Teachers sitting under a tree with a small group of children having a lesson outdoors.

School Culture that Sucks the Life Out of Learning

In my work with school leaders, I routinely ask them what impact they want to have on their school system.  They frequently say things like this:

I want staff to:

  • Feel empowered
  • Not be afraid to take risks
  • Create a collaborative environment
  • Take pride in their work

In other words, they want to develop a positive, supportive, collaborative culture.

But they often walk into a leadership situation that is just the opposite:  disempowering, where people teach in silos, are afraid to take risks, and blame others when things go wrong.  They see right away that it is a deadly culture, not at all conducive to learning.

So if you want to break this barrier, what do you do?  You lead by tenaciously BEING the change you want to see!

  • Model risk-taking by talking about the behaviors you are trying out to get a better result with developing your relationships with students or decreasing the number of “frequent fliers” into your office for disciplinary action.
  • Focus on strengths, not deficits.  Notice the strengths of others and have conversations with them about the positive impact their behaviors are having on students or colleagues.
  • Notice and talk about empowerment.  Share stories about students you see stepping up to take some appropriate leadership actions.  Help staff see what “empowerment” looks and sounds like.

When you walk into a new job, you can’t often pick the people with whom you will be working—at least not the first year.  But you CAN demonstrate what is important to you, by modeling the characteristics you value and talking about why you feel that way.

This opens up a building-wide conversation about personal values and beliefs.  Many staff members will agree with your values and others will add to the list.  Suddenly, people are having meaningful conversations about things they feel deeply about.  Such conversations begin to build respect and trust among colleagues.   And that begins to develop the positive, professional, learning culture that truly makes a difference in the student experience.      


Please join us for a free community call to discuss these, and many other topics, with leaders of breakthrough schools. They’ve been where you are now, and have some great ideas and tips to share. Seats are limited, so register here, now (don’t wait — it only takes a minute!)