Four “5 Minute” Ways to Inspire School Culture: Invest in The New School Year

In June I attended a conference and listened to an excellent keynote speech. As I enjoyed my latte, the topic of school culture stopped me mid sip. The speaker told a story of a teacher who went to their administrator and asked to talk about culture at the next staff meeting.

“How long do you need?” asked the administrator.

“3 hours,” the teacher replied.

After half a second of consideration, the administrator answered, “I can give you 5 minutes.”

Years later that teacher became an administrator. The story recounts the exact same conversation again, only this time the teacher (now an administrator) stopped and came to a profound realization.  

You cannot have something you do not invest in.  

In education there is so much to focus on and a lot to invest in. School culture is usually left with only “5 Minutes” at the end of the staff meeting. We know that the school year will be difficult, there will be times that people are tired, and the work seems insurmountable. In the schools where the culture is strong, the work seems lighter and the tough times seem easier.

How can we get the biggest payoff for our investment? What are some small things we can do to inspire teachers and build morale that don’t require much time. How can we turn the little things into big things? Here’s a list to get you started:

#1 Focus on Relationships

Relationships build trust. In my experiences across schools and districts, teachers know the importance and power of a trusting relationships, so they spend time building these relationships with their students. But there isn’t ever time to build relationships with colleagues. Why not give them 5 minutes to build relationships by structuring activities that get teachers talking? A simple activity could be to have them turn to a partner and ask them to share about their summer, discuss their favorite lesson, etc. Then have them introduce their partner to someone else. Understanding the personalities of your colleagues supports productive collaboration. Use the School Reform Initiative, Compass Points activity to help teachers know each other better, by clicking here.

#2 Build on Shared Experiences

People come together when they share similar experiences. Observe a staff room conversation and many times teachers are recounting times that were shared by the group. Why not create these shared experiences for your staff and get to know each other better in the meantime? At the beginning of the year staff meeting have each teacher pick a song that describes their personality, their “walk up song”. Then begin each staff meeting for the rest of the year by playing the song of a staff member as people arrive. Begin the meeting by guessing who’s song is playing. When the teacher is revealed, allow them to “walk up” to the applause of their colleagues.

#3 Remember Their “Why”

Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  This is so important to keep in mind in education. Quality teaching and learning experiences are relevant to students.  It is important for them to know why they are learning what they are learning. It provides motivation and buy in. Teachers are the same way. They find purpose when they are focused on why they entered this profession in the first place: the students.

When you focus on individual student stories and the teachers that inspired that story, you motivate teachers and create buy-in. Begin your staff meeting with a personal story of a single student at your school and how they closed the achievement gap with the help of one of your teachers, or remark about how a student’s chronic absenteeism was improved by a teacher, etc.

#4 Focus on Little Things and They Will Become Big Things

Teaching is often a thankless job with tiring days that can drain the most veteran educator.  It is on those days that the little things are the big things. Hand out a questionnaire at the beginning of your first staff meeting. Collect each staff members favorite candy, favorite school appropriate beverage, their birth date, their favorite office supply, etc. When moral gets low or when a teacher is feeling down, surprise them with their favorite coffee beverage on their desk in the morning, or their favorite afternoon snack. It is a little thing, but for that teacher, it will be a big thing.

You can access the free template of this activity by clicking here.

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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