Cultivating the Culture Code

Over the years, I learned, that when watching an Avengers movie I need to wait until after the credits roll in order to see the true final scenes ~ the ones that whet the appetite of the true fans. Those short but extremely meaningful scenes where the premise for the next installment is dangled in front of us ~ conjuring up possible story lines; even though in some cases it may a year or more before our predictions are confirmed or destroyed.

In demonstrating that learned behavior, after completely consuming “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle, I diligently read the Epilogue. It was there that I met Carson and it was there that the previous 242 pages of print transformed from a brilliant, engaging tale of highly successful groups and how their leaders built culture to the heart of why I even dove into the book in the first place.

Last week, our incoming Director of Education, Mark Fisher, started to tweet out passages, quotes and his reflections from the book. The first one to catch my eye was, “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one” ~ a quote from Sam Rayburn, shared within the first 12 pages of the book.  In admiring good carpenters, I continued to follow the tweets and got excited about what added value this book may have as we continue to cultivate our culture at Sir Arthur Currie.  Thanks to Amazon it arrived within days and I cracked the spine within minutes of its arrival.

Page after page, I was drawn to the stories of leaders, who throughout history all found themselves at a turning point where they needed to create, cultivate or change culture.  I found myself filling the margins with notes, exclamation marks and/or question marks.  Phrases and sentences became underlined once and in some cases twice.  So much of what Coyle penned resonated with my current practice.

Days earlier, I had just mailed personalized summer letters to all of our staff, thanking them for an outstanding year and more importantly acknowledging their dedication and commitment to our school community.  Imagine my surprise when Coyle included a paragraph on “Overdo Thank Yous” sharing that “thank-yous aren’t only expressions of gratitude; they’re crucial belonging cues that generate a contagious sense of safety, connection and motivation”.

As a school, community who experienced an unanticipated population explosion during our first week of school followed by a first year filled with constant construction, constant hiring and constant purchasing we were poised to either come together as strong as any school family or lose ourselves in the never-ending challenges.  “We are all in this together” is a common theme throughout many of the narratives and its one that I’m proud to share epitomizes our SAC Crew.

I loved Meyer’s response to the actions following the breaking of a glass at one of his restaurants. In watching his waiters’ interactions, he was looking for one of two things.  However, what was most important was that their “number one job is to take care of each other”.  When you have created that culture in a school community, anything is possible.

I have been accused of using “Bruynisms” on the odd occasion….smile.  I have a few catchphrases of my own that I tend to rely on. For example, when others ask what is SAC all about?  “Learning, Laughter and Love” roll off my tongue. It doesn’t mean that we’re not working towards a math goal or that we’re not modeling the expected practices. It means that at the heart of EVERYTHING we do, we are always learning, we are always laughing and at the end of the day, we love each other like family. At SAC, we refer to our occasional educators as “Guest educators”.  It makes conversations with students very easy.  “Today, we welcome Ms. Alba as a guest educator. Let’s conduct ourselves like we do when we have a guest in our home”.   I’ve started to refer to bulletin boards as “teaching tackboards”. That one has yet to gain momentum.  However, the catchphrase that I most frequently use is “I can’t help but wonder”.   There is an intentionality and vulnerability in it.  I am truly looking for input and a rich discussion when I lead with that phrase.

Woven throughout each “Ideas for Action” section is the overarching message that words matter. In my margins, I penned that phrase repeatedly.  I relished in reading how some leaders were bold and brazen in sharing their messages, while others were described as quiet and unassuming.  At the end of the day, their team members knew the importance and they led teams to victory.

Needless to say, I found many of the components of “The Culture Code” reaffirming and yet, as is the case with all that I read, it also left me with some additional skills to hone. Listening like a trampoline is bouncing around in my mind as I look towards this upcoming year.



Now, back to Carson and the Avengers.  When all is said and done, as school leaders, we invest time, effort and energy as we learn how to cultivate the culture in a school community for the thousands of Carsons that we are blessed to interact with each and every day. As a result of Coyle’s reflection and putting his words into action, Carson shone in his own way.  That is what is at the heart of all that we do!

Lastly, as for the very final scene in the first Avengers movie ~ maybe it wasn’t about the Shawarma.  Maybe it was about what had just happened to an unlikely group of superheroes who needed to build safety, share vulnerability and establish a purpose.

I would love to know how this book resonated with you?

Come write with me….