Through my years as an educator, I have always enjoyed learning about new trends and ideas/strategies to help me improve. Over this time, I have asked myself this important question – “What is the most important thing a leader should do to impart positive change within a school”? As an administrator, I have researched this topic as I truly want to learn what I should be doing to help my school, staff, students and parent community. The various books, blogs, twitter chats have shared different perspectives. While all are valuable, they all have some differences but they also come back to one common theme – CULTURE. As a result, here is my perspective on ways a leader can develop a postive culture within their learning environment
It is all about people
As an educator, I have been in many different buildings during my time and have always strived to build strong connections and relationships. After some successes, but also failed attempts to create relationships to impact culture, I have come to realize that it is important to focus not on “changing someone” to fit a certain desired culture but focusing on supporting the “growth” of the staff member and learning what value or strengths each person brings to the school. This simply means that instead of focusing on what someone “didn’t have” as far as strengths, I now focus on “what skills they do have” and help them to excel in those areas. This has led me to the concept of finding value in each staff member and finding ways how that person can contribute to our culture. I believe that the single greatest indicator about the health of a school is the quality of the relationships of the people within it.
How to create that relationship
It is a true challenge to find the time to get around to every staff member and create these relationships. I have learned that it is not the quantity of interactions with staff members that create the relationship but rather the quality of those interactions. As Susan Scott wrote in her book “Fierce Conversations”, the
“The conversation is the relationship”. I admit when I first read that idea I was unsure of how relatable that would be to culture. However, I have found that when I have been visiting with staff members about an issue or topic that the conversation (done correctly) does lead to greater understanding from everyone involved which in turn creates a stronger relationship. This require me during these conversations to:
- Be present in the conversation (ex. do not look at the clock) and keep my eye and attention on that person and topic.
- See the topic from their perspective.
- Provide praise (if appropriate) to the staff member in an authentic way with specific examples and give immediate feedback.
As I have transitioned into more than one building, I have reminded myself that when we are talking about building relationships, “It is better to go slow and build relationships built on trust then go faster towards creating a culture without the relationships in place.” It takes time to get to know people, but we must “know people to grow people” as it relates to our culture.
Leaders set the tone
I do believe that leaders include everyone within an organization, not just the administrators. However, it is also true that it’s human nature for people to notice what the “leaders” are doing. As a result, I remind myself that if it is important to build culture then I should:
- Model the behaviors that we want in the building.
- Show that it is okay to make mistakes and admit when I am wrong.
- “Be the thermostat not the thermometer” – in other words it is important to be consistent, calm and purposeful with our work.
- Empower others to lead and give them chances to grow within our culture,
- Take care of the staff and show how much I appreciate their efforts. As Simon Sinek points out that “Yes, we want to develop leaders and from that we know that someday they may leave for greater leadership opportunities but it is also true that you should treat them so well that they do not want to leave”. Very well said!
Create learner centered learning environments
To help create our schools that are future focused and developing students with skills so they can be successful in any career, then as leaders we must:
- Develop capacity within others to lead our schools (shared leadership)
- Use the approach of “fail forward” and give teachers permission to try new strategies or lessons that create higher engagement and skill development.
- Get parents involved in our work so they have a better understanding of our purpose.
- Most importantly, as Jimmy Casas shares in his book Culturize, the leaders must “be a merchant of hope” for students. When I read that line I thought it was so important for leaders to create meaningful ways for staff to remember the “why” they went into teaching and how they do influence kids on a daily basis.
Communication is the key
- As I reflect over the years, I have been disappointed in myself at specific times, as I did not provide the correct type of communication for particular situations. This has allowed me to remember that every action I take (ex. every interaction, every decision and every expression on my face, tone in my voice and body language) conveys my thoughts/emotions to a person. These interactions earn trust or erodes trust and it is up to me to communicate effectively.
- When I interact with a staff member about an issue, I remind myself of the phrase “Asking good questions will inform us but asking great questions transform the relationship”. I have found that it is best to have Face/face interactions and if not possible then a phone call.
In summary, I try to remind myself that developing the culture is the most important thing every school leader should always be working on. Every day, Every Year. This work takes passion-persistence-patience. How we work with others needs to have enthusiasm, empathy for others and empower others to take part in developing the culture. If you want to create a difference then you must be willing to not only lead yourself but pour into developing others. Great schools exist because of the teachers/staff so all of our focus should come back to building the culture with the people that work directly with our students.By recognizing these components then you are more intentional with your time, efforts and energy and can pour into others. Leaders focus on specific strategies and so their efforts help support the overall purpose of pursuing excellence. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand “what is the most important thing” so you can leave your legacy. Comment below or reach out to me at email@example.com