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Will your school culture withstand a crisis?

Whilst chatting with School Leaders over the last few weeks, I often get into a conversation about how the year has started for their school. For the large part, I hear about lots of positives. That’s nice to hear, especially after the last few years. Despite all the good stuff, they also tell me about the workload and teacher shortage challenge. That’s a real worry.

We all want to make a great start to Term 1 as we know that it potentially sets us up to be great for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, a smooth start to the school year doesn’t happen for every school. Only last week, a principal talked to me about the demoralising start to his term. It didn’t just have an impact on him; it had a negative effect on the whole school community.

I won’t go into details today, but a quick summary is that a few issues unfolded on the first day of school. The biggest of the lot, yes, you guessed it, was a student management issue that kicked off in the holidays between two families and spilled into the school grounds on day one. And then the media got involved.  

The issue wasn’t even school related, but the school ground was the common meeting place where all parties were together. It was the first opportunity for a face-to-face encounter, and no longer could people hide behind their screens.

He described it to me as a ‘crisis’.

At some stage, every school will be faced with these moments. They’re inevitable.

When schools are impacted by and respond to a crisis, they generally fit into one of three categories.

  1. Struggling schools are destroyed by crisis. It sets them back, and it has a significant flow-on effect. Unfortunately, the wider school community blames the school and holds them accountable. It often results in negative publicity.
  2. Good schools will survive a crisis. They manage to get through, but only just.
  3. Great schools are improved by a crisis. It’s a learning opportunity. The community trusts that the actions and the response is warranted. In many ways, the community protects the image of the school.

The difference between the above often comes down to the school’s culture. The stronger the culture, the more positive the response is to the crisis from all stakeholders.

So, where does your school fit? More importantly, where do you want your school to fit? What’s the work you’re doing around strengthening your culture?

There are no programs to manage a crisis, and it’s not just about what’s written in your policy. It’s about the behaviour of the staff, the parents and the students and how they respond, unite, reflect and improve. It’s about culture.

In these moments, we need to keep reminding ourselves that we don’t just learn from an experience. We learn from reflecting on the experience.

And for the record, this school was improved by the crisis that faced them.


Check out other articles Simon has written here.