Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the IB Leadership Workshop Culture and Context. We talked a lot about the culture of the organization in which we work as well as the culture and context of the staff, students and parents that we serve. We looked at a variety of factors that effect how we interact with other cultures: power dynamics, communication methods, masculinity and femininity, etc.

We examined the culture and context of organizations and looked at ways to make changes for improvement. One of the areas that kept coming up was school climate and morale.

This is something that I have always struggled with as a leader. I know that my behaviors and attitudes set the climate for the building. The way that I interact with parents, students and staff, my expectations, the priorities identified and the things that are celebrated and acknowledged are a part of creating this climate. I have always taken this responsibility very seriously. I strive to be genuine, open, transparent while modeling high standards for myself and a dedication and a passion for teaching and learning.

BUT……

What happens when as a leader you are managing things that are completely out of your control? This last couple of weeks in Ontario have been very tumultuous to say the least for Ontario educators. Funding cuts for autism supports, changes in curriculum, complusary ELearning and increased class size. These decisions have been made by the Ontario government and are being mandated in Ontario school boards. This has caused parents, teachers and students to take action. There are organized student walkouts, silent protests and active campaigns for change. This climate of unrest and uncertainty is difficult. Emotions are running high and will spill over into schools and classrooms across the province. Unfortunately school principals are going to be left to manage this mess along with the day to day challenges of being a school administrator.

How then are principals responsible for school climate? Principals are being forced to deal with things that are way beyond their control that will no doubt effect the climate of the school as well as staff morale.

This for me is where the dllemma comes. I do believe that principals play a key role in the morale of the school but they are not the only ones! What responsibility do the staff have? What about the parents and community? Senior administration? Principals are often caught in the middle. They are expected to communicate decisions and directions that are made at a level beyond them or support the implementation of initiative from the board or ministry that they cannot control. They then have to manage the emotions, thoughts and feeling of their teachers, parents and students. How much of this is within their control? How much can they change or fix? How can they manage the
impact on morale?

Principals can enter their building with the most positive attitude, enthusiasm, hope and encouragement each day but that cannot be solely what drives the morale of the school.

Here’s the truth…..WE NEED YOUR HELP! As principals we want to create an environment in which all staff feel valued, accepted and appreciated. We want to have fun, celebrate, laugh and not take ourselves too seriously. We want to provide opportunities for staff to socialize, relax, celebrate and come together as a community. We value it! Here is the thing…..we CANNOT do it alone!

We need staff to share the enthusiasm, gratitude, hope, pride and encouragement of others. We need staff to share both the responsibility and leadership for school morale. We need a team. Everyone needs to be a leader every day! Sometimes it is the small things that make a difference in shifting perspectives or attitudes. Positive school culture and morale do not require big changes. Greeting someone in the morning that you do not normally see, offering positive feedback to a colleague, complementing or thanking someone, bringing colleague a coffee or treat, taking a duty, covering a class, noticing someone’s personal struggle, standing in the halls to greet students each morning, bringing a snack to team meetings, taking a challenging student for a minute, offering suggestions for change, taking a risk and creating a plan of action.

If we do not look out for one another, assume positive intentions and lift each other up then who will do it for us? We often talk about what is in and what is outside of our circle of influence or control, our contributions to school morale are definitely within that circle. All staff can have a positive impact on morale with the choices that they make each day.

How can we come together to make a positive change and create a learning community in which we support and lift each other up each day?

How can we work together to value and support each member of our community?

How can we create a shared responsibility for the moral in our buildings?

Afterward: To my Ontario colleagues, teachers, support staff and administrators…you are in for a bumpy ride over the next while. Now is the perfect time for teachers, support staff and administrators to come together as a community. You will be faced with some difficult circumstances that are out of your control and you will need to rely on one another to get through them. I know that my administrator colleagues are going to need all the help that they can get to weather this storm. My hope for all of you is that you use this time to reunite as a community and to support one another. For too long there has existed a divide between teachers and administrators. We all want the same things…..a safe and welcoming learning community for all that puts the interests and needs of students first. My hope is that you will wrap around one another and find a way to support and look out for each other!