"It's Our Culture!"
As the superintendent of a high-achieving school district, I am often asked, "What sets Okemos Public Schools apart? What would you say is the reason for your exceptional achievement?" As I reflected on all the possible reasons for our success, I came to the conclusion that it's our culture! It seems we are all on the same bus, including staff, parents/guardians, students and community…together! We are all committed to "educating with excellence" and accept responsibility for our role in pursuing our mission.
In their book, Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership, Terrence E. Deal and Kent D. Peterson (1999) support the concept that culture is a critical component in successful organizations. They state, "The culture of an enterprise plays the dominant role in exemplary performance. Highly respected organizations have evolved a shared system of informal folkways and traditions that infuse work with meaning, passion and purpose" (pg. 1).
In a bit less of an academic discussion, The Energy Bus , Jon Gordon (2007), utilizes the analogy of a bus to emphasize that positive people, positive communication, positive interactions and positive work and team cultures produce positive results. Obviously, I thought a "school" bus would be most appropriate for us!
The Rules of the Energy Bus:
We are the drivers of our bus! While we work together to promote the success of all students, each of us takes responsibility for our role in educating with excellence. We take responsibility for our continuous improvement so we can reach our destination.
Desire, vision and focus move our bus in the right direction! Embedded in our culture is a clear, shared mission focused on student learning and supported by high expectations for all students and for ourselves. Our shared commitment, vision and focus move our bus in the right direction along our journey and closer to our destination of excellence.
Our bus is fueled with positive energy! For most of us, we recognize that we may not always be able to control events, but we can certainly control how we perceive and respond to them. We see challenges as opportunities to reflect, to learn and to create future successes. Those on our bus assume good intentions, possessing high levels of trust, faith, enthusiasm, purpose and joy as we inspire and support others to perform at their best. We remain true to our core set of beliefs and values, not allowing others to dictate our path or hijack our bus!
We invite others on our bus who share our vision for the road ahead! We are a collaborative group that recognizes and values the essential components of our high achieving district. Promoting and sustaining a culture of collaboration and excellence, truly benefits our students, our families and our employees. We encourage others who share our vision and focus to join us on the journey.
We cannot waste our energy on those who don't want to get on the bus! We accept that we can't control the perceptions of others or the direction of their bus. Therefore, we continue to give our energy to those who are on our bus! Our energy will go to those who have positive beliefs and assumptions about the potential of students and staff
No energy vampires are allowed on our bus! Being reflective for the purpose of problem solving and improvement is an essential component of our success. However, negativity drains the energy out of an organization, detracting from our vision and our focus and resulting in decreased motivation and commitment of other passengers. Our positive energy and vision continues to be greater than anyone's and everyone's negativity.
Our enthusiasm attracts more passengers and energizes them during the ride! We are enthusiastic and passionate about the Okemos Public Schools, our rich sense of history, our tradition of excellence, our shared purpose, our collaborative relationships and our partnerships with home. Our enthusiasm and commitment to excellence attracts both families and staff to be part of our school community.
We love and care about our passengers! We establish genuinely caring and respectful relationships with each other. We make every effort to bring out the best in our students and in each other, discovering and utilizing strengths and recognizing everyone's value.
We drive with purpose! We have a strong, shared purpose for our journey: "Together, educating with excellence and inspiring learners for life." Our focus and purpose is to serve all of our children well, recognizing their individuality and promoting their success!
We are enjoying the ride! We will continue to celebrate our successes, each other and the culture we have sustained throughout the Okemos Public Schools. We remain committed to continuous improvement, recognizing that we have not arrived at our destination, but we are certainly enjoying the journey!
Deal and Peterson (1999) validate the link of a strong, positive culture to "educating with excellence". In fact, Deal and Peterson confirm that organizations with strong cultures that implement evidence based practices will outperform their counterparts. In other words, high performing schools have a positive, focused culture.
That's us! So, it's our culture that sets us apart from other schools. We have created and maintained a positive, collaborative culture with high expectations of ourselves and of others, with a shared vision and unrelenting focus and commitment to the success of all students. We are on the same bus and I am so grateful to be on this bus with you! As you know, our destination is excellence with an "unknown" estimated time of arrival, after all it is a journey! Our departure time is now, so let's continue to enjoy the ride!
Deal, T.E. and Peterson, K.D. Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
Gordon, Jon. The Energy Bus. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007.