Leading with Culture

Many confuse organizational culture and climate.  Climate is extremely finicky and can shift with a single decision or event while culture is much more complicated.  Leadership is synonymous with impacting culture, but some leaders never give it a second thought.  Often, culture is chalked up to cupcakes for teachers once a quarter or a hand written note on a birthday.

Each school has a unique culture or personality.  Some of these personalities are the recipe for success and others for disaster.  Leaders can ignore culture, but it will not ignore them.  It is there whether you like it or not and whether you intentionally shape it or pretend it doesn’t exist.

I’m often asked what impacts a culture most and I always have the same answer.  People.  Culture wouldn’t exist without people and wherever there are people there is culture.  Schools with large amounts of turnover can experience dramatic culture shifts in a very short period of time which can be very good or bad depending on the context.

The current teacher shortage is making it extremely difficult to attract and retain high quality teachers.  The business model of simply removing mediocre employees and replacing with high performers is flawed at best.  We must build a culture that values high performers, gives them opportunities for advancement, and leverages their talent to invest in the employee who is what I call a high potential novice.  These high potential novices lack experience, but make up for it in enthusiasm.  We need enthusiasm, but it must be paired with experience.  The enthusiastic teacher will energize the veteran and the veteran will provide the guidance the novice craves.

The right people in the right place is the recipe for success.  Each school is different and the specific skills and dispositions needed in one location won’t be effective in another.  Leaders must work to understand the kind of teacher they seek to develop and should start by examining their staff for exemplars.  We should begin with the end in mind just like we expect teachers to do with students.  What specifically does a highly effective teacher look like in your context?  How do you get your novice from where they are to the level of the exemplar?


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