Frank Gehry, Clint Eastwood, and Gandhi walk into a bar…

This post is a plea for help and thought partnership.  I am teaching a day at at the KIPP School Leadership Program this summer. The tentative aims for the day are…

Aim: We will name, develop, and refine the skills and mindsets necessary to…

  • Design the culture.  Leadership as architecture and engineering
  • Make decisions to build the culture.  Leadership as movie direction
  • Teach and model the culture to kids and adults.  Leadership as Modeling Teaching
  • Identify opportunities for growth or evolution within a culture and make that growth or evolution happen.   Leadership as Medicine (diagnosis and surgery)

Are these the right skills for building and maintaining a strong, positive school culture?

Are these analogies accurate?  Resonant?

In trying to identify the most common misconceptions about school culture I came up with following:

  • The ship is either perfect or sinking.
  • Culture and Academics are separate.
  • Strong culture serves as a substitute for quality teaching.
  • Culture is a slogan on the wall.
  • If the culture is perfectly designed there will be no discipline problems or if our culture were better there would be no discipline problems.

What am I missing?

I am looking for video, images, and narratives that describe what strong, positive school culture is and isn’t.  If you have ideas please share.  It can be a metaphor or actual footage of a school event.  In particular I’d love some footage of kids or teachers explaining the strengths, weaknesses, and artifacts of their school culture in their own words.

Thanks in advance for helping this fellow teacher deliver a better lesson,



2 Responses to “Frank Gehry, Clint Eastwood, and Gandhi walk into a bar…”

  1. kb Says:

    Fun questions!

    What about the misconception that “our vision of strong culture/instruction exclusively relies on teachers singing/dancing/being the loudest, most compelling figure in the room/ leading through cult of personality.” In an ideal world, do we imagine every class, every subject, every day run like this?

    Not sure how to phrase this as a misconception – but in thinking about school culture, I might ask something along the lines of “what kind of school-based lesson on cooperation would actually get kids to cooperate?”

    Another question I might add is that your initial aims place a lot on the leader: to what extent is your teaching team involved in shaping your vision of your ideal school culture? At a nitty-gritty level, what does this look like? What’s your response if in a meeting a teacher questions the value of the paycheck system for 5th graders? Is that a bad hiring decision, a norms violation… or is there a time and place for this?


  2. Mike G Says:

    Leader as entire Law & Order episode – when something goes down, leader is the cop and the judge and the DA.

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