Student Leadership
Bite, Snack, Meal, Crockpot
Building a Culture One “Bite” at a Time
James Layman
AWSL Director
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture
There is a reason that “creating a culture” is the number one goal area of the AWSP Leadership Framework— because culture is everything. How our schools and our people interact, the relationships they have with each other and the community, and most importantly, the relationship our people (adults, students, community members, etc.) have with our school, every aspect of it is woven around one word: Culture. Culture is the epicenter of our continued work to create educational spaces and experiences that allow students to thrive, adults to teach, and communities to come together to support those individuals. Culture is that critical, necessary, and daunting task to create and sustain with the ever-evolving world we live in. When working with school leaders (students and adults), conversations around culture often get brought up, namely how to improve it. Usually, individuals dream big and swing for the fences in terms of their hopes for developing an ideal school culture. Witnessing students' and adults’ brilliance in creating an “ideal school culture” is one of my favorite sounds. The sounds of hope, healing, and honesty make up the “school culture playlist” when groups of individuals come together to create a culture that allows each and every person to be their favorite version of themselves under the umbrella of the school culture.
Moving from discussion to action is where the work is, and often it can feel like entering the most spectacular buffet in the world, where we can be overwhelmed by the options and stuck in terms of deciding what our move should be.
While I love these conversations, an inevitable question always emanates from the individuals involved. “How do we make it happen?” Moving from discussion to action is where the work is, and often it can feel like entering the most spectacular buffet in the world, where we can be overwhelmed by the options and stuck in terms of deciding what our move should be. Using the concept of food, let us break down some ways to start creating a culture that supports each and every person. Bite: I believe that leadership and culture are built in the smallest of moments over time. Those “bites” are the tangible choices and intentional acts we can implement into our daily way of being. These “bites” do not require money or seismic shifts; instead, it is something that every person can commit to doing daily. We know one of the most significant of human needs is to be known, seen, and acknowledged. What if our “bites” started there? Meeting people where they are and letting them know they matter, belong, and are essential. I believe “bites” more so than any other step has the most significant impact on our culture and are often overlooked when deciding how to improve our culture. Snack: We have all made SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals before, and the time-bound component can create a sense of urgency and immediacy amongst people. “Snacks” are choices and decisions that you can make happen in a short amount of time. “Snacks” require more support than ‘bites’ and require larger buy-in from others. For “snacks” to take shape, they need to be clearly communicated, and all parties need to be considered (adults, students, community) for ‘snacks’ to be effective in their execution. “Snacks” are the foundational building blocks to the large shifts you want to make to your culture. If you are anything like me, you have probably grazed on snacks all day, and before long, you feel full. Many snacks can equate to a meal. If your school culture was a charcuterie board, what snacks would you place on it? Snacks are an essential component to creating the culture you wish to see. Meal: Meals are the big ones. What are the big moves you wish to make regarding your culture? Meals take time. Meals take intentionality. Meals take trust. Meals take a lot of ingredients. Meals are made with love. Love of our students. Love of our adults. Love of our community. Meals also take work. My mother used to tell me, “nobody ever drowned in their own sweat.” Making changes to culture takes work, but the work and the journey of preparing the meal can be joyful. My grandmother loves to cook and prepare meals, and she will tell you that preparing meals for others brings people together. That profound sentiment reminds me of the importance of “meals” and the goal of bringing different people together. We also live in an era where dietary needs have become a part of the lexicon when preparing meals for others. Are the meals you are preparing taking into account the vast array of dietary needs of others? What if we took the same consideration, the same amount of thought, and the same creativity we use to prepare meals for others and applied that to creating “meals” for our school culture? What if everybody saw and recognized something at the “table” for them? These thoughts are critical as we begin to dream about our culture. Crockpot: Legacy. Legacy is a big word and often a word many of us may shy away from. When we consider our legacies, it requires a great deal of reflection around our choices, intentional actions, and where our hearts led us. I love cooking in the crockpot! You set the ingredients in, leave it for an extended period, and hours later, you have a delicious meal. What if crockpots were similar to our legacies? What ingredients are we actively contributing to our school culture, knowing that the ‘recipe’ will take a long time to cook? What is the generation after us going to benefit from based on the ingredients (choices and actions) we contribute now? These are our legacy ingredients. This is our legacy recipe. We may not be in the same place to see the recipe come to fruition, but if we start it off right and set the ingredients in correctly, we set the recipe up for success. What are your legacy-making contributions to your school culture? Creating a culture is a lot of work, but that work not only changes lives, but a thriving culture can also save lives. Building, maintaining, and evolving our culture starts with a bite. Go ahead and take that first bite toward your culture; you will not regret it!
Bon appétit.
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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2021-22