It started two weeks ago at #edcampsfbay. Adam Welcome (@awelcome) threw out a session on school culture. Adam’s a pretty charismatic guy. His energy and enthusiasm for his school and students is infectious. And as the conversation continued, questions of legacy came up. Is the true test of the culture what we leave behind? What lasts beyond our tenure as leader? Or is culture about the here and now? Or both?
Then it came up in one of my a Voxer Book Groups. It was nice to hear from secondary and elementary leaders from around the country. Different perspectives and experiences are good fodder for reflection.
Flash forward to Liz Wiseman (@lizwiseman) at our county office talking Multiplier Effect for an afternoon speaker session. The 6 Diminishers she outlined just made me shrink into my seat. Guilty as charged. But am I?
I’m a Fixer, which seems to embody all 6 of these potentially diminishing traits. Diminishing in the sense that my actions don’t amplify or make the most of the amazing people around me. When I jump in to Fix things, I might be stepping on someone else’s ability to fix it. I might not be needed at all. And that’s a good thing.
Liz doesn’t use the Fixer label. It’s more of her Rapid Responder plus Rescuer plus Optimist.
Where does it dovetail with culture? All over. My actions (either Multiplying or Diminishing the power of those around me) help set the culture. Do I jump in (butt in) and thereby communicate distrust or lack of ability to our staff? Does my perpetual optimism undermine the real, hard work of teaching and learning?
Yes to all of that. And yet, my Rapid Response style is often appreciated. Teachers appreciate that I jump in so that they can remain focused on students. My optimism helps us not wallow in the difficulties and start moving forward. Liz finished her talk with, “Be less Diminisher.” I can do that.
For me, it comes down to paying close attention, building relationships and working for the here and now. If that is my focus, my legacy will take care of itself. And it’s a crap shoot anyway. Who knows who will be hired after me? It’ll be the staff that dictates or shapes the new leader based on how highly they value what already exists. For once that dreaded phrase This is how we’ve always done it at Grant School could be useful.
Paying Close Attention.
I’m with staff a lot. In serious conversations and in small talk. Lucky for me, our staff enjoys both working and playing together. Yesterday, a message on the whiteboard in the staff room announced Happy Hour on Ms. B’s porch at 4pm. Come one, come all. TGIF! And sure enough, ten staff members were laughing and reminiscing about the first two weeks of school.
I make time for staff. This is especially critical of classified staff who don’t have time outside of the work day to meet with me. A hallway convo on the way to library, a chat at break or while waiting outside the restrooms for a student. It’s time well spent where I learn a lot about each of our staff family.
It’s a bit redundant to Paying Close Attention but is action oriented. Connecting teachers who have like goals for their students. Facilitating professional reading by buying the books we’re interested in. Taking over pick up/cross walk duty because it makes a teacher happy.
We share acknowledgments at staff meetings (always item #1) that are also highlighted in the bulletin. But since we have staff meetings only once a month, I added a basket in the staff room for in-between acknowledgements that I can list in the weekly bulletin. So far, I’ve added 3 otherwise-unmentioned thank yous via my basket. Awesome.
Appreciating one another is relational. Venting is too. Venting with some productivity to follow. What do we do with the complaint? That’s the important piece.
Focus on the Here and Now.
What is lacking about our culture? What can we do about it? Are there systems in place that we’ve let lag? Do new systems need to be implemented? How do I, the leader, amplify the work of others? How do I exemplify the culture and attitudes of our school?
So that’s my Saturday reflections on school culture. It’s a topic we could talk about until we’re blue in the face, read a hundred books and never get anywhere. The conversations are valuable, don’t get me wrong, but my actions, our actions as a staff, are much more important. Culture is never on autopilot. My job is to cultivate, shepherd and amplify.
Onward and upward!