Strong School Cultures and Public Accountability

Last Friday I taught “Hearts, Minds, Toilets: Building a Positive and Intentional School Culture”  at the KIPP Summer Leadership Institute.

Many thanks to everyone who shared examples, video, and analogies to inform the day.  The seventy leaders were an amazing group of educators to work with.  The thinking about school culture ranged broadly and reflected the diversity of approaches that exist throughout our movement.

We staged a quick debate around the proposition “strong school cultures should publicly and dramatically address violations of their norms.”

I am increasingly convinced that one of the most critical things I need to do as a teacher with adults and kids is surface disagreement.  The mini debate (choose a corner) is often an effective way to do this.  This would have worked better if I had moved it closer to the middle of the session and then allowed for more time to process.

There was a quick debate before the debate about the proposition.  We added a third corner “strong school cultures should publicly and dramatically address public violations of their norms.”

The debate yielded several fascinating ideas.  One that sticks with me is “how does a school handle public violations of its norms by a teacher or leader?”  We didn’t get to explore the nuances of this Friday but the question has giant implications for how much kids and adults believe in the culture.

My hunch is that in the strongest of school cultures adults do publicly apologize/address violations of norms. Fascinating article about what makes  apologies work or fail in the weekend NYT. One of the stickiest ideas is that apologies only feel sincere if there is genuine risk for the apologizer.  Thus a student or adult who knowingly avoids punishment through apology often sounds insincere.  Atul Gawande also writes compellingly about apologies for botched surgeries in Better.

My belief is that strong school cultures possess the courage to acknowledge struggles publicly.  I misused this idea  in the early years of our school with overly dramatic public embarrassment.  In fact it is so easy to do public discipline  poorly and with negative consequences for kids that it’s understandable how often leaders choose not to address norms violations publicly.  Public discipline is certainly a choice that should be made sparingly and  with great intentionality. Only when I expanded my own teaching  repertoire so kids could own their mistakes publicly and feel the disappointment of letting down teammates without scalding embarrassment did public ownership have the impact we wanted.  Please continue the debate and dialogue-we all need pushed out of rigid thinking on this issue.

The session plans and Powerpoint are posted on my Better Lesson page.  Comments and feedback would be grand.


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