As school leaders, we have a lot going on. A myriad of decisions and issues coming across our plates on a daily basis keep us in a constant juggling act that takes decision fatigue to an entirely new level. So it’s no wonder that when some leaders think of putting time and energy into how to turn their school staff into a community, it can seem like an abstract and overwhelming task. It may even seem like a low priority. But if we are going to create the kind of school that helps our students and adults be the best version of themselves, the kind of school where we are ALL proud to be a part of, building a community is anything but a low priority. It is not a distraction to the work, it is an essential part of the work.
Start with and commit to a shared WHY. Simon Sinek has it right when he talks about how every great organization starts with the WHY, then moves out to the HOW and WHAT. He calls it “The Golden Circle.” If a school staff is going to be a team that creates something great and worthy of our students, we have to be clear and committed to a shared WHY. Not only does it keep us motivated throughout challenging times, having a shared WHY brings us together as a team working for a common purpose. (Check out a past post, 4 Things That Happen When You Have a Shared WHY.)
Realize that the journey along the path to greatness is made together. The path to greatness is a journey, not a destination and it is not made alone. As we travel through this challenging, bumpy but remarkable journey, we do it as a team. We can go only as quickly as our slowest team member and we experience each of the peaks and valleys as a community. When we realize and embrace this, we each gain accountability to and responsibility for our community. As a team, we get stronger and are able to achieve amazing, even seemingly impossible, things.
Recognize that we each have genius. It is one thing to say that everyone has their strengths. It is quite another to seek out and celebrate the genius that we each bring to the community. As a leader, it is our job to encourage those around us to bring their genius as a gift used to strengthen our community. A huge part of my personal why is to seek out and inspire the greatness in others. To build community among my staff, I hope to help each of our leaders realize their genius and then create opportunities for them to contribute and shine.
Communicate. And then communicate some more. It is no accident that community and communication have the same root word. To build a strong community, strong and clear communication must be maintained. In Turn The Ship Around, David Marquet discusses the importance of two-way communication that is deep and reveals the thinking behind decisions. His motto of “a little rudder far from the rocks is a lot better than a lot of rudder close to the rocks,” reveals the importance of the early and often conversations which build transparency, clarity, and trust, all qualities a community needs to thrive.
Give everyone ownership and voice. There is a loose-tight balance that leaders who build communities must maintain. While the goals and purpose need to remain tight, clear and in the forefront of each next step, the structures and methods used to move forward can remain loose. Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess in Lead Like a Pirate have a quote, “People are less likely to tear down systems they help to build.” Building a community requires every member feeling empowered and knowing that what they create and contribute is essential to the success of the school.
Be playful and have fun together! With all of the important work that we have been called to do, it is essential to create a culture that embraces having fun together. If you’re doubtful, there is even research that confirms that having high expectations for those we serve is evident through playful dialogue. (See Art and Science of Teaching / High Expectations for All.) When we share silly jokes, start community traditions that allow staff to get to know one another outside of school, watch a funny video at a morning huddle, create spontaneous staff challenges, we build a sense of community through our sense of humor that supports the high expectations we have. And that is fun wrapped up with a lot awesome.
As a school leader, I own the impact I have on our school and the achievement we realize. But I also know that I am only one person. Even though I am filled with purpose and passion around my work and our school vision, I also bring to the table my weaknesses. However, if I focus on building community among our staff, my limits are no longer what puts a ceiling on what we can accomplish and the impact we can create grows exponentially. After all, as Steven Anderson says, “Alone we are smart but together we are brilliant. We can use the collective wisdom to do great things when we are connected,” or, I would add, when we build community.