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Five Culture Killers to Stop Right Now

I have had more than a handful of emails, zooms, and calls this week from school and district leaders talking about how they can begin to rebuild their school culture. The events of the past two plus years (COVID, teacher shortage, political struggles, etc) has taken quite a toll on the culture of many schools across the country. Even the strongest, culture-driven leaders are having to re-examine their intentional school climate work. As I have said in many posts before this, culture is not simply about a program, food, trinkets, etc. Culture is what we do, our traditions, how we work together, and how leaders set and hold expectations for everyone connected to the school house.

You’ve started the year, no doubt by this point in time, and probably had some goals and action steps to begin the rebuild, or to strengthen an already solid culture foundation. Today, let me share with you FIVE things to be aware of and to STOP before they kill your school culture. In no particular order (and not a complete or exhaustive list)

  1. Holding meetings for the sake of holding meetings – if it can be communicated via email, then communicate it via email. The sit-and-get staff meeting should be gone the way of the dinosaur by now. I hear it frequently, teachers feel like there isn’t enough time in their days to complete what they need to do. Interestingly, so do principals. So, STOP having meetings that suck the life out of people. If you are required to, or have negotiated to, have weekly or bi-monthly meetings then make them worth everyone’s time. Use the time for shared data discussions, celebrations, collective updates on building-wide goals, etc. Have a clear agenda that is sent in advance. Use a timekeeper (if you’re like me this one is essential). I am not saying not to have meetings, don’t misunderstand. Rather, if you are having meetings make sure they are valuable uses of everyone’s time.
  2. Last minute asks – before I go further on this, I know you get those last minute cancellations from a substitute, someone has a family emergency, etc. Please know I am not saying you should never ask on a very short notice for someone to cover a class or something of that nature. That said, avoid this every time you can. My point with last minute asks is more directed toward asking for last minute information, data, meetings and so forth when you could have avoided it. If you know you’ll need information or participation from someone, ask as soon as possible and as far in advance as possible. Educators are creatures of habit and need to be able to plan in advance. Look – I am not a ‘Type A” by any means, so I’m not pretending to be perfect. What I am saying is take every step possible to communicate any needs in advance whenever possible. Your staff will appreciate you for it.
  3. Avoiding addressing adult behaviors – this is one of the biggest culture killers of them all. If you set expectations, follow through with them and hold people to the same standard. When you choose to ignore poor adult behavior, rest assured the other adults are watching to see if you’ll hold to your standard or turn a blind eye. This doesn’t need much elaboration, simply put do not ignore behaviors by adults that go against your expectations, cultural norms, or that undermine the work of the collective team.
  4. Interrupting, talking over, or listening simply to respond – hey, you are the leader of the organization…you’re in charge. That does not mean what many early career leaders think (ie: your voice is the most important). It means you need to be the best listener in the bunch. Model that listening behavior and STOP interrupting others, talking over them, or listening only to find what you’ll say next. Consider STARTING being the one to practice and model paraphrasing, being the last one to talk, giving credit to good ideas of others. This is one of the absolute MOST important leadership skills and the hardest to master. Start with just one of the steps I just listed. Before you know it, your staff will feel heard by you more than ever before.
  5. Not closing the communication loop – maybe the top area for growth with new leaders I have coached and worked with is closing the communication loop. If you have worked with a student for discipline, visit with the teacher prior to the student returning to the room. If you are in an elementary setting, walk with the student back to the class and visit with the teacher so they know what steps you’ve taken. When a parent calls with a concern, follow back up after addressing the issue. Do not leave them to assume you have taken care of the issue (they will actually assume the opposite). Communication is always a continuous loop, don’t be the one who breaks that loop.


Have a #RoadToAwesome week


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