Innovation and adaptability are typically at the forefront of education as they are essential factors for success. However, as educators, we know and feel how critical school culture is and how it cannot be overlooked. A school's culture, the beliefs, values, and behaviors that shape it, are vital in influencing student success, teacher satisfaction, and overall school performance. In part 1, we described Culture hacking as a powerful approach with a BIG impact through small and intentional moves. As we continue into part 2 of this blog series, exploring the transformative power of campus culture, we will dive into two new ‘Hacks.’
Hack #2: Assemble a Team
Hack #3: Can’t Do It All
What if you could design the culture you want? What if you could empower stakeholders to shape the culture that best serves your educational community? That is precisely what Hack #2 is all about.
Hack #2 Assemble a Team
Inspiration often comes from the unlikeliest of sources. Maersk Growth, the venture arm of the logistics and shipping giant Maersk, established an approach known as the "culture club’. This article from The Enterprisers Project details how employees are encouraged to explore and define the culture they desire and how they establish cohesion with the rest of the organization’s set of values.
They also hold “growth corners,” which are half-day events when employees can pitch new ideas, experts are invited to hold talks, or anyone can take the microphone and talk about what’s on their mind. These initiatives are designed to foster a culture of openness and trust, which increases innovation output.
Creating a thriving school culture is like sculpting a masterpiece. As artists mold clay into beautiful forms, educators and stakeholders can shape a school's culture to foster creativity, innovation, and trust.
HOW to Assemble a Team and Make Space for Them to Design the Culture They Deserve
Inviting all those interested. Any stakeholder interested in joining and leading the Campus Culture Coalition must have the opportunity to do so. It is essential to have a team of individuals with diverse perspectives.
Providing time, space, and resources. The Coalition must have the ability to shift culture. Allocating dedicated time and space for the Coalition to collaborate and plan culture-shifting initiatives.
Embedding Culture Discussions. Incorporate discussions about culture into your regular meetings, both weekly and monthly, to keep culture at the forefront. Make these discussions intentional, encouraging active participation from everyone involved.
Empowering the Coalition. Give the Campus Culture Coalition the authority to lead the communication and facilitation of improvement steps. This empowers them to take charge of the transformation process.
By assembling a team passionate about fostering a positive culture, you're not just building a better educational environment but creating a legacy that will benefit future generations of students and educators. Ultimately, the culture you co-create will reflect your shared values, aspirations, and commitment to excellence in education.
In the spirit of our ongoing exploration of culture in education and tying to empowering teams, we move on to hack #3.
Hack #3: Can’t Do It All
School principals are often considered the ship's captains, with an endless list of roles and responsibilities under their scope of work and labeled as instructional leaders. However, the question arises: Is It Realistic to Expect Principals to Be Instructional Leaders Truly?
A study from Chicago Public Schools paints a picture: fewer than half of new principals remained at their schools for five years. Some attribute their departure to burnout, exacerbated by the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Leading up to the pandemic, the education system held up the idea of principals as instructional leaders who were expected to dedicate a significant portion of their time to observing classrooms and coaching teachers. However, we must acknowledge that this idea is unrealistic, and principals’ COVID-era juggling act clarified that.
The head of the district’s Office of Principal Quality from Chicago Public Schools stated that the district wants to prepare principals to set a big-picture course for their campuses and form leadership teams that support educators in distributing the responsibilities more effectively.
School principals should have a pulse on the instruction in their building. The concept of "Can't Do It All" suggests that assistant principals should also be well-versed in leading and supporting quality instruction. Schools can and should invest in having lead teacher coaches in core disciplines serve on an instructional leadership team. This approach shares the responsibility of instructional leadership across a group of educators.
The Power of "Doing Less": De-Implementation
A powerful message arises from leading research on improving school learning: "Do Less." The heart of this concept is that by streamlining and focusing on what truly matters, educators can achieve a more meaningful impact. This principle highlights the importance of prioritization and effective delegation.
This approach isn't about being against programs or initiatives; it's about clearing the plate to focus on what works best for the students your schools serve. While resources and initiatives can be helpful, there comes a point when each "helpful" resource feels like another checklist or things to add to the list of things to do.
Peter Dewitt calls this process "de-implementation." It's about evaluating what educators do, identifying what to leverage, and what to let go. The conversation centers on what has proven successful in your school community and what can be internalized by your team. De-implementation involves actively seeking ways to remove things that are not contributing to your student's success. Here is a de-implementation tracker for leaders to use alongside their teams to focus on the right work.
By assembling a passionate team, sharing responsibility, and re-examining current practices to foster a positive culture, you're building a better educational environment and creating a legacy that will benefit future generations of students and educators. The culture you co-create will reflect your shared values, aspirations, and commitment to excellence in education. In part three, we'll dive into two more hacks. Until then, consider adopting the mindset of a "culture hacker." Happy hacking!