Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Creating and Sustaining Healthy School Culture

Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Anthony Muhammad (@newfrontier21) speak to a group of about 400 educators from Stanislaus County.  Impressively he asked that everyone keep their electronic devices out during the day because “this was the 21st century.”  Uncharacteristically for me I decided to go low-tech and take pen and paper notes because I didn’t want to be self distracted from the conversation of the day.  Some of what follows is what I would have tweeted had I chose to.


The focus of the day was creating healthy school culture.  He preceded the conversation by setting the stage for change.  He asked the audience to explain to a neighbor why we got into education.  Unsurprisingly, yet still enlightening, was the common thread of ethical and moral reasons people shared.  He further emphasized the moral imperative for education by stating, “We don’t manufacture farm equipment; we don’t harvest crops; we don’t manufacture devices.  We develop lives.  When we don’t do something right we have collateral damage.”


Dr. Muhammad spoke to the “hard facts” involved in creating healthy school culture:


Hard Fact #1 - Human beings are complex
Working with people at a school site involves the skills from at least seven different disciplines such as anthropology, history, and political science.


Hard Fact #2 - You can’t hold people accountable for what you haven't made explicit
Be clear and specific with your expectations and then share those expectations with colleagues.  You will probably have to negotiate the expectations for reasonableness.


Hard Fact #3 - A highly frustrated staff is a highly unproductive staff
Dr. Muhammad explained that frustration is the root of a toxic culture.  Frustration can’t be entirely eliminate, but rather, it must be managed.


Hard Fact #4 - Being correct is no substitute for being effective
Far too often we fight to be right rather than fight to be effective.  He added, “Data is not condemnation, data is information.”  Far too often we ignore the data staring us in the face because we have a need to be correct.


I had some favorite quotes from the day that stand on their own:
“Improvement should be the inherent desire regardless of pressure”
“Change is the gateway to improvement”
“Culture eats structure for breakfast”
Invoking Dr. Martin Luther King, “What is the first thing that has to be done when the lights are turned off; acknowledge that the lights are turned off.”
“It doesn't take a great leader to identify proficiency”
“Support must precede accountability.  Support without accountability ends up as an entitlement.”
“Human beings will improve education”
“Adult drama equals a waste of talent and resources”
“You are hurting the lives of children when you focus on being a drama queen or a drama king.”
“It’s easy to look out a window and identify what is right and wrong; the difficulty is looking in the mirror and doing the same thing.”