Quickest Route to a Toxic Culture (And How to Avoid It)

There is one variable at the root of campus culture - humans. This variable is responsible for all of our school culture concerns and strengths.

Whether you've measured it or not, your culture is on a continuum from healthy to toxic. The quickest route to a toxic school culture includes de-valuing humans:
  • Don't smile.
  • Don't talk.
  • Don't compliment.
  • Criticize often.
  • Don't listen.
Here's the great news: leadership controls all five of these campus habits! And each of these habits/actions is a pitfall, and I'm going to show you how to avoid them.

Notice that none of these leadership pitfalls mention instructional leadership. You could be the world's greatest instructional leader, curriculum guru, or assessment expert, but still build (unintentionally) a toxic school culture.

So enough of the negative, let's talk how to avoid the pitfalls of this quick route to a toxic culture.

Here are some ways to avoid the trap of a toxic school culture.

Toxic Culture Buster#1: Smile Often

Seriously, smiling is the best nonverbal means to shaping a healthy climate. I know, climate is not the same as culture.

But the day-to-day climate of the campus is the interpersonal manifestation of your vision. A powerful vision begets a healthy climate. A healthy climate is a good cure for toxic culture.

Vision in Action > Healthy Climate > Lessens Culture Toxicity

Toxic Culture Buster #2: Listen, Talk, Listen

The doctor doesn't take a patient into her office and prescribe treatment. The doctor listens first. She asks questions, uses a stethoscope, and utilizes an array of tools to listen to your body.

The same is true for effective school leaders. Engage with your staff in conversations, be candid, ask questions, and listen.

When you're finished, listen more.

Read more: Lead with Questions

Toxic Culture Buster #3: Affirm & Celebrate, Often

If you're busy building the school culture that gets results, focuses on high levels of growth for each student and professional, and maintains a cutting edge on innovative practice, then you're also going to make folks tired.

Read more: Champions Finish Strong

The hard work of build a powerful school culture is tiring. That being said, your people will need you to affirm and celebrate (and to do it often).

Affirmations ensure your staff understands they are on the right track in regards to the shared vision, your expectations, their expectations, and best practice.

Celebrations allow you to reiterate the importance of your vision as you make strides toward key benchmarks. Data moves up and down. Some goals you miss, some you make. Be a treasure hunter and find reasons to celebrate all the time.

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