Most of us have been conditioned to believe that changing school culture takes several years. While there's some truth to this, I'm learning it doesn’t have to be the nebulous process many people make it out to be. There are tangible steps school leaders can take to make meaningful change a reality in less time than you might think. (Spoiler Alert: #3 is my favorite!)
1. We can create “quick culture” by focusing on smaller groups or teams within the larger organization. By being intentional with how we are nurturing the culture in smaller group situations, we can demystify many of the complexities that are more difficult to change en mass. You might be thinking a focus on smaller groups within your school or district might be at the expense of the larger whole (or somehow disconnected from the broader mission), but it’s just the opposite. Look at it like reading a book. Starting with the first sentence, page, and chapter creates momentum.
2. Resist the temptation to create artificial dichotomies. It can be too easy to demonize one thing to promote something different. For example, don’t pit people against one another. Don’t pretend you have to choose between phonics instruction and a balanced approach to literacy. Don't portray worksheets as pure evil just to propel your technology agenda forward. And NEVER settle for the notion that you need to choose between relationships and results. Be honest and thoughtful about the value and challenges each of these things inherently possess.
3. Lastly...and despite everything we learned in principal school...school culture is not about who they say you are…it’s about living out who you know you are. It’s about identifying the shared values and beliefs of your school community and then following that vision in an unswerving manner. And if you or your school is being described in a manner different than you might choose, figure out why. What’s the disconnect? What do you need to do to communicate differently? Or better yet…what do you need to do to better align with who you decide you want to be?
I absolutely love the quote from Angie Thomas’s book, “On the Come Up.” The main character, Bri, is an aspiring rapper who is struggling with who she wants to be as an artist. The quote is part of a larger conversation between Bri and her mom. I’d go so far as to say that if more school leaders started by deciding who they were and then committed to learning who the people they serve want to be, culture would become much more malleable than we make it out to be.
If this blog post resonated, you might like my newest book, Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The book tackles a tension many educators are feeling using a combination of stories and practical strategies. If you’re interested in technology integration, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students is a best-seller with Corwin Press. Both books are built on the belief that everything we do in education starts with relationships and connectedness.