Culturize by Jimmy Casas is a book that has practical advice for school leaders on how to create a school culture that is positive for students and teachers. Mr. Casas spent many years as a building principal working in schools that were challenging. His book offers an easy to understand framework for how to achieve a positive culture in your school. At the same time, there are suggestions, activities, and questions that can help you start your journey to a more positive school culture. This book review is different for me because I am going to get more granular with the content of the book…I think it is that important.
A Ridiculously Simplified Overview
The main gist of Culturize is the idea that everyone in a school must take responsibility for the school culture, “As school teachers and leaders, it is our responsibility to prohibit average from becoming our standard. We must be willing to be vigilant in examining our school cultures through the eyes of students and staff” (p.4). It is worthwhile to deconstruct this quote by asking yourself a few questions. First, how are you allowing average to creep into your school? It is easy to recognize what seems like small things to fester in the school without addressing them. Enough of these “festering’s” will lead to a negative school culture that students and staff do not feel comfortable. Second, Are you willing to look at the culture through the eyes of the students and staff? Showing empathy for the position of the students and teachers leads to a greater understanding of their hopes, dreams, challenges, and perspective.
Mr. Casas has four Core principles that he believes lead to a more positive culture:
Core Principle #1 Be a Champion for Students
Core Principle #2 Expect Excellence
Core Principle #3 Carry the Banner
Core Principle #4 Be a Merchant of Hope.
Core Principle #1
Be a champion for students means that you are a champion for all students…not just the ones that are compliant and easy. In many ways, the students that are prickly and difficult need adults to be their champion even more. The author discusses the 3 C’s that help builds a positive relationship with students. The first is connection…make a meaningful connection with a student. I once worked with a school that listed all of their students on big sheets of paper in the faculty room. The school asked teachers to place a mark by all of the students they had a connection with outside of their classroom. As a result of the findings, the school asked teachers to create clubs based on their interests and made time in the school day for these clubs to meet. Creating a connection was the priority for this school.
Core Principle #2
Core Principle #3 centers on what school leaders can do to instill a culture of excellence in their school. It is imperative to note that being a school leader does not go hand in hand with a job title. A teacher, a teacher aid can be just as much as a leader as the person sitting in the principal’s office with the title “principal”. One of his suggestions for creating a culture of excellence that leaders must own their own moral. He offers five suggestions to take charge of your district moral issues.
- Be an effective communicator…let people in your organization know what you stand for.
- Build trust…the best way to do this is by, “…not taking things personally, by not becoming defensive, and by not trying to offer an explanation (or excuse) every time you hear something you don’t like”.
- Don’t place blame…if something bad happens or results aren’t where you want them to be, take responsibility for them, create a plan to address them, and move on. My Board president has told me multiple times that a mark of a good organization is not that bad things happen (because they will) but how the organization reacts when bad things happen. Good words to live by.
- Be a team builder…create a team atmosphere where people believe everyone is striving for the same goals.
- Follow through…this is summed up (in my opinion) by the phrase, “If you say you’re going to do it…do it!”.
Core Principle #3
This Core principal is summed by the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. The author uses the terms “awfulizer” and “awesomeizer” to make his point.
Core Principle #4
A quote from page 159 in the book is powerful:
“Educators who wish to leave a lasting legacy and their mark on their school community understand that, before they can transform teaching and learning, they must transform their belief systems. Believing that all students can be successful is no longer good enough, especially when our behaviors don’t reflect what we are saying to others. Educators who last in this profession live in the long term versus the short term. They understand that long-term allows them to maintain hope, whereas living in the short term often leads to frustration and giving up. Collectively, we can change the path of students’ lives through our personal interactions with them, whether it be with a genuine smile, a sincere hello, or an intentional conversation to ask them how their day is going. Then take time to pause, listen, and follow up with a caring word of encouragement.”