Nine Hard Truths About School Culture for Campus Leaders

Recent interviews and reflection of hiring practices have caused me pause. I will take a “culture builder” on our team any day before a “content expert.” Don’t get me wrong knowing the content one is hired to teach is vitally important but inevitably there is a candidate in the mix who knows the content well, but can ALSO contribute the growth of a positive campus culture. Failure to select candidates that aspire to grow positive classroom cultures in which the voices of all students are heard results in a content expert who cannot connect with kids.

Rerouting to recent reflections, if we believe this to be true for teachers we hire, then we, as campus leaders, must lead the same way. On the journey to improving student achievement, we tend to get stuck in slapping at initiatives that must be in every classroom. Our approach in bringing these worthy initiatives to scale often is without conversations centered around our personal and campus values and beliefs. We miss the human factor and prescribe steps to implementation resulting in confusion, resentment, and ultimately a leader who cannot connect with teachers. When you fail to connect with teachers and seek only compliance, school culture suffers.

According to a 2018 ASCD Article, “School Climate and Culture”, School culture refers to the way teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share. A positive school climate and school culture promote students’ ability to learn.

Here are my reflections. I’m calling them the ‘Nine Hard Truths About School Culture for Campus Leaders’
1. You alone as the campus leader cannot foster a positive campus culture, it takes the right team. However, you alone can destroy it… quickly.
2. “Over valuing Compliance”- Don’t fall prey to the trap of thinking the more complaint your people are the better your culture. Compliance does not foster innovation. Demanding conformity/compliance does quite the opposite.
3. Improving the culture of your school will not alone guarantee improved academic achievement, however neglecting it is a sure-fire plan to student achievement decline.
4. Crucial conversations are paired well with a hefty helping of relationships. Culture is destroyed when we walk into tough conversation in the absence of a relationship. It is also destroyed when we never have the “crucial conversations” because we never establish the relationships.
5. Have an opinion, make it known, and ask others theirs… OFTEN.
6. The social and emotional health of staff and students is directly affected by the culture of a school. Period.
7. Find the pep in your step. Care too much. Smile too much. Get way too excited. I have never seen an abundance of negative people led by an overly positive person.
8. Isolate the naysayers then work your hardest to find their ‘why’? Start by sharing and living your ‘why’ daily.
9. Bleed hope. Always.

 

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