If you saw my bookshelf, you’d think that I was totally sold-out to extensive and highly technical philosophies on education. I mean, I read all of those fancy dancy books on education and definitely learn really important things.
The problem is, when I ask myself the question, “So what does this LOOK like tomorrow in schools?” I tend to come up short. I come up short because so many fancy theories and philosophies are good in just that: theory. And what I like to deal with is REALITY! I mean that’s what we’re faced with every day when we show up to school: REALITY!
So, recently I was asked by a colleague what I thought about “changing a school’s culture.” Well, after I gagged (because I don’t think that real, “get it done” type of educators are talking about changing the school’s culture…I think they’re busy TEACHING!), I took a stab at it and here’s what I came up with:
If you want to change a school’s culture, you’ve got to change skill and action. If people don’t know how to ACT differently, then they’re not going to change their attitude. Next, you have to change attitude. I find that a simple, habitual attitude change (such as, “We are no longer going to blame attendance for the reason why our kids aren’t hitting benchmark” or “We are not going to complain about how parents don’t support us by working with their kids at home”) works wonders. If we didn’t believe our attitude shift at the beginning, over time we start to believe it because it’s habit.
Now, combine a changed action (skill) and attitude (how we look at things and react to things) and I think you’re well on your way to changing the culture.
The last piece is alignment.
In the slide above (that was taken from a series that I’m teaching on my Get a Backbone book), I note that we have to be in alignment to change culture. Here’s what that means…the leader, the coach, the teams, the staff, the best performing and worst performing teacher all have to be focusing on the same thing in the classrooms. They have to have the same instructional focus. (Note I say “focus,” not 9000 focus items…habitual simplicity gets things done.)
The thing is, I’m not a huge believer in just setting goals. I think you have to put teeth to those goals – and that leads us right back to action.
Let me paint a picture for you…
Let’s say that I’m a principal who’s gotten our mid-year test scores and they really stink. I decide that, after seeing the scores, that things have to change because all I’m hearing is griping from my teachers and our behavior problems of our kids are even spiking. (Shocker!) So, I read one of my fancy education books and they tell me to follow a 85-step process for creating a school culture…and the first step is building buy-in. Well, I don’t have TIME to build buy-in because I have to get these scores up before the end of the year – my neck is on the line with the Superintendent.
So, I go to my staff and share the data. I go to the team meetings and give the teachers three starting places in terms of combating the data by teaching differently. I go to my coach and make sure that we’re looking for and providing feedback on the same stuff relating to that data. When I hear teachers complaining about how “low” their kids are, I give them a friendly reminder that we’ve stopped talking like that and I change the conversation on-a-dime to what we’re DOING. When I see my most negative teacher complaining again, I pull her in and have a strong conversation.
The cumulative effect? We’ve changed the culture.
We didn’t have to agree to change the culture, we just started.
Eventually, speaking positively about our kids, solving data problems, staying the course, taking action works!
And school culture is born.