Updated: Jan 6, 2019
As part of the Project Culture Shift project through the Google Innovator Program, one of my goals has been to help develop a culture of innovation in my district. At the building level we are in the process of developing our Professional Learning Community, drafting our mission, vision, and commitments. We also took a building-wide culture survey at the beginning of the year to collect baseline information.
In working through The 5 Whys and trying to determine why we weren't as ready for a culture of innovation as we would like to be, we noticed that the foundational piece of gratitude was often missing from our school culture. Teachers didn't feel appreciated for what they were already doing so many of them didn't feel like they wanted to take on more.
Additionally, staff in some buildings did not participate in our seasonal "Tech Challenges." These challenges are opportunities for participants to learn more about integrating specific apps, extensions, websites, or technology ideas into the curriculum. In return, teachers can earn coupons for things like "Jeans Day" or "Leave at the Last Bell."
Due to these two factors, we decided to pause the usual "Tech Challenge" in a few buildings in December and added a series of thank you notes via a district-wide email campaign.
Each day during "The 12 Days of Teachmas," staff members received an email with a thank you note from a school board member, administrator, or community member (Mayor, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Education Foundation President, and Main Street Director).
We created a district email account called "Chilli Hornets" named after our town and school mascot to email the notes of gratitude. We added a signature tagline reminding recipients to use our district hashtag when posting to social media channels.
While we're still in the midst of our gratitude campaign, we feel that it has been well received. Going forth, we'll use this new mascot-themed email account to continue to help build a positive school culture. We'll send out encouraging messages, highlight risk takers, and share technology ideas. These will help lay the foundation for innovation.
What we would do differently next time
This time, we asked the Mayor, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Main Street Director, and Education Foundation President to help us write thank you notes. Next time, we would also reach out to a broader representation, including our State Representative, Senior Center Coordinator, Chief of Police, and YMCA Director.
If we have access to a color printer, it would be ideal to print color versions of the thank you notes to display in each building rather than the black and white versions we used this year.
We would plan further ahead. The idea came at the end of November so we needed a quick turnaround from participants.
We didn't want the email campaign associated with a specific person so we created the "Chilli Hornets" account. While this made it official, it also made it difficult to get a feeling for the reception of the project. Typically, when a building or district email goes out, many will use the "reply all" feature to add positive comments. Since no one knew who the account was managed by, they didn't respond in the same way as they would typically have responded.
How we'll check the growth of our school culture
Staff will complete the end-of-year culture survey for our building.
During faculty meetings, we'll continue to ask staff what they feel is going well and to share ideas for what could be improved. Past projects to promote positive school culture have been identified as strong points. We'll listen for feedback on this specific campaign.
How do you build a positive school culture?