Culture eats structure for breakfast. Great PLC leaders always address this first. This tweet from Mark Clements @edunators makes it crystal clear. So how do effective leaders value culture? They realize that structure cannot be built until culture is developed first. They also realize that culture is best established and maintained through one on one conversations with as many stakeholders as possible.
A great strategy to use especially when you are new to a school is to set up 15 minute meetings with your staff and central office staff members that support the campus. The structure of the meetings is quite simple. Ask your guest these 4 questions and make sure you have a pen and pad ready to take notes. Taking notes shows that you are here to listen and that you value what your guest is saying.
1. Tell me about yourself - This ice-breaker communicates that you value the staff and what to get to know them personally. By getting to know the individual staff members personally, you are making major deposits in your campus culture bank account.
2. What are some great things happening on the campus that you want me to continue? - This question sends the message that you honor the work that has been done and that you don't want to change things that work on the campus. The answers to these questions also tell you what traditions are important to the school community.
3. What is something that needs to be changed or improved? - This question is critical because the leader must listen for patterns in all responses. Patterns will show what problems are isolated or prevalent among the campus. You must be looking for important patterns such as if communication is clear, if communication is 2-way, if teachers are supported and if there are structural or cultural barriers that prevent learning.
4. The last question is critical if you want to know what your expectations are as the leader from the campus. Ask your staff, "If you could give me one directive to make sure that I follow, what would it be?" I love asking this question because it is the strongest culture building question that you can ask. You are giving the employee the opportunity to tell you what they think is the most important thing that must be done on the campus. It also shows that you, the leader, are approachable, desire feedback, and truly need every employee to have a voice to make the campus the best place to work and learn.
Culture is massively important and highly successful leaders keep culture at the forefront at all times. The more positive and collaborative your culture is, the more successful your structure can make the campus. Structure with a negative or even toxic culture will certainly guarantee no improvement and quite possibly a decline in student achievement. So go forth and cultivate your campus culture one person at a time.