Starting a Movement

Interesting Ideas

I wanted to do something slightly different this week in my blog.  I want to promote a book and illustrate how this books aligns with the important work we did at our school in regards to building and maintaining our positive school culture for staff, students and families.

The book is Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck.  It was published in 2015 by Solution Tree Press and I highly recommend it to the readers of this blog.

The book delivers on its promise, printed on the back cover,

“Educators will:

  • Learn to express, clarify, and align their beliefs so that they are meaningful to teachers, staff, and other stakeholders
  • Create maximum buy-in among all members of the school community
  • Use the authors’ authentic alignment model to help keep their actions aligned to their schools’ mission and vision
  • Reinforce the researched, results proven PLC within their school culture”

It is time for you to take a close look at your school’s mission statement.  If it is working for you and you feel that it is well established, then at least look at the benefits of working with staff, students and the community to develop a school mantra.  This book with help with this process.  Your leadership will receive a major positive boost by doing this important work with your school.  The outcome of this work will impact many aspects of your school culture.

Our school started in September of 2015 and the book was published the same year.  I did not have a copy of the book prior to the school opening so it is after the fact that I noticed the connections. 

Prior to the school opening I had already used the saying “Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’ at other schools where I had been the principal.  Those other schools had a mission statement, created before my arrival.  So like many of you, I inherited a mission statement. There is an interesting discussion in the book about existing school mission statements and if they are known, utilized, understood or believed.  This particular section of the book will allow you to have a really critical look at your school’s mission statement.  

I didn’t realize it at the time, but by adding that saying into those schools on top of the mission statement, I was doing something that the authors share as a really positive action.  And it is not just the saying itself, it is the process and the actions taken in order to develop the saying.  Most importantly it is what  you do with the saying once established.  Don’t allow it to simply be writing on the letterhead.

Now is the time to reexamine your mission statement and the authors provide a process for doing just that. 

Although I did not have a copy of the book, I feel I had something better in place prior to the school opening and that was the guidance and mentorship and friendship of one of the authors, Tom Hierck.  With Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference established in my mind to share with staff I had long conversations with Tom about bringing something ready made or developing it with the staff in the first year of the school.  I was put in a tough spot in a sense because the school needed to exist on line, on paper and in communication with the community prior to the bricks and mortar being in place.  The school officially started without staff in a sense. The school also opened under teacher sanctions and I was not able to have access to the staff to do this planning work.  

The saying was discussed with staff, and the rationale provided.  I started to use the phrase when visiting the students that would become Boyne students.  From the first time I met students, they heard, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’.  At parent evenings prior to school construction, families were meeting me, learning about my vision and plans, and hearing, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’. In a presentation for prospective staff interested in beginning this new school journey with me, they heard, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’. 

In all honesty it would have been difficult if staff were not in agreement or if they wanted to develop something right from the start.  It would have been a hard conversation for someone to speak up and say we should have something new that I had not used before.  I believe I was open and transparent in that work, and have come to understand through their acceptance, adoption and love for our saying that they are happy with the results.  Students and families continue to comment positively as well.

So for this blog I will be sharing key quotes from an important chapter in the book and reflecting on the quote with practical, real life examples of the work in action.

I have been using the term ‘saying’ and ‘mission statement’ in the first part of this blog. In fact what we have according to the authors is a school mantra. ‘Work Hard, Be Nice and Make a Difference’ is not a mission statement but in fact a mantra based on our mission, vision, values and goals.  It is longer in length than Williams and Hierck would suggest for a mantra but I’ll get to that later.

I want to introduce you to Chapter 3 in the book, entitled Exploring: The Why

‘the Why, is the process of examining your fundamental purpose and core beliefs.  Your goal is to capture the essence of your school’s mission in a guiding mantra to help strengthen that mission’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.55)

All the things we do at the school connect to our mantra.  Our commitments to each other come from these three statements.  Our classrooms begin the year by using Significant 72 (a previous blog) and developing with students how we are going to be a community by illustrating working hard, being nice and making a difference for ourselves and others.

Consider your existing school mission statement…

‘We propose taking one small and powerful additional step in this process: extract a non-negotiable ideal and distill it into a three to five work expression known as your guiding school mantra. Develop a mantra that captures the essence of your school’s mission in a concise and repeatable way.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.62)

So all this time I may have felt we had our school mission statement when in fact we had our school mantra. It is longer than the 3-5 word suggestion, however its simplicity makes it stick.  The three aspects of the mantra allow us to use each part separately and all together.  I still see it as concise and definitely repeatable.

‘Schools should identify the fundamental purpose, then use that purpose as the lens through which to guide decisions. We know it works for some schools, but often the outcome is a product; the mission statement.  We rarely see a unifying force that empowers educators to examine, clarify, and align every aspect of the school.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.56)

‘Because the typical mission statement rarely serves as a guide to inform your choices, behaviours, and decisions, it is, in essence, ‘fluff’. When you consider the time spent creating a mission statement versus the fact that its ideals seldom trickle down to the daily work of teachers and leaders, it’s easy to understand the cynicism that arises.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.58)

There are times when we need to support students and some of the choices they make.  We would use our mantra continually. Some students need a reminder conversation from staff about how we were going to work together and how the adults can support them with their lagging skills.  Their troubles began with a situation where they were not working hard or not being nice.  A conversation out of class or in the office area would start there.  They are removed from their peers in order to get support because they are not working hard or not being nice.  Now that we have that as a starting point, what are we going to do to go back to the situation and make a difference for yourself and others and how can we help you?

‘Yet in almost every instance when we ask staff members to identify agreed-on ideals around which the entire school rallies, to identify a non-negotiable idea that guides the daily work of their school, to state the agreed-on purpose that serves to both compass and guide for every important decision made on campus, we almost never see agreement on what that guide is’.

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.56-57)

‘the conversation turns to the school mission statement-the statement that everyone knows exists but no one can connect to the daily work of teaching, learning, and leading’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.57)

‘The stated mission should permeate every aspect fo school life.  It should serve as your school’s rallying cry and ultimate litmus test to determine what is best for improved student learning; you should not view it as an opportunity for positive public relations that eventually fades into obscurity’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.57)

Every classroom, and every student is involved in the process at the start of the year and then monthly check ins (Significant 72) about our commitments to each other.  Kindergarten students are able to share with staff what it looks like and sounds like to work hard and be nice.  During nutrition breaks when we are eating in our classrooms prior to going outside, grade eight students are able to share what this non instructional time looks like using ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’.  Our School Council of parents are able to create their meeting norms using ‘Work Hard’ ‘Be Nice’, ‘Make a Difference’. In the gymnasium, students are able to articulate the mantra. 

An interesting aspect of the chapter comes later when Williams and Hierck offer a caution. They guide you and want you to avoid something they call ’t-shirting’. 

‘It means you place more emphasis on slogans for t-shirts, lanyards, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, and banners than on how your statements actually guide instructional and assessment practices and interventions.  In our experience, few can articulate how their statement explicitly manifests itself in daily work’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.59)

To be honest we have t-shirts for staff, and the mantra is on the walls, but it is so much more than wallpaper.  Our interventions program named WIN (Whatever I Need) is driven by making a difference, it is in Significant 72 (previous blog), establishing our agreements (previous blog), in report cards learning skills(previous blog), in our graduation ceremony(previous blog), in Kindergarten celebrations, and in our fundraising initiatives.  An event does not occur, a report is not written without using the lens of our mantra. 

We got this!

‘Ideally, your mission statement would permeate everything you do at school – embedded in your school’s culture, committed to memory, modelled, and intrinsic to daily life’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.62)

‘It can be a short, energy-infused statement around which your school organizes; it defines what you are and guides all internal decisions.  Further, it’s a powerful chant that everyone inside your school can instantly understand, recognize, and repeat-a constant reminder of what you can expect from each other.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.62)

At assemblies I would often begin the mantra and only have to say ‘Work Hard’ before the students would complete the phrase in unison.  We have yearly student and parent surveys and we are able to insert our own questions at the end in order to get specific data or feedback.  We have inserted the statement and asked participants in the survey to complete the phrase, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, ….”  98% of our students completing the survey were able to answer correctly, our parent responses were not quite as high but still a large majority or our parent community were aware of our mantra.

Hopefully, I have been able to share with you the power of having a school mantra.  Not only the development process is important to the school culture, but the continuation of a positive school culture is predicated on having common expectations that everyone, like Williams and Hierck write, ‘instantly understand, recognize, and repeat-a constant reminder of what you can expect from each other’ (p. 62)

So I leave you with two thoughts.  The first, do your staff, students and community know your mission statement?  The authors make a terrific point,

“We often ask our workshop participants to share their schools’ mission statements from memory.  What follows is often a complete loss of eye contact, uncomfortable shifting in chairs, the sudden emergency cell phone call, the impromptu bathroom break, the nervous laughter-all clear signs that people don’t know’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.57)

And finally, check out Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck. On page 65 look at ‘Creating Your Guiding School Mantra: The Tip of the Iceberg’ 

Do this exercise!

Re-culture if it is needed, rebrand with a mantra. It is so beneficial for students, staff, families and for your leadership.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: