People System First, Educational System Second

People System First, Educational System Second

Written by: Brian Knight

December 4, 2020

Leaders create culture; culture drives behavior; and that behavior creates an experience for others. As leaders, we must understand this. Whether you are a teacher in a classroom, an administrator in a building, a coach, or any other role in our school, you are responsible for creating a culture that leads to behaviors to create the experience we want for those we serve. We are all leaders, and the culture we create is the most vital part of our work. Positive cultures create positive engagement in all the right places. During a wacky school year in the midst of a global pandemic, I think many of us have struggled to garner the engagement we want and need. My school is currently in a hybrid learning model, with about a third of our students choosing a fully virtual model. The two-thirds attending school are left to learn at home three days a week and make connections at school on a much more limited basis than we are used to. This has left many of us feeling more isolated than ever in the past. And now, we are moving to a fully virtual environment until the middle of January. As in the quote I used to start the post—Isolation is the enemy of excellence. In our schools, I see the isolation for our staff impacting us twofold. New structures, policies, and procedures have created greater isolation for the individual, leading to the isolation of our mission. Classrooms and schools are communities. We start on day one building connections, expectations, and kindness to work together effectively for the benefit of all. But, teaching and leading in our schools can be isolating. We can feel alone as we try to serve our students and take on challenges on a daily basis. As we take on the new challenges that seem to arise daily, this year has brought us a whole new set of problems to try to solve. Whether that is leading in a new school structure, building an online curriculum, or learning from home, we cannot go through this alone. We have to work to bring people together, to take on the challenges as a group. In isolation, we cannot see our own blind spots. We need perspective, and a connection to others is the only way to find that perspective. Learning is always better done together. We must take care of our people (first and foremost) before we start working through strategies to solve problems. We do not need another strategy; we need connection. We need engagement with others. Isolation of the individual then leads to isolation of the mission. A school’s mission must be implemented everywhere. While a leader builds culture, the culture is put into motion one person at a time. When our mission happens in pockets, it makes it no more important than the poster on the wall. We all own a piece of our school’s culture, and we must fully engage in that mission. It must be at the heart of every behavior. When our mission is isolated, our behaviors will be inconsistent, and the experience we create for our students will suffer. The environment may be different, yet the mission is still the same. We are here to serve students. Regardless of the challenges, providing our students with the emotional and academic supports they need must still be the first priority. Every behavior must align with that belief. To garner the engagement we want, we must pay close attention to the culture we are creating.

teacher high fiving a student at her level
  1. Are we staying true to our mission?
  2. Are we putting students’ needs over our content?
  3. Are we changing our ways to create an engaging experience for our students?
  4. Or, are we getting lost in the struggle and letting all the things we cannot control overtake the experience we want to create for our students?

Leaders create culture, culture drives our behaviors, and behaviors create an experience for those we serve. What experience are you working to create this year?



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  • Brian Knight has 17 years of experience, all of which he has served the Perry Township Schools Community. Brian served as an assistant principal and chemistry teacher at Perry Meridian High School and then as the principal at Southport Middle School. He is currently serving his fifth year as the principal and lead learner at Southport High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Brian has been recognized as Principal of the Year for his school district in 2015 and 2019 and represented District 7 as the Indiana Association of School Principals Middle Principal of the Year in 2015. Brian also serves on the INeLearn Leadership Cadre for the Indiana Department of Education and is a board member for the Indiana Association of School Principals. Brian lives on the south side of Indianapolis with his wife and four children.

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