3 Thoughts on “Culture Killers”

A friend shared the following story with me:

Here’s a culture horror story for you: I have a friend who does amazing work with primary students. The superintendent of her district decided to do a photo op in her classroom one day. She was notified in advance that she had to write questions that the superintendent could ask her students during his visit.

Think about the message that sends to teachers.

“I don’t even care enough about what you are doing to observe it, think about it, and make up my own questions to ask your students.”

The superintendent stopped by with an entourage that included the media. The superintendent then spent five minutes with kids, left, and sat for a long interview with the news about how district policies and programs had led to the kind of teaching on display in that classroom.

It was a real culture killing moment — and it continues to kill culture because that story gets told again and again by people in her district. Every time I’m there to present, someone in the audience grumbles about it. It’s become a part of the collective “lore” of the district.

That’s probably something else I’d share with leaders: The actions you take — whether they are positive or negative — become the stories that teachers will tell about you over and over again.

A few things that I thought about when I read this:

  1. It is understandable that people want to shine in their positions, including superintendents and principals.  But what I have learned over and over again is that when you shine the light on the people you serve and give them credit for the work they do, eventually, it will shine back on you.  The best leaders know to excel at leadership is to empower the people they serve, not steal the spotlight.
  2. Authenticity matters.  If you are in a room, recognize the people in that room (and outside of that room) that do things to make amazing happen.  Incredible work doesn’t just happen.  One of my favorite quotes; “it takes years and years of hard work to become an overnight success.” Authentically acknowledging what you see in front of you shows people that you care enough to be present.
  3. If you are in education, people are more willing to accept your faults and mistakes (we all have them) if they see you will take time and connect with students. Not only does this show an appreciation for those students which educators need to know, it also makes the job of others so much easier to do. Think of it this way; if I spend some time with students as an administrator and I make them feel valued and cared for in an authentic manner, what does that look like when they walk back into a classroom or a school?  People that feel valued will do more than ones who do not.

There are simple ways to make “better stories” as a leader:

  1. Be authentic and vulnerable.
  2. Remember you are there to serve kids which means serving adults so they can provide every opportunity for those students.
  3. Shine the light on others as much as possible.  There is ZERO risk in showing appreciation for the work of others.

Source: George Couros