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If you want a better school a leader must commit to creating a better culture.

There is no quick approach to this process, but if you commit to the long haul and implement the ideas from this post, you will nurture your culture.


“The weaker the connection you have with someone, the harder it is to get your point across. If you want people to listen, you have to practice relationship management and seek benefits from every relationship, especially the challenging ones.”

-Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

I recommend that you care more about your people than your students.

That isn’t meant to be controversial, and I am pushing back on student first leadership.

I’ve experienced this myself on an admin team as an AP.

The principal was clearly “student first” and often used the question, “Is this what’s best for kids?” as the only rationale needed to shut down faculty and push new initiatives through the school.

The kids loved it. And that was awesome.

But the teachers hated it. And that caused major problems.

Over time, the faculty lost trust in the principal and felt disrespected, as if their needs, ideas, and opinions didn’t matter.

Eventually, the faculty resisted every new idea because they felt invisible.

At the end of the faculty want to answer two questions:

  • Am I doing a great job?
  • Does my leader care about me?

If the answer to either question is negative or even ambiguous, it is bad for culture and will limit the long-term results you can create at your school.


Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees. But coming up with strong values — and sticking to them — requires real guts.

-Patrick Lencioni

Core values are a beautiful thing when they are real.

They are the guardrails of any high performing organization.

They inspire celebration of excellence and provide the platform for difficult conversations when necessary.

Core values must be real.

They can’t be aspirational. Core values are not what you hope to become.

They can’t be just words. Enron listed integrity as one it’s core values and we all know what happened there.

The best core values are what I call sticky. They have a story behind them and often use metaphor to illustrate the point. You know you’ve identified a sticky core value when people remember it, can tell a story about it, and can identify what the core value is and is not.

To avoid creating an Enron-like culture and create one that is more like Apple, start celebrating and challenging your team via the lens of your core values.

Be specific in your feedback.

Tell your team exactly how they are living out your core values or (privately) have conversations when these values are violated.

Invite your team to notice when you live them out or violate them as a leader.

Doing this consistently builds culture.


“Give a damn about the people you challenge.”

-Kim Scott

There are a million things to do each day as a principal.

I get it.

But when a human being enters your office I humbly suggest two actions:

  • Close your laptop or turn your monitor off.
  • Slide around from the desk and sit side-by-side.

When you show that you really care about your people, they’ll do anything for you.

Caring breeds loyalty.

Take notes from your conversations. Create a system for regular follow up with your staff. Set reminders in your calendar for when to follow up with people.

I use Trello to keep notes and manage the relationships that are important to me. The tool itself doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I listen deeply, note what I’ve heard, and follow up with my people often.


“Our responses don’t always hinge on the skill of the giver or even what is being said. Rather, they’re based on how we are hearing what’s said and which kind of feedback we think we are getting.”

-Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

In the mastermind we read, Thanks for the Feedback and it really helped us level up our ability to give and receive feedback.

Before the book I saw feedback with a singular focus: you’re doing a good or bad job.

After reading the book, I learned that feedback actually comes in three varieties:

  • Evaluation
  • Appreciation
  • Coaching

The biggest challenge regarding feedback is that we get our wires crossed. As a leader I may offer evaluative feedback. But if the recipient is expecting appreciation or coaching, they will be offended by my evaluation.

Understanding that there are three types of feedback is an easy way to level up your feedback.

You can even ask, “Would you like evaluation, coaching, or appreciation?”

The other big idea I learned from Thanks for the Feedback is that evaluation and coaching should be separated. In education we always combine them.

The post observation is where I share my evaluation of your teaching based on a rubric and then coach you on how to improve. These conversations should be separated by at least a day so people have time to process the evaluation and can hear the coaching and implement the ideas for growth.

Whenever you give feedback make sure that it is specific.

“Good job” is terrible feedback.

“Good job proactively ordering all the textbooks we need this year,” is superior feedback.


Imagine two schools.

One school has stressed out teachers who are afraid of making mistakes.

The leader sees the staff as people who should be professional because they are “getting paid” and is either upset when expectations are not met or ambivalent when they are.

Another school is the complete opposite.

It is fun to work at. The staff builds great relationships among themselves, and with students and stakeholders.

When goals are met there is a massive celebration of achievement. The staff regularly posts positive stories about their school.

Which place would you rather work?

You can have high expectations and still have fun.

You can show people you care and still hold them accountable.

You can LOVE going to work.

It’s a mindset and a choice you make each day.


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