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Building a Positive School Culture

I am a big football fan, I mean HUGE football fan. Specifically, I love the NFL. My team, the Denver Broncos, are among 9 different teams this year who will have a new head coach when the season begins. If you follow professional sports, you are probably aware of the most common line used when a new coach is hired. You’ll hear, “I am here to change the culture.” Typically, coaches say that because they want to build a culture of winning. But that is not what it’s all about. Winning is the result of building a culture of shared ownership and collective goals. I will stay with the football analogy for just a moment here…in just over one week, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams will square off in Super Bowl 56. Let’s think about  the Bengals and their recent history. This is an organization that hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years prior to this season. They’ve won 3 this season alone. Why? Because head coach Zac Taylor has truly changed the culture of the organization. But not by focusing on winning. Rather, he and the general manager have brought in high character people to lead in the locker room. The organization used to have less-than reputable players, only a few mind you, and that can cause culture to deteriorate. Listening to Howard Behar on the Jon Gordon podcast recently reinforced this belief. He stated that when you have people who are wanting a ‘me’ culture rather than a ‘we’ culture, results are never what you’d want to see. The Bengals have flipped from a culture of me to a culture of we, and they are reaping the benefits.

How do you build a culture of we, a positive culture where everyone focuses on the goal, the greater good, on ‘what’s best for kids’ if you will? Let me drop 4 quick tips here for your thinking…

  1. Be clear on what’s matters – collective values and shared goals will always go further than each member having their own agenda. Work hard to develop collective values and goals, continue to reinforce them, and the benefits will follow.
  2. Recognize, reward, and reinforce – when you see that which you are striving to achieve, shout it out! Reinforcing the right behaviors, mindsets, academic performance and so forth will result in more of the same behaviors being repeated. Punishment will gain you compliance – recognition will bring collaborative, shared efforts
  3. Champion your champions – in leadership, we often chase after the small group that never seems to want to jump on board, the laggards. Stop it!!! Celebrate those who are crushing it for all the right reasons and others will come into the fold. You may always have a small number who want to push back for the sake of pushing back…don’t let them drag down the group. Address it, be clear with expectations, but don’t dwell on them.
  4. Celebrate – with each successful step toward the culture you wish to see, you gain a little victory. Share that victory with those around you with small celebrations. NO, don’t buy a cake everytime something goes your way…but a high five, a pat on the back, a little recognition goes a long way. Plus, life is too short not to celebrate the great things that happen. The more we celebrate, the more we find REASONS to celebrate.

Build that culture folks – it is the most important thing you can do as a leader in your classroom, on your bus, in your school, district, or organization. Need some help, reach out and let’s talk.

Have a #RoadToAwesome week!


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