A positive school culture is the only way that organizations will move forward, yet there is often a lot of little subtle messages on things that aren’t working that can slowly erode the climate. I believe that I have said it before, but schools will not be “innovative” if they can’t work together. You will only get pockets of teachers/classrooms that will have this in spite of the culture.
As teachers and administrators should be working together to do what is best for kids, in many conversations with schools there seems to be an expectation with some that some traits are the responsibility of either the teacher or the principal, not necessarily both. As I am no longer a school principal or classroom teacher, these are things that I have thought about a long time and wish I saw more in schools, and to be honest, wish I would have done more myself in those positions. Hindsight is 20/20, right?
Here are some things that need to be reciprocal as opposed to coming from one direction:
1. Trust - As a principal, I trusted my staff without them earning it. I expected and trusted they would do great things, and they would only lose that trust if they did something to prove me wrong. It is so much easier to work in that situation, then having the feeling that you have to always prove yourself. Yes you can get burned easier but people tend to live up to your expectations, whether they are good or bad. Principals need to give trust if they are expecting to have it themselves.
“The first job of a leader—at work or at home—is to inspire trust. It’s to bring out the best in people by entrusting them with meaningful stewardships, and to create an environment in which high-trust interaction inspires creativity and possibility.”
― Stephen M.R. Covey
On the other hand, I have seen teachers question whether they could trust their principal or not and it seemed like they had to continuously earn it from staff and community. I always believe that if you are unsure of someone’s intentions, ask them. Ultimately, we might not always agree with the way we do things, but we should always trust that everyone is in a school to do what is best for kids until they show something different.
2. Loyalty – I have heard the discussion by many administrators that teachers need to not “bad mouth” the school when they are away, or throw their principal “under the bus”. As I really believe in that, principals have to make sure that they are loyal to their teachers as well. Parents can come in and say what a teacher is doing wrong, and a principal may agree with them to calm the parent down, which is NOT a good way to build community. If principals expect loyalty from their staff, they better show loyalty in those tough situations as well.
In my first years as a teacher, I remember doing something really stupid and the parent complaining to the principal. The principal at the time did everything to kind of calm down the parent but never said anything bad about me during the conversation. He did tell the parent that we would have a conversation about it later though. As soon as she left, he said to me, “What the heck were you thinking!?!?!!?” Although it was tough to hear, I was so grateful that he didn’t say what he really thought to the parent but knew that it was something that was totally fixable and did not have any detriment to her child. After that, I would do anything for him as I knew that he would always have the tough conversations with me, not behind my back.
3. Praise - This might seem a little sappy, but I think that we do not give each other enough praise in schools as peers. As a principal, the quote, “That is why you get paid the big bucks!”, is one of my biggest pet peeves. Do you think that if your salary doubled (no matter your position), you wouldn’t want to hear that you have done a good job? Praise should go up and down, not one way. If you see someone do something good, tell them. It should always be sincere and heartfelt, but we should still give it out. Don’t just assume people know they have done something well. Your position doesn’t matter. Hearing nice things is welcome from all
I am not saying that these don’t exist in any school. Actually, from what I have seen, this is done in the best schools. That is why I am sharing them!
The easy thing to do after reading these things is to think, “yeah, so-and-so DOESN’T do that enough in my school!” The harder thing is to look at what we (myself included) could do more ourselves to make our school and organizational culture stronger. As I go back to work on Monday, I am going to be thinking of these three things and focus on how I can improve on them in my own work.