In my last post I talked about the need to be purposeful in creating positive school cultures. Recently George Couros posted in his blog, The Principal of Change, 10 Easy Ways to Create an Amazing #SchoolCulture as a Principal This Year putting into words many of the ideas I’ve been thinking about and that I believe to be keys to transforming school culture.
I think George’s post nails down some practical steps that not just principals but all educators can take to improve school culture. As I read through George’s post I was pleased to see that as a school we’ve started many of these things. In this post I want to talk about some of George’s ideas and share how we are implementing them in our building.
George’s first tip is to Be Outside and Welcome People in the Morning. Both my LeadLearning partner, Tierney Cahill, and I work hard to make this happen, as well as a large number of your staff. Greating our families is something that ensures the start to a postiive day. We also make sure we are there at the end of the day to say good bye and thank them for coming. We often joke that we we fight over who gets to do cross-walk duty since this is often the start and end of the day for our students and we feel it’s key to setting the tone.
George talks about getting into classes and hanging out. This is something that I am a huge believer in. Maybe it’s my ADHD or the fact that I HATE paperwork but I believe that after 20 minutes I need to be in classrooms or interacting with students in some way, I even have a paper that reminds me of this next to my desk.
I let me staff know at the beginning of the year they will see me a lot. Sometimes they will get feedback from me and other times I’m not there to see them but there to just see kids. Last year the joke was that if I wasn’t in my office I was most likely in Kindergarten, since there is nothing better than hanging with kinders and watching them soak up amazing instruction.
George also talks about the importance of sharing the awesome things going on in classrooms through Twitter. He points out that this tool allows instant access to seeing amazing things that peers are doing and in the process strengthen collaboration. Last year I worked to build the twitter presence at my school and with the move to my new school I see that Twitter is not the only medium we need to be using. I realize that Twitter is great PD tool for educators but that many of our families are on Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. So for this year we will build our Twitter presence for both staff and families but also focus on sharing across multiple platforms. I see Twitter and Voxer as tools that can be used to share with peers what is happening but to truly reach all families we need to communicate with them through the tools they are most comfortable with.
Learning the names of all the students is also something George writes about and this a key focus for us this year. All our staff and students wore name tags for the first couple of weeks of school and we worked to learn all the students names. Our intermediate staff is departmentalized so this means that they had the added task of learning about 80 names. For me it means learning 580 names. To do this I ask each student to tell me there name and then practice it. I try to great each student I see and use their name. With only 5 weeks under our belts this often results in me using the wrong name and having to be politely corrected by the student, but I do think I’m getting better. In the past it was always “hey man” or a generic “hey there”. But the positive connection that is created when using someones name is invaluable.
One of my personal favorites that George talks about is having lunch with students. I know many people who invite students into their office or classroom but I prefer to eat with them at their table in the lunchroom. This simple 15-20 minutes teaches you more about your students than an hour in their classroom. Just as George talks about you learn not just what kids want from their school but about them. Over time I’ve gotten to know many of my students and about their wishes and frustrations, I’ve also found these lunches to be times that I learn about the underground culture of the school, which kids are struggling at home, whose being a bully, which 6th graders are “in love” and other bits of kid world that you can’t get from sitting in an office or classroom.
George has other great ideas and I hope to implement all of them in the coming year. I also realize that I need to be consistent with the ones I just mentioned. Am I going to do each one everyday? No I know that is not possible with the amount of other tasks I have but I do feel that without these those other tasks will never be successful. Ensuring that we have a purposeful plan for creating a strong #schoolculture is the only way we can create a learning environment in which each student makes growth.