If you had to describe the culture of your school, what would you say? And if students, parents, or staff at your school had to describe the culture, what would they say?
School culture refers to our beliefs, our attitudes, our perceptions, our ways of doing things, and the nature of the relationships developed in our school. It also refers to the written and unwritten rules. I would even say that school culture is a kind of educational relational ecosystem. And like any ecosystem, there is an inherent fragility, but also a remarkable complexity.
In light of this, as a leader, how do we keep a thumb on the true pulse of our school culture?
Whether we accept it or not, even if our actions do not change as we transition to a leadership position, the position itself makes it so that we no longer have access to certain channels of information that we once had before. Author Ed Catmull speaks about it in his book Creativity Inc. :
“As my position changed, people became more careful how they spoke and acted in my presence. I don’t think my actions changed in a way that prompted this; my position did. And what this meant was that things I’d once been privy to became increasingly unavailable to me.” – Ed Catmull
He goes on to say that many new leaders make the mistake of assuming that their access to these channels does not change. He calls this phenomenon “The Hidden”: a blind spot that escapes our field of perception.
This passage reminds me of the importance of being continually and intentionally on the lookout for these blind spots. What would be the impact on the culture of our school if we ignore them? Probable disaster! We are the guardians of our culture, so it’s up to the leader to rally those who champion school culture.
Maintaining A Positive Climate Starts With You
We all have a responsibility to help maintain a positive climate. A positive climate feeds a healthy culture. But as in all workplaces, there are times when things don’t go so well, and the negativity tries to infiltrate the ecosystem.
What disposition do we adopt in such situations?
Do we become easily contaminated by negativity? Is our first reaction to complain or judge? Do we become easily frustrated?
Are we quick to counter the negativity? Do we demonstrate empathy by offering help or solutions instead of judgment?
Take a moment to reflect and situate yourself. What is your disposition?
Developing and maintaining a positive climate starts with you. Each person has the power to choose how they will react in a particular situation. And this reaction can have an incredible influence on the climate, both positive and negative. As Dr. Anthony Muhammad so aptly put it, “Frustration is the kryptonite to healthy culture.” This is so true, and so important to remember.
Maintaining Our Garden
We can compare the climate to a garden: it must be maintained continuously, every day, in order for us to harvest the wealth it produces. These riches are essential to our survival: it is what fuels us, what keeps us alive. If we don’t maintenain our garden, we risk losing our crop, putting our well-being and that of others at risk.
A garden does not produce a harvest overnight. It takes time, and a lot of work. The same goes for the climate in your workplace.
A positive climate is not something that appears instantly. We must work consistently hard in order to reap the benefits. Here are some essential actions to help maintain a positive culture:
- Invest in yourself and in others (personal and professional growth)
- Build and maintain relationships based on trust (being honest, being able to accept feedback from colleagues without feeling judged)
- Celebrate success, and celebrate each individual
- Have high expectations towards ourselves and others; be role models
- Establish a shared vision that is known and communicated often at all levels
- Meet as a team regularly
What do you do in your workplace to reap the wealth that emanates from positive school climate? Among the list of actions above, how could you exercise your leadership in order to take action, exert influence, and have a positive impact? I challenge you to pick one (or many) action and lead by example in your school!
Please share in the comments section the different actions in your school that contribute to a positive climate.
I’m sure we can all benefit from your ideas!