • How does honoring student character through shout outs, light leader awards, and celebration inspire students to embrace leadership and service?
  • In this video, how do you see students fostering and passing on a culture of Crew?

Dig Deeper

  • Virtual Crew Collection  Explore this set of resources to learn more about how to create a culture of Crew across the school during distance learning.
  • Crew at XP  This video, from a school in Doncaster, England, shows how a culture of Crew impacts students success and staff coherence.

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers…

  1. What have you seen or read so far that you can apply immediately to jumpstart a culture of Crew in your classroom?
  2. What would it look like and sound like for you to “be Crew” in your school?

For School Leaders…

  1. How do EL Education’s goals for character (effective learners, ethical people, contributors to a better world) align with your school vision or mission?
  2. How can you begin to foster a culture of Crew among your staff?
  3. What would it look like and sound like for you to “be Crew” in your school?