School Culture Building as Software Updates

Sometimes the most profound statements happen during random times. Today a guest speaker doing a keynote at the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals 2018 Conference was asking about how our ‘business’ was doing in our schools. He asked the crowd about this and Michael Santos, an up and coming school leader, said something to the effect of it being in constant improvement. He said it was like updating software, it’s always in need of upgrades and improvements every year, even if it’s a great product. 

I love writing and thinking about analogies and this one really connected to me. Think of the best software products out there. Microsoft, Apple, Android, you name it, and they are constantly working on the next upgrade and pushing them out on the customers. You would think that they would be proud of what they have and live with that for a while, but they actually work in the opposite manner, thinking of keeping up and moving forward, giving the customer a better product even if they didn’t ask for it. It happens so often that we even get annoyed by it. Annoyed by giving us a better product, kind of funny really when you think about that.

What a great comparison to schools and especially school cultures and climates. Even in schools where this is going well, school leaders should never be happy with keeping the status quo. It is really easy for complacency to set it in. As they say, you’re either green and growing or ripe and rotten. Find ways to improve even if they are little steps. Cultures can find ways to drop to the lowest common denominator or fall back to the norms of society which tend to be very negative.

Consider yearly upgrades to your cultural software in your school. Imagine what the technology companies do and recreate it. Seek feedback from the customers. Change up the look and feel of the product. Make improvements on design and function which means you should be in the know with current best practices in your field.

In school this could be done with an annual or semi-annual committee to review practices, climate, and potential next steps. I can see this committee seeking and using feedback from staff, students, and parents. While surveys may work, I think focus groups would be an excellent way to understand the feedback in more depth to make necessary changes that would give the biggest bang for the buck and not just reactionary to a few people’s concerns. Once this information is gathered and analyzed, the groups would compare what is needed to what is current and relevant.

What needs to be added is one thing, but don’t forget that there are times when some of your practices, even ones you may like, should be deleted. That can be really difficult for leaders so be bold and think about what’s best for the organization, not just what you like to do.

Once you have a plan, then think about how you will roll out the changes. In software updates, they always have a plan for this, whether it’s all at once, or in stages. Remember, an idea without a plan is a wish.

Think of building positive school cultures as upgrading and updating software. Michael, I think that was a brilliant comment. Thank you for providing that idea for our schools. Continuous improvement should not be looked at as only fixing problems. Every organization should be constantly reflecting and upgrading.

Leave a comment if this resonates with you. I’m interested to see this analogy connected to others as it did for me today.

Posted in Leadership Lessons, Rethinking School Culture