So I had a fantastic conversation the other day with a Lower School Director colleague of mine while I was on a quick PD visit to another European International School. We were talking about the importance of school culture, and he asked my opinion about what the most important thing teachers and leaders can do to inspire a positive culture and climate in schools. I thought about this for a bit because there is so much that goes into that, but finally I answered that for me it all hinges on what people (schools) are willing to confront. You see, the most important conversations that need to be had, and the most important issues that need to be addressed are always the most uncomfortable and the most difficult to have…and that’s why they are very often met with silence.
The inability to act on an issue, however big or small, that is having a negative impact on school culture is the surest way to stop schools from getting to where they want to go. Great schools become great because they have strong foundational cultures, where teachers and leaders have the courage and skill set to address or confront even the smallest of issues. They know that even a tiny, seemingly inconsequential negative comment from a teacher, parent or student can begin to erode years of hard work, and that even the smallest of issues can become divisive. The problem that all people in schools face is that these conversations take a significant amount of courage and they are really, really hard to have…especially between adults.
I remember a personal experience that I had years and years ago when I first stepped into administration, which ultimately became one of the most important leadership lessons that I have ever learned. I was faced with a situation where I absolutely knew in my heart that I needed to confront a teacher for making derogatory and demeaning comments about a young student to other faculty members in the faculty lounge. This teacher had been there for a very long time and had tremendous community cache, and I was in my first year on the job in a new school, and in the end I didn’t have the conversation that I needed to have…at the time I simply couldn’t find the courage to do it. I rationalized it in my mind that it was most likely just a one-off mistake that wouldn’t happen again, and that the teacher was probably just making a joke…but in the end, like I’m sure you can all guess, that wasn’t at all the case.
With that incident I missed an opportunity to set a cultural expectation with my faculty, and due to my lack of action and courage I essentially said it was okay for this kind of behavior to continue…and you know what, it did continue until I finally found the strength to say what needed to be said. Magically, once I started to confront and address ALL the issues that needed my attention, the culture of my division began to change dramatically for the better. I often look back at that moment in my career as transformational, and I think about it now every time I speak to someone about an issue. I have grown so much since then, and now having these kinds of conversations are a strength of mine, but of course they are still not easy.
I’m telling you this because I know that we have all faced these challenges in the past, and many of us may have issues that we are holing on to right now that need a conversation…please have that conversation. Schools are only as good as what they are willing to confront, so let’s make these courageous conversations a thing that we do really well around here, to keep our foundation rock solid. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Oh yeah…Happy Mother’s Day Mom, and to all you Mother’s out there, thank you for all that you do!
Quote of the Week…Real work is when you confront the problems you might otherwise be tempted to run away from -Rolf Potts
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