Building a collaborative school culture should be a priority for any school leader, and can be viewed as a necessary precursor to crisis leadership. Although we cannot predict when a crisis will occur, what we can do is actively own the role we play in premeditated crisis leadership. Every day is an opportunity for us to build relationships, trust, and a collaborative culture within our teams. This dynamic culture is a healthy prerequisite for effective crisis leadership when it all comes down to the wire.
What does it look like to build a healthy school culture? We have all read about it, and philosophically, I am sure we all strive to have an inclusive, collaborative culture at each school in which we lead. Logistically, however, how does this culture emerge? What are actionable steps we can take from Day 1 of our leadership appointment to ensure that we are creating a culture that will serve us effectively once a crisis occurs?
How to Build A Collaborative School Culture
Building a collaborative school culture takes time. It must be built first and foremost on a foundation of trust. In my work, I have found that trust can most quickly be built through open communication, transparency and strategic vulnerability. Let's explore how each of these concepts may look in concrete, actionable steps.
Open communication is perhaps one of the most critical ways to build trust as a new leader. It not only encompasses what you say as a leader, but what others are able to say and express as well. Remember that communication is a two-way street. It is not only how you present yourself to your students and staff, but how your students and staff are able to communicate with you. Thus, there is much to consider when building a foundation of trust. While we explore the concept of communication in greater depth in the posts to come, for now, here are quick ways to build open communication from Day 1:
Transparency is a part of open communication, and it actually ties into vulnerability (discussed in the next section) as well. As a new leader, it can be challenging to discern where to be transparent, and how much transparency is too much versus not quite enough. Here is a quick quiz that might help you determine how to share information with your staff during a volatile time.
In general, it is best to take note of your emotional state, the emotional state of others, and your level of trust with the information that needs to be shared. As a leader, we must be careful to give our staff members enough information so that they can effectively navigate a situation (and process their own emotions), while not so much that they become overwhelmed with details outside of the scope of their work. Consider with caution when and how to disseminate important information. Is a follow-up immediately necessary, or is it better to let the storm calm for a day or two? Are you reacting in a state of frustration, heightening a situation that might be more minor than you currently believe? Remember, nothing bad ever happened from taking a pause. Further, that which is currently impacting you may be invisible to the rest of your staff. Assess if now is the time for open communication. Then, proceed accordingly.
If you follow the work of Brené Brown, you know that vulnerability can be a huge attribute to a leader. Further, when expected from constituents, it can further the development of a culture built on interdependence and trust. In a nutshell, here is what Brené suggests we do to become more vulnerable and "human" in all aspects of our work (with a little twist from my own personal work).
Focusing on trust through strategic communication, transparency and vulnerability can rapidly propel an organization's culture forward as relationships become more interdependent and humanism is celebrated and valued among the team. This is a great way to build a culture that can withstand a crisis when (not if) it emerges in our wake. When we consider building a strong, dynamic culture as a precursor to crisis leadership, we naturally develop the support we need to navigate the unforeseen crises that lie ahead.
If you are looking for resource related to influencing school culture, try this list of some of my favorites!
Linger a Little Longer:
1. Which of the aforementioned ways to build trust seems the most intuitive? The most challenging?
2. What is one strategy you can implement today to influence your school's culture?
3. Take the transparency quiz. Identify a scenario when you could have been more transparent. What about a time when you might have reacted too soon?