Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Does Your School Have a “Collective Identity?”

Originally published on January 1, 2014 (NASSP)

A few months back, I conducted a workshop with a group of high school administrators on the topic of “Collective Attitude of the School.” There were seven administrators present. To start the workshop, I asked each of them to tell us something about themselves that had nothing to do with education, and that I would not impose any time restrictions.  I asked each of them the question, “Who are you?” As we went around the table, each of the administrators told us “their story” which each of us found to be quite interesting. It was evident that each of them enjoyed sharing their stories.

I then followed up with the same question, but this time in the context of their roles as school leaders. We went around the table and each of the administrators described who they were within the realm of school leadership.  Once again, their answers were rather interesting if not intriguing.  It was clear that each of the administrators had a definite identity relative to their roles as leaders of the school.

Now, I was ready for the big question; the real question.  It was actually the same question once again – “Who are you?” – but not as individuals and not as educators this time.  I wanted to hear them express who they were as a school.  In other words, the question became, “As a school, who are you?”  I then told them that unlike the previous two questions, I did not want them to answer in the room we were located in. I wanted to interview them separately and privately so that they could not hear each other’s responses.  When we came back to the room, I shared their responses from the notes that I took. Although this exercise was time-consuming (5 minutes with each administrator), it was unavoidably necessary because as I shared the responses, it was clear that each of them had a different perspective on the identity of the school.  As I explained to them, this was problematic because if we had the rest of the staff present, chances were excellent that they too would have differing perspectives on the identity of the school, which they agreed.  Our conclusion then was the realization that the school was in the midst of an identity crisis.  Beyond the name of the school, they really did not know who they were.  They therefore had no solid foundation to stand upon relative to a grasp of who they were as a school. I asked them the question, “How do you move this school forward if you have not yet determined nor established an identity for your school beyond it’s name? This led to a very lively yet anxious discussion over the sudden realization of this reality.

As leaders of secondary schools, it is absolutely imperative that you engage your staff in this same discussion toward creating and defining an identity for your school.  When there is consensus relative to “who we are,” the probability that the school moves forward down the same path increases exponentially because the development of an identity and eventually a “brand” becomes highly intentional, deliberate and purposeful as opposed to something we hope occurs organically which has a very low likelihood.

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