Strategy: Breakfast of Culture

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Leadership guru, Peter Drucker, once said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  That quote speaks to the supreme importance of a positive culture in a school.  Culture is comprised of norms, values, beliefs, traditions, customs, rituals, narratives, and artifacts.  It is extremely powerful as it influences everything that happens at a school.

Some describe culture as that thing that is special about a school, but it's difficult to define.  I had that feeling when I came to be principal for a day back in June.  As I walked the campus, visited the classrooms and talked to staff and students, and watched what was happening that was the feeling I had.  There is something special about this place.

One of the things I loved about this place before I even stepped foot on campus was the pods.  I've always thought it would be cool to teach in California where the classroom doors open to the outside instead of a hallway like in a traditional school building.  I love that about our campus.  Students can look out the windows and doors when they're inside and be inspired by the natural world they are able to see.  I love that the pods were designed that way.  I understand storms can wreak some havoc to our campus, but I just love to watch them from the window and sometimes from an overhang outside.  I love that our students can do that too.  Each pod has/will have an outdoor classroom component.  I love that, too.  What an opportunity to not only differentiate process, product, and content, but environment as well!  Our pods differentiate us from most schools in Georgia and, I suppose, most of the country.  They were purposefully designed to align with who we are.  Pods are part of our culture.

When I came to campus to be principal for a day, one thing in particular caught my eye and tickled me.  I LOVE that every student has a pair of boots at school.  It's on the supply list!  How cool!  I love the image of an open cabinet with boots neatly lined up or an entry way to a classroom lined with boots.  Students don't have to worry about getting their good shoes wet or muddy.  They can play and explore without thinking about what mom or dad will say about their shoes when they get home.  This was purposefully designed to align with who we are.  Boots are part of our culture.

As I've walked the campus the last two weeks, I've taken one of the walking sticks with me.  When I was talking with Honey the other day, she explained to me how they had come about and how they were decorated.  Even more importantly, she described why they're important.  The walking sticks give the students confidence.  Going out into the woods, for some children, can be a little intimidating at first.  There's a certain swagger students walk with when they have a walking stick.  They're more confident and ready for exploration, discovery, and adventure.  Walking sticks have more practical applications as well.  Students can use them to push aside branches as they walk, stir up the ground beneath them to explore what's there, and steady them as they climb a steep incline.  They were purposefully designed to align with who we are.  Walking sticks are part of our culture.

This year I want to extend the meaning of the walking sticks some.  I want the students to receive back the walking sticks they designed last year.  If they want, they can sand down their sticks and redesign them, perhaps with memories of the previous year's experiences, using color, shape, and even texture, if possible.  At the end of the year, I would like you to collect the walking sticks (we'll provide a container of some kind) and store them in one of the classrooms of the next grade where the process will continue the next school year.  When the students leave us at the end of 8th grade, the passing of the walking sticks will be part of their end of year celebration.  Again, purposefully designed to align with who we are.  The passing of the walking sticks will become part of our culture.

So, help the new guy!  What else defines our culture at CHCS?  They can be norms, values, beliefs, traditions, customs, rituals, narratives, and artifacts.  Email me back and let me know.  It will help me so that I can help the new staff in their orientation.  What ideas do you have that we might want to add to our culture?  After all, we're still growing!