How to Move the Dial on Culture

January 20, 2023 Hans Mundahl

photo of a group of school children joining idea brain light bulb together standing in circle looking at glowing lamp studio shot on grey background

It's relatively straightforward to move the dial on a new academic program. The academic dean takes point, department chairs help, and input from teachers is solicited. Likewise, it’s not too complicated to update an enrollment tool like the website or viewbook: get buy in at the leadership level, put it in the budget, and hire a great vendor.

But how do you move the dial on school culture? 

That's a question we discussed at one of our head of school meetups. Here are a few takeaways from that conversation that might be useful if this is something you're wrestling with at your school!

Be The Change

Living the behavior you'd like to see is a powerful way to influence change. Hope your school can be more reflective? Engage in some reflection during a meeting. Want your school to be more friendly? Start a tradition of shaking hands with students when they enter your classroom. If you're a head of school or division head, keep an eye out for adults or children in the school who naturally demonstrate the behavior you're looking for and elevate them. Is there a scramble for new office space every summer? Put positive and charismatic adults in offices that are closer to the front of the building where they'll be seen and heard. 

Better Together

It’s hard to do it all by yourself, and you have plenty of things you need to do in your meetings. But take some time in meetings—whether in a small group or together with the faculty and staff—to talk about the way you'd like your school to feel. By coming to a shared understanding, you're more likely to affect change. When I first started at a school, I struggled to enforce the student dress code because I didn't understand the why behind it. After we came together as a faculty to discuss why we had a dress code, the kind of environment we were trying to create, and how we hoped it felt to be a learner at the school, I was much better equipped to have these conversations with students.

Measure It

Can you measure culture? It might be hard, but I think you can. Are you tired of adults who are naysayers? Set meeting norms that allow for critical feedback but require pointing out a solution along with a problem.

Are folks fearful of critical feedback? Create norms around how to offer feedback first. Worried about burnout? Why not hold a competition to see which department has the lowest number of unused vacation and personal days at the end of the year?

How do you move the dial on culture? Let us know at the next heads meetup!

About the Author

Hans Mundahl

Hans Mundahl is the Director of Professional Development at EMA. He has been an educator since 1995 when he first stepped into the classroom as a Fulbright exchange teacher in the former East Germany. Since then Hans has done just about every job possible at an independent school from teacher to administrator. Most recently Hans was the head of school at a K-8 day school in central New Hampshire. Hans’s spare time is usually spent with his family but he is also passionate about the outdoors and protecting the environment.

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