Excerpted from John Eick’s presentation at the recent Learning for Living Culture Summit in Auburn, CA. Now the Executive Director of Westlake Charter School, John began his career as a volunteer drama director and eventually served as a principal and director of instructional technology.

How does a leader turn a school culture from where it is to where they want it to be? Start with these questions:

What is the current reality?

What will it take to change?

What is the desired state?

Once you have defined your current reality and your desired state, you can outline the path to change. Focus on the following three steps to inspire collective efficacy.


A group’s shared belief in their collective
power to produce specific changes.

1. Start by Finding the Bright Spots (current reality):

Begin staff meetings with celebrations: if a teacher is doing something good for students, announce it and celebrate it! Any little thing! Ask staff members to give each other “shout-outs” for the positive things they witness each other doing. John saw this culture of celebration spread from the adults on campus celebrating each other to the students also celebrating the adults as well as each other. Be intentional about shout-outs: celebrate what you wish to perpetuate.


2. Script the Critical Moves (change)

What do you want to focus on at your school? Pride? Achievement? Core values? What will you celebrate to move your school community closer to that focus? The point of celebration is to move your school in a way that communicates the idea that you are all on the same team, working towards the same goal. Create clear messages of celebration and use those messages as an ad campaign at your school, for your school.

Write a script to use as a tool to equip yourself and your colleagues with a consistent message. Take time to brainstorm with staff about specific behaviors and actions that support and affirm this message so that the “script” is not mere lip service. And remember, teachers listen to teachers, students listen to students. When well-respected, well-known teachers and students share a message, their endorsement carries a lot of weight!

SWAG = Something We All Get

3. Embrace SWAG as a Way to Point to Your Destination (desired state)

In the school environment, SWAG should always be Something We All Get vs. prizes for only those who excel. Visuals make people feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves and part of a group celebration. Find inexpensive ways to make SWAG a real and fun part of branding school culture:

  • buttons
  • fatty pencils
  • videos featuring students as celebrity endorsers
  • original songs and art made by students
  • bandanas (they cost far less than t-shirts or hoodies!)


4. Aim to break down the barriers between the groups (students, teachers, staff) at your school and let them know that what they long to see in each other does exist.

Teachers do care, and they do want to have fun at school. Students are capable of great work and they do want to respect the adults on campus. Find every way possible to draw attention to any example of these truths being lived out and celebrate them!


Learn more about John’s philosophies and work at www.learnwithjohneick.com and follow him on Twitter: @John_Eick.