Culture Shock! Why great schools fail

Every leader is also a follower. We each have a leadership expert or in some cases several leadership experts we follow. Through these experts we mold our own systems, beliefs, and actions into a unique leadership framework. We hungrily devour podcasts, books, articles, and TED Talks in order to grow as leaders.  Stephen Covey, Dave Ramsey, Michael Hyatt, and Simon Sinek are just a few of my favorites.  I have used their ideas and perspectives as a basis for my own thoughts and actions as a school leader.

Whether listening to a podcast during my commute or reading a book on leadership during a quiet moment, I have often thought, “Wow, I need to share this with my staff."  Most leadership books contain a wealth of wisdom and insight that can help to improve the effectiveness of all school employees in their many roles supporting children, parents, and one another.  It was this thinking, along with a Dave Ramsey interview, that led me to develop a must read list for my staff.  The big idea behind having a central set of books that all staff read upon onboarding is to ensure that we not only have a core set of beliefs and values, but that those beliefs and values have been clearly defined.  In this way the leader sets the course for success and leaves nothing to chance.

As school leaders we are intentional in hiring staff, selecting curriculum, building a school improvement plan, communication, and making daily decisions about instruction, discipline, school operations and so much more.  However, we often unintentionally leave our school culture to chance.  As insignificant and meaningless as some assumptions can be, assuming everyone has the same core operating system is a critical mistake.  School leaders need for their team to be an extension of themselves and to be able to act and be decisive in times when the leader is not present or available. This team symbiosis is what makes a school thrive and develop its greatness.  My advice, leave nothing to chance!

So where does one begin when it comes to the foundational building blocks of workplace culture?  While there are a great number of books from which to choose these are a few of my favorites.


The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon

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Desiring to nurture a positive culture in a brand new school for which I was founding principal, I began the search for a book to anchor our thinking and to serve as our foundation for our first year of work together.  With more than 600 students and 40 staff coming together for the first time it was critical that a positive mindset be central to all of our interactions with our stakeholders and  community.

This book is inspiring, easy to read, and completely relatable.  The 10 secrets for approaching life and work with positivity that are revealed in the book encompass personal accountability, positivity, drive, relationships, enthusiasm and more.  Jon Gordon provides a wealth of free resources on his website to include video training, posters, and an implementation guide.  In addition, there is a student version allowing school wide implementation of the ideas and principles within the book.  Imagine an entire school community operating from the same core and using the same language and terminology relating to mindset and positive thinking.


QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John Miller


John Miller puts the focus on personal accountability as a core value in this simple and easy to read book.  Real life stories provide many examples of how personal accountability is key to organizational success.  Through recounting personal stories and interactions, Miller reinforces his message that personal accountability and ownership not only lead to a resolution, but also aid in finding the leaders within your organization who are willing to take ownership and action. 

Once I read this book I immediately knew it should be our staff summer read for the following school year.  The ideas in this book were effective in helping our school staff to have a common framework of thinking when times were tough and challenges seemed insurmountable. Rather than lay blame, we quickly moved to the question behind the question and would help one another remain accountable to problem solving rather than playing the blame game.  Using QBQ really helped us to create a school culture where the majority of our staff were ready to tackle the big challenges and the blame game was quickly a thing of the past.  Additional resources are available through to support studying and implementing this mindset across the workplace culture. There is also a family version of the book, a parenting book, and other materials to broaden the scope and use across the entire school community.


The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

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What Shawn Achor reveals in this book is that happiness actually fuels success and performance, not the other way around.  Why?  Because when we are happier and more positive we are more engaged, creative, resilient to stress, and productive.  We are mostly exposed to a mindset in our society that if we succeed we will find happiness.  Achieve high grades, drop weight, get a promotion, make more money, get married, have a child; if only this happened then I could be happy.  The author’s research proves this wrong and points us in the direction of building happiness and gratitude in order to drive continual success.

When I read this book I immediately knew it was going to be our next book to read as a staff.  Then I began to think of the power behind this message for our students and parents. The possibilities of a school wide community book club came to light each time I turned a page.  This content could empower our entire school community, I felt it was a must to put in the hands of our teachers, parents, community partners, and even our middle grades students.

Imagine taking the concept that happiness is the fuel to success to your school level and having your students, teachers, and parents all exposed to this thinking.  This is why I chose this book as a summer read for teachers and introduced it to our parents.  Infusing an understanding of intrinsic happiness into a school community is akin to immunizing the staff and students against many of the ailments laying wait to them in social media and the politics of public education.

I also have a free PD module based on Shawn’s TedTalk that you can find in this earlier blog post

These 3 books became central to our core focus of creating a strong community of learners and leaders.  The content served to ensure all of our systems were calibrated on a common set of measurements, which set us on a course for increased achievement, productivity, and success.