Sunday, January 28, 2018

Swagger and School Culture

Every week like most principals I have my version of the Monday Memo, Weekly report, or other piece that tries to get everyone on the same page in our school. Each week I do an 'Instructional Focus' that is usually some discussion on instructional initiatives or big ideas. As I've said many times, Culture is the most important thing about a school. If it's not right, supportive, and uplifting then nothing else good will happen consistently. Below is a piece I put together for our school the week after an arduous audit by our state department. They were here for 4 days and the prep work was over 100 hours and many people involved. I share at as you might want to do something similar with your staff. In cases of mentioning actual people's name, I've redacted them as I did not ask their permission to use them.




Instructional Focus:  Swagger and the Top of the Mountain






This week i’m not going to talk about instruction, or culture, behavior, or processes. I’m going to talk about swagger.

We’re doing some really good things here. I’ll say what I often say: we’re not perfect, we have a lot of work to do, and we know we still have systems and issues to fix. We know we’re often tied by red tape, or overbearing policy, bad laws, lack of funding, or confronted with student/ parent situations that can defy logic. We’re down custodians, sometimes our kids don’t act right, and we can be inconsistent on things as a staff. Great, we spend a lot of time working on those things and finding solutions.

Step back a moment and take stock of what we have going on here on campus. We’ve made some awesome gains in terms of culture, climate, assessment scores, and perception in both the city and school district. We know this. I’ve praised you often for our progress, and more importantly you praise each other.

So let’s talk about swagger. If you will remember a few weeks back I sent out some links for the Hilliard Lyons award and the Unsung heroes award (go to the links above and nominate someone, right now). I did this because we’re doing some great things here and folks need recognition. You can be humble for yourself, but part of my role is to celebrate you and the progress you make for students. With that comes some swagger, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Swagger: walk or behave in a very confident and typically arrogant or aggressive way.

Let’s just knock off the last part and focus on the confident part of the definition. There is nothing wrong with some confidence and pride in the quality of the work here. Remember our priorities, one of which is Retain and support high quality people. You can’t do that without a little swagger. Our brand is becoming strong. Our brand is becoming what our mission asks for: a place where people want to be, students, staff, and parents. With that is the large “I want to transfer in” list from last year, and the folks that seek to come to our building. This is a good thing.

I would suggest having now navigated a MASSIVE hiring influx, so much change, a deep KDE audit, and all the other perils we have overcome, you comport yourselves with a bit a swagger. For the meeker, or more humble of us you’re probably still a bit resistant to this idea, so let me convince you.


- We serve any kid who walks in. From the 34 on the ACT, to the student who has bounced around 11 High schools, is 18 and has 6 credits. 

- We are overcrowded at 123%, projected to be over 2,200 next year at 126%. We will be #3 in the district behind Lassiter and Farnsley

- We have done all of those things I said above, and more.

- We have been through a deep KDE audit. That is nothing to scoff at.
- We have created a culture that people talk about and try to emulate. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn good.
- We serve 7 grades. So does another school, but they pick their kids (no shade on them, but it’s true)
- We are the largest, the most staffed school in the district

- People are looking at us to see what we are doing, not what is happening to us. Big difference.


How you approach this swagger is important. Not from a place of arrogance, but from pride. Also be mindful of your place in the swagger forward.

If you are in your first year, or first couple of years you have a role in the swagger. You have been through the fire and are still here, and you’re going to GREAT when all is said and done. You might go home and wonder why the heck you come in, but trust me, it’s better year two, so much better (ask Elaine Zhou and Camilla Rojas). You have joined a school that is on it’s way to being ELITE, and you get to be a part of that growth. That’s good stuff.

If you have been here a bit, mid career, a few more years in then you have been through some ups and downs and can say that you persevered, practiced resilience and were here for the students through thick and thin. Good on you. Wear that with pride. You are the backbones of our growth, and the up and coming leaders who move our kids to better places. That pride is hard earned.

If you are a veteran. Comstock, Sanning, Beamer, Lowe, Shoulders to name a few (but not all of course) then you get to downright saunter down the hallways with swagger. You have earned stripes, admiration, and the subtle head nod of respect in our hallways. Conduct that swagger with pride well earned.

If you are a district support person (I’m looking at you Shory, Aberli, Hartstern, McGrath, Munoz, and many others) who have dug into the work here, you get a bit of that swagger as well. Your contributions matter to the work here, and people appreciate district support that moves kids forward.


Why write about this? Because everyone likes being a part of something bigger, better, with an air of special about it. We interviewed a guy a few weeks back who said he coached (insert a school name here) and literally said You know what that's about, its X. with an air of pride and swagger that could not be denied. We’re earning that here. So own it.


If you play for the Patriots right now (sorry Pats haters, I hate them as well) you can’t deny they have an air of: “You can’t beat us. You won’t beat us. That isn’t even on the table.”

If you are a NAVY Seal or Army Delta Force your reputation precedes you and people KNOW that you are the creme of the crop.

If you are Dan Gable (look him up, he has a cool story) then there is a level of mystique around you because you are unbeatable, untouchable, and it’s not a question of who will beat him, instead it was “‘When will he retire?”.

If you were a part of NASA mission control when they touched down on the moon, there is no greater swagger in the known universe (fact).

I can keep going on with examples, but I think you get the point. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something ‘extra’. Who doesn’t want to be a #PurpleCow (another thing to look up, again, worth it). That’s what we have here, right in front of us. Embrace it fully. Hold that head up high, and when people say “You work at Moore?” You give them that look. That confident look with some swagger, and they know that something cool is going on here.

I used to tell me wrestlers all the time, and i’ve told athletes here. I had the fortunence to be a state champion in individual competition and on state champ teams. There is NOTHING sweeter than standing at the top of the mountain and looking down. Not born out of arrogance, or joy in defeating others, but born out of going through the crucible and coming out the other side stronger and more resilient. For our school this is defined as becoming the school we can become. Being the school where students want to be, staff wants to work, and parents/community are proud of. We’re getting there, step by step. Now it’s time to have some swagger in our step. Below I have made a helpful infographic to aid me in this analogy:




We are climbing that mountain. Right. Now.

Don’t mistake that I am going off the deep end in my comparisons. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting there. The level of student experience and outcomes is only increasing here. It will only get better if we keep that mentality. We will be the school we can become.

Lastly i’ll point to a wise man who lead our United States some time ago. Read his words and think about it in the context of our building.

We are the doers.

We have the faces marred by dust and sweat, and blood.

We are valiant, we strive for good deeds, and a worth cause.

We are neither timid, nor cold.

We work our rears off for our students and have a mentality of becoming the school we want to become.

We have earned a bit of swagger.

To that end, as a small token of our progress we’ve created a Swagger t-shirt for the staff. See Tim Gentry and he’ll take care of you, they should be in by friday this week. Wear it with pride, because quite frankly you deserve to.


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