The Six P’s of an Amazing School Culture
I just finished reviewing my notes on colleges and secondary schools I’ve observed since 2005. The schools are located in Singapore, Canada, England, Germany, Egypt, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. I’ve listed below the “best practices” in those schools. Obviously, a key requirement when applying best practices to organizations or schools is the ability to balance the unique qualities of an organization with the practices that it has in common with others.
I was astonished to find many passionate, caring and brilliant educators and administrators in each of these nations. Leaders of all colors, languages, genders, and ages weighed in to provide me with the best ideas that set their campus culture apart. Below are six common elements that stood out.
The best school cultures I have witnessed position influential staff and teachers in prime real estate on campus. One principal moved his office to a more visible part of the school. Others made sure department heads were in a prime spot where lots of student traffic took place. They understand the power of proximity—helping certain influential leaders cross paths with influential, caring teachers and administrators during the course of daily routines. One A.P. set up her desk right in the middle of the school lobby just to make a point that she was accessible to students with anxieties. My advice? Make sure to position people and students well to foster positive relationships and routines.
Another characteristic of a contagious school culture is student participation. Administrators actually invite students to help make important decisions, like the new school mascot, colors, motto or emblem. Some principals and assistant principals hold meetings with students, community leaders, parents and business people to collaborate on future buildings and architecture as well as changes in the current schedules. These school leaders know that people support what they help create. So, they don’t take action unless key stakeholders—even kids—own those actions and spread a positive vibe about them in the hallways. This fosters ownership among the staff and student body.
The best cultures include administrators and teachers who spread positive messages in the press and through social media channels. When a virus breaks out, they not only call off classes, they begin reporting how students are using their time wisely serving the community and getting extra credit work done in their spare time. They post “shout outs” in the news, morning announcements and Instagram about teachers and student-athletes, artists, actors and academicians who perform well and deserve some affirmation. Good leaders guide the narrative in people’s minds about their school and keep it hopeful.
We all know schools that give “referrals” to students who require disciplinary action: suspensions and detentions. I saw schools that give positive referrals and even point to students who stand out and may have no one notice unless an educator points it out. These schools have teachers “write up” a referral (just like the negative ones) and then announcements are made, parents are called, affirmation is given in the assistant principal’s office—and points are added to their class scores. Good leaders know what gets rewarded gets repeated. Why not reward great attitudes and conduct, not just grades. This kind of scorekeeping catches on and leads to great conduct on the student’s part.
Some people might ask: Can schools actually possess a personality like people do? My response: absolutely. Just as individuals and teams embrace a “persona,” I believe campuses have them as well, by default or design. In fact, I believe classes have them too. Whether we succeed at this, all depends on the originality of the leaders. By this, I mean more than the brand. The personality of a school is created by the unique ideas that capture the imagination of students and teachers; by the ingenuity of the department heads who not only come up with fresh ideas each year but collaborate with each other between departments (i.e. a football team and the cast in the school play).
This may be a term you don’t use in everyday conversation. Patois is the style and vernacular you use on the campus that sets your school apart. The term patois describes the way you talk, like the “patois of New Englanders.” It literally means the common dialect of a region of people. Just like nations experience unique cultures based on values, customs, and language, great school cultures come up with terminology that only they use; a particular way of saying those terms that belong to them. In our office, we not only offer Habitudes® to schools we partner with, but we have our own Habitudes we use internally—images that communicate ideas we hold dear. They belong to us.
Question—do you practice these? Do you have others that set you apart? How could Growing Leaders serve you to upgrade your campus culture?