Positive Culture: Assess your Rituals

by Jill Dunchick

Early spring, the single most disjointed time in the majority of our schools as we balance the administration of standardized state tests, carefully craft the announcement of leadership and teacher changes, prepare to welcome and on-board new team members in roughly two months, and hold the bar for instruction until the end of the current school year. A time that truly tests our ability to emanate fierce positivity and complete ease with the number of balls we are juggling.

It is during these intense times that many of us find joy and comfort in the rituals we have established to keep our culture strong and our school functioning “normally.”  Walking into a third grade classroom and seeing Nadia smiling as she annotates her reading using the “fancy pens” or listening to the true joy exploding from Mr. Lyle as he shouts out Ms. Johns for bringing him lunch when he had to emergency cover Ms. Bell’s class so she could meet with Jordan’s mom, can be all it takes to let you know that you are doing something right.

Rituals set the tone for how your team and students interact with each other and essentially develop the ways of being and engaging that become your school culture.  To keep your rituals current, aligned with your values, and a positive force in your school culture, you should take time each year to assess your rituals using a simple process that involves adults and students.

  1. Make a One Pager for each of the following:
    • Leadership Team Rituals
    • Teacher/Team Rituals
    • Student Rituals
  2. Set aside 15 minutes total during a normal meeting time:
    1. Leadership Team Meeting
    2. Afternoon PD
    3. Morning Meeting, Advisory, Homeroom
  3. Have each person code every ritual on their respective one pager (ensure this is done in silence to maintain the integrity of the process):
    • √- keep ritual
      • Note the value it aligns to and the positive impact it brings to the organization
    • X- delete ritual
      • Note the negative impact it currently has
    • O- not sure of the purpose of this ritual
      • Note if you can align it to a value
  4. Collect all surveys and determine if you want to:
    • Share results during the time frame listed, or
    • Compile and share results at a later time

The following examples illustrate the benefits of assessing rituals often, and with an open mind. In the first case, a well-established and oft-used ritual is overhauled completely and in the second, a routine ritual is tweaked to better fit the audience at hand:

Look at the ball, cup right hand and slap ball while holding it with left hand, slap ball with right hand against the ground, pick ball up with left hand, take four steps back from line, look at net, toss ball with left hand and swing with right hand.  That was my daughter’s volleyball serve for the 2016-2017 season.  This is the ritual that produced several “aces” and caused the other team to let out a sign of relief when the ball went sailing out of bounds or into the net. On Sunday, April 23, 2017, Olivia adamantly stated that this ritual would be replaced for the 2018 season as her final serve went into the net and tied the final match at 27-27, with the eventual loss at 27-29. Rituals can get comfortable, but true progress always involves change.

A strong Community Celebration that underwent slight changes from University Preparatory School’s flagship Arapahoe Campus to better serve the population of the school’s Steele Street campus, is their Weekly Community Meeting. Note the use of Spanish – “One School, One Vision. Una Escuela, Una Vision.” – a slight change in the original chant to ensure inclusivity within the U Prep- Steele Street community.

As your focus begins to shift from closing out the 2016-2017 school year and opening the 2017-2018 school year, consider focusing on the rituals that drive the following areas of your school culture:

  1. Shout outs for Adults and Students (daily, weekly)
  2. Morning Huddle/Meetings (daily, weekly)
  3. Values Celebrations for Adults and Students (monthly, quarterly, semester)
  4. Academic Celebrations for students (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semester)

This sample template maps out a few rituals you can implement during the calendar year. Remember, these practices set the tone for student and adult culture. It’s important to get them right, and equally important to keep evolving.