School culture and school narrative…I hear the phrases often in my daily work. It doesn’t take long for a student, parent, or new staff member to walk into a school and get a “feeling”. That feeling not only speaks to how business is run in a school, but also what is important to those who work and learn there. I wrote in an earlier blog about the importance of every child, every chance, every day. First impressions are critical…You only get one chance…There can’t be any bad days.
But here’s the thing about school culture…if it’s positive, forward moving, student centered, and grounded in respectful, caring, professional relationships, people will share that “feeling” with you the first chance they get. They can’t help but share because it feels “right”. The feeling is so obvious and present you can almost reach out and touch it. Conversely if school culture is cold, guarded, judgmental, lacking trust, and not focused on sacrifice to ensure success of every student, it becomes an uncomfortable topic no one wants to talk about and that’s why, as a school leader, few are likely to mention it to you.
Words and actions aren’t just simple gestures – they are a window to our heart and reveal to others not only what we feel, but more importantly what we believe. Leaders, both formal and informal, have the responsibility of scripting their school’s narrative. Your school narrative – the story you tell everyday through your actions and words – communicates clearly to those around you what you believe and value. Simon Sinek’s powerful video is a must see and introduces us to a premise he calls “the Golden Circle”, which articulates the importance of knowing and communicating our purpose, our cause, our belief, and why our institution exists. As leaders who want to invoke positive change, Sinek reminds us that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
All behaviour has a purpose and all behaviour communicates something. Some interesting questions to ponder:
- Do people count down the days until the weekend or holidays?
- Do we really believe that ALL students can learn?
- Are excuses made about student learning because a school has a high percentage of English Language Learners or has inner city status?
- Are teachers in your school “silos” or do they believe that what the group can achieve is greater than what a single person can?
- Do teachers view themselves as master teachers, or life long learners tirelessly pursuing mastery?
- Are students happy, engaged, friendly, welcoming?
- Are delicate issues fodder for back room or parking lot chat, or are they respectfully presented and discussed?
- Do parents view themselves as partners in education and members of the school community?
How would you answer these questions? What do your answers reveal about your school culture?
Why do you do what you do?