How to Start Changing Culture Today

I realize how simplistic this sounds and also that many will read this and nod their head and feel like either they already do this or it’s perhaps a nice, but not necessary component, but I can tell you that in general schools and districts generally suck at this: Gratitude.

I’ve been working for Discovery Education for 2 years and am still taken a back at the frequency and sincerity at which people say thank you. I don’t know where it’s written anywhere but it’s a company that demonstrates and values gratitude. Almost every meeting, phone call or email includes some type of thanks for someone who simply did their job. It’s never done simply as a courtesy but it’s very specific and intended to be shared with others to help us see how various team members contribute to our success. Working with people all over the continent, we often have no idea what great work people are doing and we work hard to make sure that good work gets noticed and gratitude is given. I cannot say enough about the value of this trait in the culture of this company.

I think there are a couple of reasons schools suck at gratitude. Perhaps it’s easy to assume that close physical proximity doesn’t necessarily mean we are aware of greatness all around us. We forget that we still work in a very isolated profession and often have little sense of what’s happening in the room next to us, let alone a school that’s miles away. And while there are things we’re doing to increase communication, for the most part it’s just information. Gratitude and thanks is not embedded in our communication.  Another reason it’s not part of our culture is that nobody goes into teaching for the cash, and nobody goes into to be recognized. Everyone knows this and I’m afraid that we assume sub consciously that this is the norm. That saying thank you might be nice but it’s not really necessary.

Thank you noteI posted this earlier in the year but I thought of this again. Last year I was in my wife’s classroom in the spring and noticed that pinned to her cupboard was a note from a grandparent thanking her for putting their grandsons tooth in a Baggie after it fell out in class. If you’re a primary teacher you do that countless times a year. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. But writing a note to thank her was. It meant enough for her to post it and leave it visible for months. If you don’t think saying thank you is a big deal, you’d be wrong.

Think about all the things that happen in a day at any given school. How many teachers doing, yes their job, but doing it with such eloquence and care. Think of all the stuff they do beyond the job requirements. Think of your principal and students. Think about the parents who really do want their kids to succeed. And if for some reason, you don’t see these things, you’re not looking very hard.

When you think about that, how often do you I thank them? I work with outstanding people. I see so many people across North America doing great work. I glean so much from people online sharing things that help me. Yet I don’t say thank you enough. I suppose no one ever says it enough. The problem is so many of us aren’t making it a priority.

Of course I have no research to back up my claim but I do believe that if leaders made this a priority, wrote it into their personal, school or district goals I would be certain it would impact culture I ways you couldn’t imagine. Be perhaps it’s just too simple, too easy. Words like play, wonder, joy and gratitude are too fluffy to be included in vision and mission statements. Instead we opt for achievement and rigor. We see those other words some how as less suited for sophisticated and important documents.  No one would suggest they aren’t important but few are being intentional and giving dispositions like gratitude their rightful place in the change process.

So I challenge myself and you’re welcome to join me in thinking about making gratitude more intentional. Here are some places to start:

-Tweet at least once a day to someone specific. Use “thank you” in the message.

-Email a leader who has helped you recently.

Post a picture of something that inspires or impresses you and credit people (not just the school but name names)

Write a blog post.

Collect post it notes from students and give them to others.

There are many other ways. If you have great examples, if you’ve been on the receiving end of this please share the impact it made. Maybe if we let folks know how much of a difference this makes people will act. It’s very easy to nod your head and agree, but yet not enough of us are doing this regularly, consistently and with sincerity.

Most of you reading this are involved in some type of change, either at the leadership or implementation level. Some of you are frustrated with the lack of progress. Others are amazed at the way people have embraced new ideas. Most of you are some where in the middle. If you want to see the change accelerate, start building a culture of gratitude, not just to advance your agenda but because you’re a caring thoughtful person. You can start today.


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