How to Create School Core Values with Your Teachers Without Drama and Chaos 


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You’re listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 44. 

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 the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson and today we are going to talk about how to create school core values, whip your teachers without drama and chaos.

I know that sounds like a tall order, doesn't it? I still remember back when I was a school assistant principal and my principal came to me and said, hey, I think because of some of the challenges that we're having in our building that we need to talk about core values, and I mean, I could not have rolled my eyes any harder when he said that because we had some really serious issues going on in our school and they were affecting our school culture and I thought core values was a waste of time. We don't have time to talk about core values. We have bigger fish to fry,

We have other things that we need to be dealing with.

And so he said, no, no, no. I really think the core values is the answer. And I said, look, we're going to do core values. We're not going to do it the way that I learned to where you know, you get a piece of paper and it has a list of, you know, 50 different core values like love and support and I don't know, respect and honesty and loyalty. And then you go around and you circle, you know, the 10 that are most valuable to you. Then you have to cross out three of the 10 you circled and you have to cross out three more and they have to cross out three more until you're left with one final core value. And that's your core value. Your core value is respect or your core value is loyalty or whatever. I said, look, that is a waste of time.

If we're going to do this, then we really need to make it meaningful.

And so together he and I crafted a process and I'll tell you a little bit more about the process we used and how it worked in just a second. But before I jump into, you know, talking about that process and how I've tweaked that process over the years to help other people develop meaningful non-negotiable core values that have really transformed culture.

Before I do that, I first one to give you three reminders, first reminder is that I am writing a new book and the working title from the book and it's probably going to change, but right now the working title for the book is turn your school into a success story. How to make a dramatic difference with the teachers and resources you already have. And I am so excited about this book because this book is really the combination of, you know, the 20 years of the work that I've been doing in schools and because it's a culmination and because it's so near and dear to my heart, I want to write this book with you.

So every day as I'm writing once I'm finished writing or even as I'm writing, I will post about the writing process on Facebook. And if you want to follow along that writing journey or you want to be a part of that writing journey, then go ahead and send me a friend request on Facebook and then you can be a part of that process. So I'll be putting out questions, hey, you know, this is a part I'm working on. Here's the part where I'm stuck. What do you think about this? And I'd love to get your feedback. So if you want to help me write this book, just go to Facebook and friend me. I'm Robyn Jackson on Facebook, And do me a favor, if it's not clear in your Facebook profile that you're an educator, would you mind just accompanying your friend requests with a just a quick note that says, Hey, you listened to the podcast and you want to help me on the book writing journey just so that I know that you're not, you know, a bot or spam or something like that. I'd appreciate it. Okay, so that's reminder number one.

Now, reminder number two: builder's lab. We are doing one more builders lab this year in Dallas, Texas on October seven through nine 2019 and tickets are on sale for builders lab right now. You need to get your ticket. I think that October is a great time. People are saying, well you know the school just started and I'm not sure I can get away.

This is the perfect time to come to builders lab because you have started a new school year

and by October all of the issues that you're going to be dealing with this year have already started bubbling up and one, they'd be great if you came to builders lab with those issues while they're fresh and we spent three days together just knocking down those issues because that's what happens when you come to build your slab.

You come to builders lab and you bring your stuff and then you and I together work through your stuff. When people come to builders lab, they have, you know, the culture is toxic or I've already got teachers who are underperforming or I've got a lot of pushback or I'm really trying to get this initiative through this year and I'm facing challenges already. They come to build just lab with that and then three days they walk away not only knowing exactly what they need to do next to solve those issues, but with this confidence that they actually are going to solve those issues. That's what happens when you come to builder's lab. And what's really cool about builders lab is that it's not just a three day training and then you go back to your school and you wrestle with it on your own. When you come to builder's lab, first of all, the third day of builders lab is all about implementation.

So you're taking everything that you've learned at builder's lab and you are putting it into practice to deal with your issues at your school right away from the very beginning. So before you even go back to your school, you've already started solving problems. But that's not all because we believe that it's important that after you leave builder's lab you continue to have the that you got and build this lab as you go back to your school and you're implementing.

So we follow you for the next 90 days. So imagine you come to builder's lab in October and you will have our support the rest of October, all of November, all of December and much of January. So you can ask questions, you can get additional resources.

Imagine how much you could get done at that very critical part of the school year 

when you're building your master schedule, when you're doing your observations for teachers, when you are thinking through how you're going to move test scores this year and you're putting things in place to move test scores, imagine having that kind of support at the most critical juncture of your school year. That's what you'll get at builder's lab.

So go to mindsteps INC com slash builders dash lab, that's mindsteps INC com slash builders dash lab or give us a call here at the office at (888) 565-8881 that's 188-EIGHT-565888Y-1 and get your ticket to build your slab. I promise you spend three days with us at builder's lab and when you go back to your school you will get more accomplished in the next 90 days. Then you might've gotten accomplished all year long. So again, that's mindsteps inc com slash builders dash lab and if you're listening to this episode sometime in the future and October seven through nine has already passed that link still works mindset and you can go and check out when the next builder's lab is happening.

The Third Reminder...

it's not really a reminder at all. It's it's, it's a treat.

It's a bonus because in this episode I'm going to be laying out exactly how you can build core values with your teachers without drama and chaos. And if you want to know the exact process that I use, I have a brand new ebook and you can get your copy for free.

So at the end of this episode I'll tell you how you can get your copy of the ebook for free with the ebook spells out the exact steps that you need to take in order to go through a core values exercise with your teachers this year. So I'll tell you more about that at the end of this episode and how you can get your copy of the Ebook, which lays out all those steps. Okay.

Are you ready to dive in now? 

At the beginning of this episode, I started telling you about how we had some issues at my school when I was a brand new AP.

And the principal said, I really think it comes down to core values. And I was really, really resistant to doing a core values exercise the way that I traditionally done where you just kind of identify core values, like our core values are respected and loyalty and love and honesty. And you know, all these kind of adjectives that don't really mean anything. And so I pushed back with the principal and I said, if we're gonna do this, if we're going to spend time doing core values, when we have these bigger issues going on, the core values have to actually mean something. So we sat down and we designed a process and it looked a little bit like this.

First thing we did is we realized that we couldn't go to the entire staff at the, at the first pass. If you did that, then you would have a whole bunch of vocal people kind of speaking up and the rest of the people would be silent.

And the conversation would go just like every other conversation we ever had at a staff meeting went. So we didn't want that. So we decided that instead of going to the whole staff first we would meet with people in small groups and we decided to meet with people on grade level teams. We are a middle school and we were purely teamed. So we said, okay.

We're going to meet with people on small teams and talk to them about their core values.

The second obstacle we faced was that we didn't want to just ask the group what should our school core values be because we knew we would get, you know, things like, you know, we'll, it should be respect or it should, it should be honesty or it should be excellence. And those things were pretty fuzzy and they weren't potent enough to really address some of the challenges that we were facing as a school. We wanted people to talk about core values in terms of non-negotiables, what should be non negotiable at our school. And so we want it to facilitate a conversation where we could get at the truth behind people's core values.

Because when people say respect, they mean something. But it's really hard to get at what they really mean by respect. And one person's version of respect doesn't match somebody else's version of respect. They're different. So we want it to get people to, to the heart of what they really meant. So when we sat down with these small groups of people, we did not ask them what our school core values should be. Instead we facilitated a conversation around what they hoped students would take away from their time at our school, what kind of education they wanted their students to have, what they wanted the culture to be like and feel like.

And instead of asking those questions directly, because when you answer those questions directly, you, you tend to get a lot of complaints when people talk about what the culture isn't or what the education isn't or what isn't happening for kids right now, what we tried to do is put them in the future and imagine a better reality. So what we asked them was something like this.

Imagine that you are at your retirement ceremony.

The students that you have right now come back and they speak on your behalf. What is it that you hope they will say about their time with you in your classroom? And see what that question does? Is it, it gets people out of the complaints and gets to the real heart desire and people said things like, well, I want my students to feel supported. I want my students to say that I was tough but fair.

I want my students to say that, that I really challenged them in the classroom and I exposed them to things that they wouldn't have seen otherwise. And people started to really think about what it was that they really wanted for kids. And as they talked, we just wrote these things on the board. We charted them out.

And then we asked this another question we asked, imagine that the students you have right now have gathered here in 25 years for their 25th reunion.

What is it that you hope they'll say about their time in the school? 

And people said, well, I hope they'll save it. They made lifelong friends. I hope they'll say that they felt supported and nurtured. I hope they'll say that what they learned here, they still use in their lives today. And then the education they got was a quality sound education.

And then we talked about what that meant for people and, and we charted all this down after we had that conversation.

Then we were ready to talk about core values.

And we started talking about the core values with that were inherent in what people were saying they wanted their kids to feel or experience in the school. And we came up with things like lifelong learning. But what did we mean by lifelong learning? It was more than just I want kids to be lifelong learners, period. It was really about the idea that we taught kids how to learn at our school. And because we taught them how to learn, they continue to learn throughout their lives. It was about kids wanting to learn on their own even when it wasn't going to be on the test.

We talked about inspiring kids and and helping kids grow and meet their potential and what did it mean?

Well, we found out that for us and meant that we wanted our students to understand what their unique talents and gifts were and find ways to use them to make a big contribution to the world. Now we're getting at our core values. Anyway, we did that in small groups and again if you want the exact questions that we used, it's in the ebook that I'm going to tell you about at the end of this episode so you can get the exact questions that we used. But we did that with the small groups and then once we have visited every single grade level team and then we worked with the cafeteria workers, the bus drivers, the maintenance staff, the security staff, the main office staff. We asked everybody who touched our children to be involved in that process and then we came back and we had a staff meeting and we took the notes that we got from those groups where each group kind of settled on three core values that they could all agree upon.

Together. We took the three core values that came out of each small group and we posted them on the wall throughout the cafeteria where we were having our staff meeting and then we gave everybody three stickers and we told them as you come in, we'd like for you to read the core values that came out of all of the meetings that we had in the small meetings and then you have three stickers. The core values that are most resonant to you.

Those are the core values that we want you to put a sticker on.

And if you find one that really resonates, you can put more than one sticker. You can use all your three stickers on one or you can find three separate ones and put your stickers there. But once you've spent your three stickers, we'd like you to take a seat and then we're going to have a conversation.

So people did that and then we had a conversation, we looked at where the energy was around the room, what things have the most stickers and which core values had zero stickers beside. We cross those out because people didn't find those to be the most resonant with them. And then the ones with the most stickers, we looked at those and we said, are there any that we can combine? Is this one saying the same thing as this one? We have a lot of energy around this. What does it really mean? And we have these really meaningful rich conversations around those core values. We didn't always agree. There was a lot of pushback and whenever I talk to people about, you know, doing this core values exercise, people will always say, well, wait a minute.

What if teachers push back, what if teachers pick core a core value that that I don't want?

Well, here's the thing, the vision belongs to you, but the core values, they belong to everybody. So the roles during this conversation were these number one, everybody had a voice. That's why everybody got a sticker and could exercise their voice using the sticker. Everybody got to participate. My voice was, no, didn't count more than anybody else's voice in the room just because I was an administrator.

Everybody had equal voice, which meant that there were times when I disagreed and I could say something. But then there were also times when other people disagreed with me and they had a voice as well. So that at the end we all had to agree. So everybody had a voice.

The second rule was that everybody had a veto, which meant that when we came to a core value and we were coming close to saying this is going to be a nonnegotiable in our school, we went around the roan and we went from every single person to person and we said, can you support this being a nonnegotiable in our school? And if the person said, no, we stopped. Now I know that's scary.

A lot of people were saying, well what about the teacher that's a saboteur. What about the teacher that's always argumentative. What about the teacher who never has anything good to say? What about those teachers? And I get it, it's scary, but remember if the core values don't belong to everybody, if everybody doesn't support your core values, then what good are they?

The whole point about making core values non negotiable is that everybody agrees that they're nonnegotiable. 

So don't get nervous when people say, no, I can't support that. Instead that lets you know the conversation needs to continue. So whenever I get to that point when I'm working with teachers or coaching principals on how to do this with their, their own stats, whenever you get to the point where someone says, nope, I can't support it, then you stop and you say, okay, that's fine.

Help us understand what is it about this that you can't support and you let people talk and then you let the conversation go. It is not your job to convince people that this is a good core value or that this is important or that this is non-negotiable. Everybody has to come to agreement. So if you can't come to agreement in one staff meeting, fine, stop the meeting, have everybody think about it, continue the conversations offline, come back and have the conversation again and you keep having the conversation until you get 100% agreement.

It could take one staff meeting, it might take two staff meetings if you're like us. It took us two months before we had a hundred percent agreement. And I see most schools take two to three months to get to that point and people say, well I don't have two or three months.

Well guess what?

If you forced those core values down people's throat, if you truncate this process, if you rush the process, then your core values are going to be meaningless in the end and what you want our core values that are truly non negotiable. And here's why. If everybody agrees to those core values, if you go around the room and without forcing people, everybody says yes, that is nonnegotiable and you make that something that is non negotiable school wide. You don't have to police people at this point because everybody has committed to the same core values.

So when people are performing in ways that are out of alignment with the core values, you don't have to police them. 

Other people will call them out. And when you do have to have conversations with people because they are out of alignment with the core values, those conversations aren't difficult conversations at all.

You simply point out the behavior. You say, now I was in the room with you. You agreed this is a core value could support, and yet your behavior right now is out of alignment. So what's going on? And so it's so much easier to help people be accountable and to have those accountability conversations when you have a set of core values that everybody's agreed to. If you don't do that, when you sit people down and say, Hey, listen, your behaviors out of alignment with our core values, they can cross their arms and say, well, I never agreed to those core values in the first place. That's why you need a hundred percent agreement.

And here's something else.

When you give everybody a voice and you give everybody a veto, when you don't shove core values down people's throats, the conversations that you have, the things that come up can heal your culture.

I've seen it happen. Sometimes you think your culture is going run way. And when you have these core values conversations, when you start talking about, okay, so what would it look like if this were non negotiable in our school?

People's issues come up.

People start talking about things that are, that have been bubbling under the surface for a long time and I've been creating pockets of toxicity in your culture. You can have those conversations. You can bring those issues to light and you can resolve them. You see, leaders are worried about maintaining control, but builders know that control is an illusion to begin with. You're not controlling anything. That's what builders do is instead of trying to maintain control, what they do is facilitate the real conversations with people so that people willingly abide by those core values once they agree to them because they own them.

You can't own the core values as long as they are your core values. Your staff doesn't have to be accountable to them when they are their core values. You and everybody else is accountable to them in ways that make it so that people do the right thing even when you are not looking. So you're going to have to be brave here and you're going to have to trust the process. And I know it's hard because we're not used to it because we've seen people derail processes in the past and the reason they're able to derail the processes is because we've been trying to control them.

These are your core values. They belong to the entire staff.

So when people derail a process, they're derailing themselves. 

Trust the process. When you let your staff own the core values, when you make them something that everybody equally owns and is equally accountable to, it changes your culture.

It builds trust, it builds rapport, it surfaces issues that among lurking below the surface and threaten your ability to move forward towards your vision and your mission. And when you go through this process as difficult and sometimes messy as it is, I promise you on the other side, everybody has clarity, everybody is accountable, everybody has focus and everybody starts trusting each other. Because you went first because you demonstrated that you trusted your staff enough not to try to control this process, but you trusted your staff enough to be able to engage in the process in a meaningful way and come out with core values that really matter. I don't know if you've ever listened to the episode with Kevin. It's a bonus episode. 

Kevin Talks about going through the core values exercise with his staff. And one of the things he says is that when he was doing this, he started out saying:

I don't think I can work with a staff that doesn't see respect as a core value.

And yet in the conversation with his staff, they didn't believe this. That respect was a non negotiable. And at first he was kind of taken aback. But the more they discuss it, the more the staff explained their point, the more he was able to let go and see their side. And now he has a set of core values that he vehemently believes in, but not only him, his entire staff believes in and they've all made it so much a part of the fabric of their school that everything they do and our school is aligned to those core values and the change that it's made in his culture has been radical. And the same thing happens time and time again. People come to builders lab, they learn this core values process. We coach them through doing it with their school and then they report back.

I can't believe the shift that it's made in my culture.

So you have to trust the process. Everybody gets a voice, everybody gets a veto. And the third rule is you keep talking until you have a hundred percent agreement. Whether that takes you a month or two months or if you have a lot of deep seated issues in your school, it may take you the whole school year. So what at the end of it, there's healing at the end of it, there's alignment at the end of it, there's clarity and it's worth fighting for because once you go through this process, and I tell you I was, I was reluctant and resistant and when it was dragging on in the middle of it, I was like, good grief. I'm so sick of talking about core values, but at the end of the road, it changed our whole school culture. Our school culture was not the same in our school became, it was already a good place to work.

It became a great place to work. We had so much alignment. So much focus, so much energy around our goals that we were able to move together as one. There was no more backbiting and fighting and snipping and sniping at each other. There were no more back channel conversations and undercurrents and, and you know of moods and feelings and feelings being heard and teach, sucking an eye, rolling. All that went away. Now everybody had clarity. We were all dealing with each other straight. And guess what else? Because I trusted them, they trusted me because I trusted them in that meeting, they stopped questioning me on every single decision that I made. Instead, they trusted that I would do things that were in alignment with the core values and that if I didn't, they could call me on it. So stop having people policing what I was doing and I stopped policing what they were doing.

Everybody police themselves. Everybody was accountable to this set of core values.

So step one, you've got to unearth the real core values, not the fake ones that people say. What's behind it? Have those conversations in small groups so that everybody can be heard. Number two, bring the whole staff together and start whittling down and saying, okay, what do we really believe? What's really most important to us? What is non negotiable?

And everybody gets a veto and a voice and you don't stop having the conversation until everybody's in agreement. And then number three, you got to make them a lot. You gotta live by them. That might mean changing your master schedule. That might mean changing how you hire people. That might mean how you give teachers feedback is going to look different. It's going to mean a change in your disciplinary practices. It's going to mean a change in how you deliver instruction to kids and how you support kids and how you deal with parents and the community, your core values.

Once they are agreed upon, they pervade everything because they are truly non negotiable and when you do that, when you go through that process as messy and difficult as it is on the other side is a whole culture, a healed culture, a culture that's aligned, a culture where people enjoy working with each other and trust each other. A culture where everybody's growing. Most people will never go through this process.

Most people will feel like they don't have the time or that they don't have the resources or they're afraid that somebody is going to derail the process and they will never go through this process. And for those people, they're cheating themselves. They're cheating themselves and vibrant, alive, thriving culture. Those builders out there, you, you, when you go through this process, when you choose to wade through the messiness of the core values exercise, because on the other side, you know it's going to be worth it.

What waits for you on the other side of that mess is clarity, unity, alignment, a group of people who are committed to the same thing. 

It's, it's, it's community. It's, it's, it's this vibrant culture where people enjoy coming to work every day and enjoy working with each other where everybody is focused on doing the right work the right way. I'm telling you all it's worth it. So if you want to learn how to do this with your school, if you want to hear the process and see it written out so that you can follow it.

I have a brand new ebook and it's called how to overcome a toxic school culture and it lays out this core values process. And if you want to get a copy of that download, simply go to the show notes for today's episode and you can find those show notes at school leadership re-imagined dot com slash episode 44 that school leadership 44 just go down where it says links and there'll be a link for you to get your free copy of this ebook that lays out the entire process.

And if after reading that ebook and you're saying, you know what, I really want to help in this process, you need to come to build her slap because at builder's lab we help you map out the entire process. And then when you go back to your school and you actually tried to implement it with your staff, if you get stuck, we are right there supporting you for the next 90 days so we can walk with you through the entire process.

Do you want to learn the process and get our support and helping you through the process?

Simply go to mindsteps INC com slash builders dash lab. That's All right, now let's talk about next week because next week we're going to shift gears a little bit away from vision, mission, and core values to talking about some things that are a little bit more practical.

We're going to go into the next part of the buildership models. So the first part was purpose.That's vision, mission, and core values. And so we've been talking about some of the basics around those, but now we're going to shift to the next part of the buildership model, which is really around people.

How do you get every teacher in your building committed to your vision, mission, and core values and effectively working towards though? In other words, how do you start to change the will and skill of the teachers in your school? Well, next week we're going to start a a series where we're going to talk about the very practical ways that you can change teacher will and skill.

I hope you'll join me next time where we're going to start out by talking about the only four ways that you can influence teachers' behavior and you'll find out what those four ways are and how to implement them like a builder.

Until next time.

I'll talk to you then.

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit

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