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A Culture Formula that Works

Like so many others in leadership, I love this quote from Peter Drucker. Culture is at the front of nearly every school leader as we prepare to get the new year underway. If it isn’t, it should be. When we consider some of the benefits of a positive school culture, it is difficult to defend anyone not willing to put intentional efforts into that end of the work. Think about it, the benefits of a strong culture (or environment if you prefer) include: increased employee satisfaction, employee retention, increased student performance, better student attendance, decreased discipline referrals, higher graduation rates, and may potentially become a recruitment tool for employees and students.

I realize that touting the pros of positive culture and climate might seem a bit obvious. This is true, yet so often leaders cannot make the leap from being aware of the benefits to actually doing something about it. That is the true purpose of this post. I spent the early part of this week at the Jostens Renaissance Global Conference in Orlando, FL. I have attended this conference nearly every year since 2007 (I think I missed one, not counting the pandemic being virtual). Jostens Renaissance is more than a conference. It is not a ‘program’. It’s not culture in a box. Rather, it is the combination of hundreds of like minded individuals around the globe and an organization (Jostens) putting value and manpower into developing and maintaining incredible school cultures where educators and students feel valued and part of something special. Simply put, Jostens Renaissance is the platinum standard  for school culture and climate.

Similar to what I stated about Renaissance, school culture doesn’t come from a box, it’s not a program. It needs to be focused on and addressed in an authentic and intentional manner. There is a formula that Jostens Renaissance follows, but each school has to personalize this, interpret it for themselves, and find the best way to apply it to their setting and their needs. The formula is simple:

Respect: what matters to you, what are you looking for, what is the gold standard your school desires in behavior, academics, service, attendance, etc.

Recognize: when it happens, take note. It is as simple as adjusting your filter. If we are looking for bad things, we find them – the same holds true for the positives in our school. The key is this, whatever you are looking for, you’ll find it. So recognize the good, the positive, the exceptional performances. The more you look for, the more you’ll find.

Reward: to be clear, rewarding is not a bribe. Also, rewards do not have to be monetary. Rewards might be the gift of time like an early release for lunch (students), prefered parking (students or staff), traveling trophies, or even just simply being acknowledged among their peers and colleagues. Food also works quite well as a reward (ask me about the Road to Awesome barbeque or Curbside Coffee and Donuts).

Reinforce: without being Pavlovian, reinforcing positive actions typically results in more positive actions. Each time we see that which we respect, reinforcing that action increases the likelihood the action is repeated by either an individual or a group of individuals. Want more students to have a 3.0 GPA or higher, reinforce the performance. Let me be very clear here, I don’t mean reinforce it by putting their name in the paper for the honor roll. I’m talking about calling them out and celebrating them at an academic pep rally. Make it a big deal – I mean no disrespect to the honor roll but let’s be real. Often they are written in tiny print, sometimes misspelled, and buried at the far end of the paper. Take it to another level, what if you reinforce at the same academic pep rally EVERY student who raised their GPA by .5 or more? Don’t focus on perfect attendance, focus rather on the goal of your attendance. Shooting for 97% attendance, then reinforce the attendance of all kids who have hit that mark. Do this with your staffulty too (that’s staff + faculty). Reinforce doing great things by recognizing and rewarding staffulty in your meetings.

Relationships: arguably the most important of the 6 R’s, building and maintaining relationships with students, staffulty, and community is critical to your culture. Invest in the relationships and the support will be there, the trust will be there. Fail to focus on relationships and the challenges will keep coming. Spend time with students in the classroom, in the hallways, at their events. Let them know you are human. Go see teachers during their prep and check on how their life is outside of the classroom. I’ve said this a lot (including every time I speak or provide professional learning opportunities) we are in the people business and we cannot forget that.

Results: one thing I can guarantee you – you will get results. The question is whether or not you’ll get the results you’re looking for. Do nothing to change your school culture and you’ll continue to get the results you’re getting now. Personalizing and following this formula will help you on the journey to getting the positive outcomes you are wanting.

I can write on this for days folks. But here is a final thought: school culture is what you choose to make of it. If you are willing to be intentional and focus on your culture daily, you will move that culture in the right direction. Want to learn more about the Jostens Renaissance process? Hit this link. Want more support on school culture or to hear more from me? Shoot me an email at

Have a #RoadToAwesome week


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