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Dealing With Cliques That Destroy Our Culture

When I talk with teachers, that one line is the best way to sum up School Culture is that it’s the way we do things around here. But, if we want to be more explicit, School Culture can be best described behaviourally. And I’m not just talking about the behaviour of our students and parents. A big driver of culture is the way our staff behave.

Reflect on the staff at your school for a minute. Are there inconsistencies within your team? Are there cliques at your school?

Despite all our efforts to be cohesive and on the same page, our school will always contain variances in behaviours and attitudes. If not worked through, these variances can lead to the creation of subcultures that may collide with the overarching school culture….and they can be extremely damaging. The question is, how powerful or influential are the subcultures within your school, and what can we do about them?

Firstly, let’s get clear on a subculture. It’s an identifiable sub-group within the main group that differentiate themselves from the larger team. Their behaviour is often evidenced by different beliefs and expectations of certain areas within the school, such as student management or discipline. Subcultures also emerge by employment status. It could be a tight-knit group of teachers or support staff who rally together or the office team that keeps to themselves. All of these create an ‘us and them’ mentality.

When you see a sub-culture forming, what can you do about it?

Shaping a culture and dealing with behaviour is everyone’s responsibility, not just the Principal. If it’s happening in your team, you can do something about it, and it doesn’t need to be confrontational.

As the saying goes, ‘the best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining’. Similarly, it’s much easier to deal with sub-cultures or cliques forming before a crisis emerges.

Irrelevant of the timing, try these six steps to get you started….

  1. Get in early – the earlier you see unwanted behaviours become more than a one-off and regular patterns emerge, it’s the best time to step in. In saying that, it’s never too late; now is as good a time as ever.
  2. Start Small – Get super clear on the behaviours shaping the break-away group and when you deal with them, starting with one at a time. Don’t expect to see all behaviours change immediately, so pick a behaviour that provides a good return on investment. When you see a shift, acknowledge it and start tackling the next one.
  3. Keep the big picture in mind – Although I encouraged a small start, knowing what the big picture looks like is essential. Help others to understand what the over-arching, ideal culture looks like.
  4. One person at a time – Sub-cultures form in pockets across our school with multiple people involved. When dealing with them, work through one person at a time. Look for the influencer and build your coalition around them.
  5. Focus on common ground – Another way to offset groups forming is to reinforce the common ground you share and stay focussed on it. In many cases, you’ll want a similar thing but have a different idea of how to get there.
  6. Informal first – Ask questions, talk it through and be open to learning. Avoid formalising it by adding it as an agenda item to your next meeting or sending a formal, impersonal email to all staff about your expectations. Formalising it could have the opposite effect.

The key to breaking down any sub-culture forming is to move away from compliance and towards connection. We want to create a culture where people care about each other and look out for others. It’s a culture built where people go up and beyond for their teammates, irrelevant of their role in the school.   

Check out other articles Simon has written here.