I was recently at a track and cross-country coaches clinic in Lombard, Illinois.
The topic that a majority of the coaches presenting mentioned as a key to their team’s success was culture.
Specifically, these coaches described importance of building a positive culture before achieving great results. Building a positive culture is at least as important for academic results as athletic achievements.
Why should we really care about building a positive culture?
What does a positive culture look like?
How do we improve it?
The reasons why a coach or teacher should care about culture should be obvious. Your class would be more enjoyable for you and your students. You’d be laying the groundwork for the results you and your administrators and community all want for your students.
A positive culture is something that must happen before you see results in academics or athletics.
How To Improve Culture
Two ingredients are key in forming that positive culture that will get you the results you want and your students deserve. One is a long term focus on your classroom and for your students. The other is authentic caring for your students.
Long Term Focus
Students and athletes are ambassadors
Every single student or athlete you work could be an ambassador. Actually, they already are.
Students are always talking to each other. At some point they are telling brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, cousins, their parents, yes even their followers on social medias about your class or team. This is not hypothetical. It is already happening.
Don’t freak out. Take advantage of this. Let social proof be your ally.
Believe in your students and athletes. Empower them. Show them how to be the best version of themselves that they can be, even when they don’t see it. Be patient with them. Be prepared for them.
Over time these students will spread a powerful and positive message for you. You will have students joining your team or entering your classroom who have been warmed up for you. They will already have been told that your team or classroom is a safe and fun place to grow. This snowballs and makes your role much easier and more fun.
The opposite is also true. They may be told it’s a horrible place which makes your job infinitely harder…and less fun.
What is best for students in the long run?
It also works out that turning your students into positive ambassadors is good for them in the long run. Believe in them. Connect what you do in your class with the real world.
Including timeless values as part of your team values or class values (being kind, believing in themselves, working hard, setting lofty goals, having a plan) is what is best for your students in the long run. They will know and remember this.
What Does Authentic Caring Mean?
Authentic caring for your students means you really care about them deep down. You really want the best for them. You can fake caring for a little while but in the long run your students are going to know.
I know the coaches who presented at the ITCCCA clinic mentioned above cared about their student athletes.
They wouldn’t have had their consistent successes and results if they didn’t.
Their students, at some level, would have detected that they were frauds. These coaches cared deeply. They wanted success for their student athletes at a deep level. Their students knew this.
Their students likely became their ambassadors and their programs’ successes snowballed. I don’t believe their is any way they could have faked their way through this. Kids are too smart.
To get students to buy in and know we authentically care tell them the truth. Tell them that you believe in them. But also tell them when they are going adrift.
None of this is in your curriculum. None of this is in your teacher training in college. But your words must match up with your beliefs
Your students and athletes will follow your lead. Modeling is an amazing technique. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal. Kindness, growth, being prepared, setting lofty goals, etc. should be. How are you modeling that in your class?
What if you told your students and athletes you wanted to be better and then laid out some plans to do so? Makes it a lot harder for them to not doing the same when you are leading the way. This takes some humility but you are the leader and you doing this first is incredibly powerful.
Again, you are the leader. That means you go first.
Your body language matters.
As mentioned in a previous post, 93% of our communication is nonverbal. We could pretend this isn’t reality but it is.
You already are sending nonverbal messages to your students and athletes every day.
What are they? How can we optimize them to be positive? To match our message?
Jennifer Gonzalez also hit on all of these points in a recent (and fantastic) post also hits on a number of these.
Stand tall. Smile. Face your students. Look them in the eye. Stand wide.
This body languages conveys openness, honesty, warmth, trustworthiness, and strength.
Most importantly, you want your body language to match up with your positive actions and positive words. If you can’t look your students in the face when telling them you believe in them it won’t only not be as powerful it likely won’t be believed.
If you want your students to feel strong in their pursuit of lofty goals but you talking to the side of them with weak posture you aren’t really selling your message very well.
Picture yourself standing tall and your body and stance wide delivering a powerful message to your students vs. being hunched over and narrow. Your message is more powerful, going to reach more students, and match your goals more if it is delivered powerfully.
Knowing these body language tricks is key but consistently implementing them will amplify your message.
Training plans and curriculum are important. Academic and athletic goals are important.
But they come after you get your culture moving in the right direction first.
That positive culture is possible in every classroom and on every team. It starts with two basic ingredients that can’t be faked or rushed: a leader with a long term focus and an authentic belief in their students and what is possible.