How to Build A Strong Culture #LikeABuilder


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You're listening to the School Leadership Reimagined Podcast, episode number thirty four.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders!

Welcome to another episode of school leadership reimagined. I'm your host Robyn Jackson, and today we are starting a four episode arc about the fourth disciplines of buildership.

Now you've heard me say this before, but if you really want to make the transition from being a boss or a leader to being a builder, then you really need to be consistently practicing four things. You need to be giving people really, really good feedback. The kind that that overcomes pushback and helps teachers to continually improve and to become self-aware and to hone in on that one thing. You need to give teachers the right kind of support. So not just generic support, but support that helps them actually improve their practice. At least one level on your observation instrument every single year. You need to be creating an accountability culture, a culture where everybody is accountable. You need to be accountable and need to help other people be accountable.

And finally, you need to be working consistently on your culture. You need to build a healthy school culture. But you know, even though I've talked about these four disciplines, I don't think I've ever gone into why these disciplines are so important to builders. So over the next four episodes, I'm going to be explaining what each discipline is, why it's so important, and how you can use all four disciplines to solve some of your biggest challenges and obstacles that you face as a builder. Because here's the thing, any challenge that you face as a school or district administrator can be solved by practicing one of these four disciplines. So the better you are at practicing the four disciplines, the better you're going to be at solving the challenges that you face.

Now, today is part one of the series. 

And so we're going to start by talking about culture because you know, I've been working with a lot of, of several coaching groups for school administrators.

So I've got three coaching groups going on right now. And in all of these coaching groups with these school principals and with these district leaders, I'm seeing the same issue come up over and over and over again. And that's this. How do you get an initiative off the ground if you don't have a healthy school culture? And the answer is you can't. You know, one of my favorite quotes is one that's attributed to Peter Drucker and it says, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And what that means is you could have the greatest strategy in the world. You could have an amazing strategic plan, you could find a program that you believe would just solve everything in your school or in your district right away. But if your culture is not right, your plans, I don't care how good they are, they will not work. So today we're going to talk about how do you get your culture straight.

How do you develop that healthy culture that doesn't eat your strategy for breakfast? And we're also going to talk about why it's so important, why it matters so much of the success of your school that you do have a healthy school culture and it's not just because everybody feels better. There are some big really important reasons why culture is so critical to the success of your school. Plus, I'm going to be sharing with you three questions that you must answer for people. If you want to shape a school culture that that is healthy, if you want to make sure that your school culture stays healthy, if you want to eradicate toxicity from your school culture, you have to consistently answer these three questions for people. And I mean these questions are critical. And then finally you're going to discover two crucial elements of any culture. So if you want to change your culture, you have to change these two things.

Otherwise you can't get your culture going. So if you're currently battling a toxic culture or maybe your culture is pretty healthy but you're interested in how do you make it even more healthy, then by the time we're done today, if you just stay tuned and listen, you are going to learn how to build a healthy school culture and you're going to learn how to do it like a builder.

Now before I dive in,

you know I need, you can't, I can't start talking about school culture before I talked to you about builder's lab and that's because you know this podcast, you're going to get a lot of information from it, but if you really want to roll up your sleeves and dive into your school culture, you need to come to builder's lab because that's what we're doing. We are going to be delving deeply into all four of the disciplines of buildership.

So we are going to be spending time actually doing things that will help build your school culture. We're going to actually spend time practicing how to give the right kind of feedback. We're going to spend time developing support plans for our teachers and and being strategic about that and we're going to spend time putting accountability measures in place that help everybody in your school. You included be more accountable to your core values, your vision and your mission. And we're also going to end builder's lab by creating your own builder's blueprint. So you're going to, by the time you're done, you're going to have a clear mission, a clear set of values, a clear set of core values, a clear vision for your school, and you're going to have a clear pathway for what you need to be doing right now to help your school achieve that vision, to live out that mission and to make sure that you're doing it in a way that aligns with your core values.

All that's happening at builder's lab this summer, and we have two builder's labs coming up this summer. The one is builder's lab west did, that's what we're calling it because we're going out to the west coast for builder's lab will be in Palm Springs, California. The dates for that are June 24th through 26th and then we're doing one special for coaches. Because here's the thing, instructional coaches are kind of the middlemen in the school, right? They're not quite teachers and not quite administrators, and they don't really get training targeted at them. So what happens, a lot of times it's instructional coaches will be sent to teacher training or they'll be sent to administrative training, but there isn't really a training that's designed specifically for instructional coaches and for the unique challenges that that you face. So we have designed builder's lab, the coaches edition, and it's happening July 15 through 17 right outside of Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia.

And it's specifically for coaches because we believe coaches have a unique and very powerful job. It's not being leveraged enough. And the reason it's not being leveraged enough is because coaches don't get good training and that's wrong. So we want to fix that. So we have a powerful training designed just for instructional coaches. You can find out about both builder's labs, builder's labs West, which is happening June 24 through 26 in palm springs, California. That's where principals, assistant principals, district leaders, and the instructional coaches. You can, if you can't get to the other one, certainly come to that one because you'll get something valuable out of it. But if you want some that's just focused on you then come to builder's lab, the coaches edition, and that's happening July 15 through 17 right here outside of Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia. To find out about both events, you can go to


Okay, so let's talk about culture and let's get back to that quote that I talked about at the beginning.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. 

One of the things that I think a lot of people miss out on is they, they jumped straight to the strategy without really figuring out, first, is my culture ready to be able to implement this strategy? Or people jump straight to, you know, I need to fire this bad teacher and bring in a good teacher. But is that teacher bad teacher because they're just inherently bad at what they do or is it that's enough. So I'm going to do with your culture. I find all the time people don't want to fix the culture. They want to hire and fire their way into a better culture. But here's the thing, if you take a good person and put them in a bad culture, the culture will win and sooner or later they will start acting in ways that are consistent with your culture, even though they may not be that type of person outside of your culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, so you've got to make sure that your culture is ready before you move forward with the initiative. Otherwise your initiative will fail. You've got to make sure that your culture is right before you go out and hire all these people because everybody's heard that tragic story about that great new young teacher that you bought in and halfway through the year she burns out because the other teachers are so negative that they impact that teacher. If you do not fix your culture, your culture will not be ready for anything new that you bring in, whether it's a new person or a new initiative. So you've got to get that right. And here's the thing about culture. A lot of times the problem we think we have is not the problem we actually have. We think that people are just tired of new initiatives.

So we think that people are just lazy or we think that people don't have any motivation or we think that people are worn out when in fact all of those are really symptoms of toxicity in your culture. All of those are symptoms of a culture that is not healthy. So when I say that those four disciplines of builders ship can solve any problem that you're facing.

One of the things that we don't take into consideration enough is how much culture is affecting our ability to move things forward. 

So have you ever gone into a school and said, you know what, we need to fix this area and you've gone about fixing it and people slow walk you or people drag their feet or people complain about the initiative or people say that they're really tired and we can't take on one more thing, or, or people pay lip service to the initiative but they don't really get moving and you can't seem to get people moving at the heart of those issues.

It's a culture issue. So you got to deal with the culture if you want to change those outcomes. If you have a situation where people are whining and complaining and there's a lot of push back or you've got this back channel activity happening all the time, where you know, people don't say what they really mean to you, but they, they, they say what they really mean in the back channel. You've got the meeting and then you have the real meeting, which happens after the meeting only. You're not invited to that meeting where people talk about what they're going to do. If you've got kind of these, the vocal minority controlling what's happening in the school, then you really have a culture problem and you've got to get that fixed first before you can move forward. It's a culture is critical. You can't have a perfect strategy and and make it work if you don't have a culture that can support it.

So that's why culture is so important. Now, I'll keep talking about culture, but I probably should stop here and define what I mean by culture.

My definition of culture, and this has taken me years to kind of come up with, but I'm pretty happy with it now. My definition of culture is this. It's your organizational habits and the stories you tell about them. So let me say that again. Culture is a collection of your organizational habits and the stories that you tell about them. So what that means is that if you want to change the culture, you have to change the habits that are kind of inherent in the culture. And you have to change the stories that you tell about your culture. So another thing that I teach, and I say all the time, is whoever controls the narrative controls your culture. And I'm gonna say that again.

Whoever controls the narrative about your school controls the culture. 

So if the parents are the ones who control the narrative about your school, if the, if the parents are the ones who stories about your school take precedence. When people think about your school, they think about it through the lens that parents of the stories that parents tell about your school, then your parents control your culture. If you've got a couple of, what do they call them? Um, it's an, it's an, Oh, I know negative nellies that's what people call them. You've got a couple of them. I don't know if I like that. I'll just say this. If you've got a couple of negative people who are controlling the narrative about your school, they're the ones saying, every time we do something we never followed through. Or you know, we tried that 10 years ago and it didn't work and why are we doing that?

Again, if that's the reigning narrative in your school, those people are controlling the culture. So one of the first things that you have to do is you have to get control of the narrative, right? Remember, culture is habits and stories. That's all culture is. So if you want to regain control of your culture, if you want to actually change your culture, then you've got to change your narrative. And that builder's lab, we do a whole thing about, you know, storytelling and narratives and how narratives are constructed and how you can reconstruct the narrative of your school and write a whole new scoring and at school story and then you actually do that add builder's lab. I can't do that here in a podcast situation, but I can do this. When you are creating your new story, there are three major questions that your story has to answer and so what I thought I'd do today is talk to you about what are those three questions that your school story has to answer in order for you to take control over the narrative.

People when they come to work, they are always looking for answers to three questions they're looking for, what are we building, why does it matter and what's my role when I come into a job, but take a new job. First thing I want to know is, okay, what is this company about? What is this school about? What are we building? Then I want to know why is this work important? Why is the work that I do so important, and then what's my role in this whole organization? What? What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to behave? You can have all the rules you want, you can put all the things on the wall. But when people are stuck, what they don't know what to do or how to behave or how to react, the thing they look to, it's not what's on the wall or what's in the handbook.

They look to your culture. And so if you cannot answer those questions for people, someone or something will answer those questions for them.

Those answers shape your culture. 

So let's go through and break down each of those and, and, and we'll, we'll talk about how each one of those questions shapes your culture. And if you can't answer that question, then you've lost control of your culture. When you answer those questions for people consistently in not only word, but indeed, then you take control over your cultural narrative. And that's how he began to change your culture. So here's the first question. The first question is, what are we building? Where are we going? What is the thing that we're building? What, what, where are we headed as a school? You think people need to know that they're going somewhere. They need to believe that when they join your organization, they're headed for somewhere.

Now, if you don't answer this for people, people will answer for themselves. People will say things like, we're ahead at straight for disaster or with this school is becoming more and more ghetto, or this school is becoming, um, we're, you know, we used to be this, but now we're headed in this other direction that's negative. And, and so people start to make up those stories about where we're headed, especially when they don't get direction from you. The builder, you have to answer the question, where are we headed? And that's really about your vision. That's what your vision answers. When you have a vision. What you were saying is this is where we're headed as a school. And only you as the builder can create that vision. Nobody else can do it. If you don't know where you're going. How do you expect everybody else to know where you're going?

People are looking to you for that direction. Where are we headed? Where are we going? What is it that we're building? And so you have to be very deliberate about answering that. Now, look, I went through the leadership training programs. I had to write a vision statement. They told me that I was going to need that for when I interviewed for a job and and so I wrote the traditional vision statement and it's a whole bunch of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It's a whole bunch of, I believe this and I believe that and nobody cares. They don't care. They just want to know a simple, straightforward answer in this school, where are we headed? Where are we going? What is it that we're building? You're telling me to work extra. You're telling me to work hard.

You're telling me to be devoted and dedicated for what?

What do, what do we build in? What is this thing that we're building? And if you don't answer that question, people will answer that question for you. You may not like what they have to say. So you've got to be that. Your vision has to give people direction and focus. It needs to tell people, this is where we're going. If I walked up to and I said, hey, what to come ride with me? Maybe over having me for a little while, but after a while, if I'm just driving around, first thing you're going to figure ask me is where are we going? And if I said I don't not thought I'd kind of just drive until I figured it out, that's going to feel like a waste of time for you. Now, if you really, really loved me, maybe you'll stay in the car, but you're not saying in the car because you expecting us to get anywhere you're stay in the car because maybe you are concerned that I've lost my mind and you want to make sure that I get someplace safely or maybe it's love me so much as you'll stay in the car, but you're not going to stay in the car long if you, if I'm not headed anywhere, people want to believe that they're heading someplace.

Now, even if your district doesn't give you any clear direction, it doesn't mean that in your individual schools, you can't set a clear direction. You can't you. It doesn't mean that you can't give people some answer to the question, where are we going? And you as the builder or the only person who can do that. So here are two things about your vision. First of all, I I talk a little bit more about setting a vision when, um, when, uh, in the episode where I talk about how to build a better school strategic plan, that's episode 14. If you really want to get into some of the nitty gritty for how to set a vision. But here are two things I'll say about vision right now. First of all, your vision has to be clear. What is the promise that you are making to students if they come to your school?

What can you guarantee will be their outcome? And you have to do the same thing for, for teachers. If I teach it in your school, what can I accomplish? What can, where is this school going? Where are you taking this school? Right? You can't just say, well, it's a school. It's, it does cool stuff. Know your vision has to be something bigger that people can get involved in. And be excited about, and that brings me to the second thing.

Your vision has to include 100% of your kids. 

Trust me, nobody is getting excited about. Our vision for our school is a, we will increase reading proficiency by 12.5% in three years. I promise you, nobody's getting excited about that. Nobody feels like that's a vision that's worthy of my time, attention, energy, and effort. So that can't be your vision. Anytime you set a vision for your school that doesn't evolve, 100% of your students in the back of people's minds, they're hearing, you know what?

Our vision is that we're going to fail a certain percentage of kids every single year. So your vision can't do that. I can't tell you, and some of the coaching groups that I've been involved in, and even in some of the, the the builders labs that we've been doing lately, we sit down and we set vision. That's part of what we do build builder's lab and what, I'm just always amazed whenever people start, they're like, I can't do 100% you know, I'm a title one school. I'll get in trouble if I don't meet, meet it or I can't do 100% because our schools are so low or, or you know, my school is already doing so well, so 100% you know, we're at 80% now and I think people were satisfied with that. All those are problems. So what we do at builder's lab is we sit down and we say, okay, let's set a vision for 100% of your kids.

What's the promise that you want to make? And I'm always amazed, I get goosebumps every time this happens and it happens every time. People will start out skeptical when they really start thinking about we've, where they want to take their schools, where they're headed, what are they building as a builder, people get really excited and then I get excited because I started seeing their visions. So all of a sudden people were coming up with things like 100% of our students will graduate accepted either to college or to a career program or to a job, which means that when they graduate from our high school, 100% of them will have a clear next step in front of them, so not they will have these options. They will be accepted and then this goal has a signing day where every single senior comes out and declares what they are going to be doing that next year and they have an acceptance letter from an employer for a job or they have an acceptance letter into an apprenticeship program or they have an acceptance letter into a college or university. One of those three things. 

Think about how that changes your culture. 

If everybody says, you know what we do at this school, who makes sure that every single child who comes here not only graduates but graduates with a post secondary option of some sword already knitted up for them. One of the elementary school principals and word that came to builders lat recently, she did such an impressive job. She said, you know what? Here's the thing. Every kid will be reading on grade level by second grade because second grade reading is crucial and not only that, they will maintain or improve their reading level for every single grade up until fifth grade, 100% of their kids. What does that school about? What are we building? It's very clear and that shapes everything we do in our school. Can't waste time on that because we've got to get these kids reading by second grade at proficiency.

They don't have to worry about third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade. A lot of kids who are below proficient, they're worried about helping improve their proficiency level and so they're worried on on accelerating kids rather than remediating kids. If that's something that I'm passionate about, I want to join that vision and if it's not, I'm going to move somewhere else. That's the whole thing. Where are we going? If you don't answer that question for people, then everybody else gets to decide and everybody else gets to put their own spin on it. And that's what we have, these cultures that are all over the place because there's no clear direction about where everybody's going. So that's the first question. The second question is why does it matter? Why is this work important? Why is what we are doing this vision that you've set for us? Why does it even matter?

People need the answer to that. And if they don't have the answer to that, you get a lot of chaos happening in your culture. So let's put it this way. So Paul, somebody comes up to you and says, listen, I will double your salary right now. All you have to do is take this pile of bricks from this side of the parking lot and then move them to that side of the parking lot and make a pile over there. And then once you're done, take that same pile of bricks and moved them back to the first side of the parking lot and make a pile over there on the first side. And when you're going to moving bricks when one side of the parking lot to the other side of the parking lot for an entire year and if you do that for a year, I will double your salary.

My guess is that even if you took the job, which I think a lot of, you probably wouldn't even take the job, but even if you took it, you would quit that job within a month and the reason that you would quit that job is because as human beings we cannot stand doing work that has no purpose and yet how much of our school culture is defined by work that really has no purpose. I mean when you make teachers turn in lesson plans, is that the equivalent of having them move a pile of bricks back and forth a parking lot or when you institute a new program for the year just because it's a new year or or even worse because the district is making you or if you require people to do things just because it's the way it's always been done or do we have meetings just because it's the first Monday of the month and that's when we always have our meetings or if you make people stand in the hallways in between classes because I don't know, it looks better or you ask people to do anything without telling them why they're doing it.

Well you're an f in the fact asking people to move piles of bricks back and forth across a parking lot.

People need to know why their work matters. 

They need to understand that when you ask them to create lesson plans that are aligned to the standards, it matters because then they're teaching students how to think for themselves or, or they, they are in effect, helping students learn how to learn and learn for life or, or when you ask teachers to take attendance, they need to know that it matters because it tells you who's missing. It tells the teachers who's missing, who you need to reach out to, who are not currently reaching who you, it tells them who's here and who's not here and then it helps them respond to that. When you do a fire drill properly, you know, you're, you're, it means that it's important because it, because it means that we're prepared to keep students safe in case of a real disaster.

It's not, we've got to do a fire drill because the fire marshal says we have to do a once a month and I don't want him coming into school and checking our log and see, and we haven't done one this month. What people need to know is that when they get up in the morning and they come to work every single day, it matters and why it matters. They need to know that the work that they do in your school matters. If they don't, then that's how toxicity creeps into your culture. So if your staff doesn't understand why they do what they do, if they don't understand how it matters, then they'll either go through the motions or they'll make, uh, make up a reason that work matters to them. And I mean, think about it. Imagine the difference between a group of people who are working aimlessly or, or working for their own reasons versus a group that is laser focused, the same mission.

Which group do you think has the better culture? And that's my point really. If you don't take time to understand and express why the work you are asking people to do matters, you cannot shape a strong culture. You have to answer this question for people. And then you have to be disciplined about making sure that you keep everybody engaged in doing work that is on mission, doing work that matters. Otherwise you're going to start to experience toxicity in your culture. Remember, whoever controls the narrative controls the culture. So your mission statement is there to create this bigger narrative about not only what your work is, but why your work matters. And so I can't go into how to write a mission statement here when we do it at builders labs. If you're coming to builders lab, don't worry, you are going to learn how to construct a really strong mission statement.

But when I can do on this episode is I can give you a few caveats about your mission statement. So first thing is this. Your mission statement has to be clear. When I read your mission statement, I need to know, this is why you do the work. This is why you exist. And it can't be, you know, as you speak. So it can't be, you know, we exist to help students become global citizens who are also a lifelong learners in a 21st century society that honors diversity. Um, and you know, throw on some career and college readiness into the mix and think you've got a mission statement. That's not a good mission statement. I have no idea. After reading that why you do what you do, it seems like you don't know why you do what you do either. Well, you have to do a shift to use plain English and you have to be very clear.

Why do you do what you do? 

So here are a couple of, some of the ones that some of the people who've come to builders lab had developed in the past. They've said things like, we exist to help students learn how to learn and to love learning week this to help students have more options and make better choices. Here's another one. We exist to help students figure out what they want to do with their lives and properly prepare for their future. How about this one? We exist to be a safe place where students can heal from trauma and get excited about learning again. Here's another one. We exist to help students understand how they learn and to learn at their own pace. See, see how all of them are very, very clear and they're also kind of, I don't know, compelling, which is the second thing your mission statement needs to be.

They're inviting you to be a part of a bigger story, something bigger than yourself and each of those cases, the mission is very, very clear. When I'm going through the day and I'm just trying to decide, should I stay at the copy machine and gossip, should I slack off and not write lesson plans or should I run a lesson plan that's going to help us help my students increase their literacy? Well, if I have a compelling mission statement driving my work, I'm going to, as much as I may be tempted to Gotham, and as much as I may be tempted to slack off, I'm going to go ahead and do that lesson plan because that lesson plan, it's critical to the mission we have as a school. You see people begin to look at the culture for clues, and if your culture is shaped around a compelling and clear mission, one that's concise, that's a third thing that has to be concise so that everybody can remember it so that when you're walking down the halls, you can stop any teacher, any custodial worker, any pair of professional, any main office secretary, and you can say, hey, why do we exist as a school?

And they can give you an answer like that. Then you know you're on the right track. And when you have a mission that clear, that compelling that begins to shape the narrative of your school. And when you're talking to people and they're off mission, you can say, listen, our existence, we exist because of this. What you're doing, it's outside of mission. It's off mission. So you need to stop doing that and get back on mission and do this work.

If that gets embedded in your culture, it will change your culture. 

Now the first question you'd have to ask is what are we building? Where are we going? Second question you need to ask, I mean sorry you need to answer is why does it matter? And then the third question you have to answer is, what's my role? People look to the culture to figure out how to behave.

They don't read your staff manual to figure out how to behave. They look to the culture. If I see a teacher getting to work late every single day and nobody says anything or nobody cares, while that lets me know I can do that. If I see a teacher consistently get away with reading a paper from the class instead of teaching children that I know I can get away with that. And I've seen this over and over and over again. When I go visit schools, I can wa from the five seconds after I step into a building, I can feel the culture and it's not this Wu magical stuff. I can just feel. I've been in schools where I walk in and the school just felt peaceful. I've been in schools where I've walked in and the school felt purposeful. I've walked into schools where it's felt chaotic and that feeling, that Tangibility, it tells me how I behave.

If I see trash on the ground that I know I can throw trash on the ground if I feel like it. If I see students in the hall who should be in class and I know being in classes not very important. If I'd see teachers yelling at kids that I know I can yell at kids and it's okay. I look at the culture for my behavior. So if you are not deliberate about answering the question, what's my role? How am I expected to behave in this culture? You leave it open for everybody to be in control of that. And if, if you are not in control of your narrative, then you are not in control over your culture. So you have to be deliberate about giving people cues about how they behave. Now here's how bosses doing. Bosses make a whole bunch of rules that don't make a lot of sense and don't really control anybody's behavior.

Leaders on the other hand, they tried to kind of get people together and they try to say, hey, we need to all be doing this. And you know, or they try to hire people who will just naturally behave correctly so that they don't have to manage behavior at all. And we all know that doesn't work.

What does work and what works consistently is when you have a clear set of core values. 

Now I've talked about core values a lot. Um, uh, talk about them on episode nine about how your core values have to be non negotiable. So we'll put a link in the show notes to episode nine if you want to go back and listen to that. But I keep seeing this people than people in my coaching groups right now. They we're, we're, we've been working together all year long. Some of the coaching groups and they have gone in and they have established core values and it's amazing what doing that does to your culture.

So what I want to do now is just give you a couple of rules about core values so that you can see how they can be, you have to do these things so that you can build core values that shape your narrative around what is my role. You can answer that question for people. So the first thing is that your core values should be non negotiable. And again, I talk about that in episode nine about why and how your core values should be non negotiable. But I'll just briefly touch on it here. If you set core values and they are not non negotiable, they mean nothing. You have to decide as a culture and this is not something you can do by yourself. You have to get everybody else engaged in it. But you have to decide as a culture, who are we? How are we going to live out that vision and mission?

So the vision tells me where I'm going. The, the, the mission tells me why it's important that I go there, but the core values, tell me how I'm going to get there. They tell me what am I going to be doing on a day to day they basis that will help me get to that vision. So they have to be nonnegotiable. I can't say, oh, it's Monday, I feel like doing this, but on Tuesday I don't feel like doing that. It has to be non negotiable. So this is the first thing. The second thing is that your core values need to be brief and memorable. So I feel a lot of people to core values like, okay, loyalty, um, uh, service and uh, learning. I don't know what those mean. I have no idea what they mean. I might be able to remember them, but then I layer on top of those words my interpretation of, you know, loyalty or, or perseverance or learning or lifelong learning or honoring diversity.

I don't want no those mean so when I say memorable I mean that they have to be clear what we do and what we don't do. So I'll give you an example of a mindsets value.

One of our core values is drama free work environment. 

Now why is that memorable? First of all, because every, I mean I go all over the place and people are like, oh, you're the one with the drama free work environment. It's memorable because it's short and concise. When it's also memorable because it really embodies something. Here at our and I at a, at mindsteps we, when we say drama free work environment, we mean that if we have a client that brings a lot of drama, then we will sacrifice the client. Even though it means sacrificing income to our company. If we have an employee that brings a lot of drama, we bring the employee in.

We say, look, we don't have a drama. If you're going to, if you want drama, this is not going to be a good place for you because here we have a drama free work environment. If we bring drama cells, we can, we are open to being checked. The other week I've been traveling a lot and it was in the office and I was looking at my schedule and I'm whining about my schedule and he looked at me and she said, um, that's what a lot of drama for somebody who wants a drama free work environment. And I immediately had to check myself because remember core values telling me what's my role, what my role is. My role is not to bring any new drama into the work environment, but it also means that when we are doing something, we don't do stuff that requires a whole bunch of drama.

So if we are creating a program or we are making travel arrangements, if it has too much drama, we were like, that's too much drama. Let's find another way. We've a drama free work environment and we have other core values to that are easy to remember. So figure it out. That's a core value that we have. We say it to each other all the time. I don't know how to do it. Figure it out. And that what that means is we have this, this figure it out thing. We have clients who come to us with challenges and our job is we have to help that client figure it out. We don't tell them what to do, we help them figure it out. So it's a difference between giving somebody a fish and teaching them how to fish. And if it's something that we don't know how to do, then we have to figure it out ourselves.

So figure it out. It's a core value and another core value is do the right thing even when it hurts and the, even when it hurts, it's what makes it so memorable. Yeah, do the right thing.

Even when it hurts means that I have to focus on what is right versus what is convenient. 

So if a client needs something and I'm like, ah, I can put it off til tomorrow, but I know that it would serve the client more to give it to them. Right now I stay an extra hour at work and I get it done. If, if, if something happens in the office and you know, I don't feel like dealing with it right now and I want to put it off, but that's not the right thing to do. I don't do it. Or if I'm tempted to cut corners sometimes, you know, uh, no, I can't cut corners because that's, that doesn't serve our clients.

So then I have to do the right thing. Even when it hurts or your core values memorable can people, can people remember? Can they tell you what your core values are? And so that's why I'm not a big Fan of these lists of 20 different core values. I think that the right sweet spot, um, this comes from a little bit of research Klim Kim Blanchard kind of recommends this as well, is that you need between three and four core values. Any more than that, people aren't going to remember them. And then here's the other thing, if you have too many core values, they start canceling each other out. So that's why the third thing that you need, if you really want your core values to shape your narrative is that you need core values that are in ranked order that this is something new. I didn't know this a couple of years ago.

Um, so it just started kind of teaching this and learn this and we actually did this here at mindsets and has made a huge difference. So we have three core values, drama free work environment we have, um, and they're in ranked order. We sat down about six months ago and we said, we're going to sit down and where we have these three core values, but now we're going to rank them. And it was a really interesting conversation. So we said, okay, drama, Free Work Environment, um, figure it out, do the right thing even when it hurts. What is the right order for those? And what we realize is that above everything else, we have to have no drama. Luther's small and mighty team that we have here, we have to make sure we are doing, we're working in close quarters, we're doing really important work. We can't have a whole bunch of drama because that just adds to the work.

We really need to be focused on doing the right work. 

So drama free work environment came up as number one and then we start saying, okay, well then what's number two? And what we realized was do the right thing even if it hurts, it's number two and then the last one is figure it out. So here's how that plays out. Let's say I have something that I need to do and it's going to, if I do it one way, it's going to create a lot of drama. But if I do it another way, it's not going to create as much drama. And I'm choosing between those. When I'm weighing a decision, the first thing I say, what has the least amount of drama for me and for the client? What is the right thing? Even if it hurts, and then what is the best way to figure this out?

And so let's say I'm doing something and I'm trying to, and I figure something out and I'm like, yeah, I figured it out. I'm going to move forward. If the thing that I figured out to do creates more drama, I can't do it. And the thing I figured out to do isn't the right thing. I can't do it. So this, by ranking the core values, you've created a decision making filter, which helps people do the right thing even when you're not looking. So you have core values and your school have you engaged your staff in a conversation where you've actually ranked the core values? So if I'm in a dilemma and it's a decision between this one and this one, which one trumps the other one? And when you do that, you give people a very clear set of guidelines that can govern their behavior.

Let me talk about what that might look like in a school situation. 

Let's say that one of your core values is that, um, let's see. Your mission is that you want to help kids learn to love rigorous and learning. So one of your core values is a lifelong learner, which means that you lifelong learning as a core value to you. That you don't want to just learn for the test. You want to be a learning for the sake of learning and you want it to be lifelong. And then another thing that's a core value for you, something like perseverance. So a student is doing a task. If you say that lifelong learning, outranked perseverance, then you might allow a student to stop reading something that they're not interested in, a book that they're not interested in, and go on to a book that they are interested in.

Because lifelong learning, as you know, if you're teaching people how to read and learn how to enjoy reading, if they're reading something or not interested in what you do as an adult, a lot of times you stopped reading the book and move on to something else, right? But if perseverance is the ranking core value, then you would be more focused on helping that student persevere through the book. Because you want to cultivate that and you want to cultivate in a way that doesn't kill his love for reading for life. But you also want to focus on the perseverance. So see how by ranking the core values, you help people make good decisions even when you're not around. So I mean, I guess that's a thing. That's a thing about building a really solid culture. We think that culture is some amorphous complicated thing and oh, it's a culture and I don't know what to do about it.

Or we try to fix culture by, you know, putting cupcakes in the staff lounge on Tuesdays and writing. I'm happy notes on Monday. But if these things are not there, then you can write all the happy notes you want. And there was no school right in the trash. You can put all the cupcakes in the staff lounge you want and you know what people do. They'll eat your cupcakes and talk about you behind your back. You have to have the narrative, right? Remember whoever controls the narrative controls the culture. And the three ways that you gain control over the narrative is you have to answer three questions. What are we building? Where are we heading? That's your vision. You have to answer, why does it matter? That's your mission. And then you have to answer how, what's my role and that was those are your core values.

You answer those three questions consistently and you gain control over your narrative and you change the culture because once that becomes a narrative, your habits start to change. 

To support that new narrative, your habits start to adjust in ways that make sense for the narrative. You want to create a healthy school culture. You've got to start by doing the hard work of answering those three questions. You've got to change the narrative because remember, whoever controls the narrative controls the culture, but again, when you control that narrative, when you answer those three questions for people over and over and over again, why don't we building? Why does it matter and what's my role? If you are constantly reinforcing that message, you change the narrative. The habits in your culture began to change and that's how you build a healthy school culture like a builder. Now before we go, don't forget if you really want to learn how to do this, we are really doubling down on core values, vision and mission this summer at both builders lab in if you're an instructional coaching say, well hell it's not really my core values, vision or mission, that's a school wide thing.

Well you are underestimating the power that you have as an instructional coach to influence those three things. We're going to be talking about how you can as an instructional coach occupy a very unique role. That's the role of change agent. He said the builder, it's not the change agent. A builder needs a change agent but the builder is not the change agent and so we're going to show you the difference between the the builder who's in charge of the building and the change agent and we're going to show you how you can occupy that role and if you are a builder, if you are a school administrator or district administrator, we're going to be doubling down on core values, vision and mission. We're going to help you create them for your school. And we're going to show you how you can use those three things to really drive the work that you want to happen in a school.

And I promise you it is a game changer.

Now, before we go, 

don't forget to register for builder's lab and join us and if you're listening to this far in the future and the summers past, don't worry, there's a builder's lab always coming up. So to register for builders lab, go to and get your ticket now.

After you registered for builder's lab, let me know that you've registered, that you're coming on LinkedIn so that I can start looking for you and getting to know you a little bit. Because builders lab is really intimate, intensive. We work really, really hard but we work closely together. We keep it small so that we can dig in together and do the work. And I can give you my personal support.

So if we are not connected on LinkedIn and you are coming to builders lab, you need to go ahead and reach out. We should be connected before builder's lab. So we can start planning and getting excited about you're coming.   

Also, this is a favor I want to ask you. You see in order for people to really find this podcast and it'd be able to benefit from it the way that you've benefited from it, we need to have some more reviews on iTunes. So would you do me a favor? Would you give me your honest review on iTunes? And if you're not sure how to do that, there's a link on the show notes, just go to the show notes on and we have a link that walks you through how to write a review.

If you could go there and click that link and then leave an honest review on iTunes, it would really help other people find this podcast. Plus it gets me some really great feedback and shows me what I need to be doing to make sure that this stays valuable for you.

Maybe you are too shy to do a review, but you can still help me out because the other thing you can do is if you found today's podcast useful, would you mind sharing it with two people who you also think would benefit from this podcast?

So maybe you are a school administrator and you want to share it with the rest of your administrative team.
Maybe you're an instructional coach and you want to share it with your school administrators.
Maybe you're a district leader and the people that you support at different schools could really benefit from this.

Would you mind sharing this with others? Because that would be, I would count that as a huge favor and I know it would get the word out to this podcast and other people. Plus you look like a hero too because you're passing on a really great resource. 

Next week...

All right, so let's talk about next week. This week. We talked about culture and we talked about why it is so important and what you need to do if you're going to create a healthy school culture.

Next week we're going to shift to talking about feedback. We're going to talk about how you may be unintentionally creating more problems with the way you're giving feedback, how you can clean that up, what's the right way to give feedback, and how you can overcome a lot of pushback and hurt feelings and blank stares. Just by the feedback that you give.

Next week we're going to dig deep. We're going to talk about how to give powerful feedback and how to do it like a builder. I'll hope you'll join me next time. Thanks very much, and I'll talk to you soon.

Bye for now. See you next time. 

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School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build master teachers.