My grandfather used to make, of all things, grandfather clocks…I’m talking about full-sized three-foot pendulum, mahogany wood clocks! And they rang every hour on the hour.
Now that I reflect on it, his grandfather clocks were a lot like schools.
Traditional. Bells. Consistent. Pendulums. Sameness every day. Same click, click, ding, dong.
However, sameness is not a bad thing. Like the clocks, sameness provides rituals and habits, and these things shape culture and create organizational efficiency. However, there are contexts where sameness in schools is a “bad thing” – times when sameness can create meaningless work (Read more on Meaningful Work here).
Sameness and Meaningless
His clocks were not the same as any other – they were unique. But they did the same thing over and over. That’s what they were supposed to do. That’s the way clocks have always worked.
This is where the analogy to schools breaks down.
There’s a tendency in schools to study the competition – study the comparison schools. What are they doing? What should we be doing?
Leaders get cool and great ideas from other schools and try to transplant those ideas into their own settings (here’s the danger of buy-in & grand openings). But it rarely gets the school moving in a significant way. Why?
The answer is:
Being the same as another schools makes your school meaningless.
Meaningless may be a little hyperbolic, but it is a strong possibility that sameness creates meaningless.
Truth is, your school is already meaningful because your school, each school, is unique. Your student population, your community, your strengths as a campus – these are the things that give meaning to your work, and these are the components of your own story.
No one remembers the same. No one raves about a bland meal. It’s unmemorable. It’s ordinary. It’s average. The unique strengths, talents, and ideas already present among your people are significant enough to create and do meaningful work.
Sameness and Pendulum Swings
While the pendulum on the clock creates consistency, the opposite is true for schools. Pendulum swings disrupt school cultures in negative ways and create mistrust and incredulity.
Let me clarify.
Pendulum swings are not the same as culture shifts or changes needed for school improvement. Pendulum swings are the result of attempting to sell new ideas taken from other schools. Contrast that to the commitment to valuing your people and involving them in the processes of creating new ideas.
Every attempt to be the same as another school will push the pendulum in an opposite direction. It will undermine the very uniqueness that makes your school significant.
Your significance is not created by the great ideas brought to a school. Significance and meaning are created by the great people within your school.
When great people in your schools are replaced with the same programs from another school, work trends toward meaningless. It is the proverbial pendulum that undermines the very DNA of your unique organization.
Your significance is not created by the great ideas brought to your school. It is created by the great people within your school.
Your Collective Signature
Your school has its own signature. Not just a brand, but a signature and a fingerprint that defines your identity. You cannot be another school. But you can be your school – in your own unique and meaningful way.
When that truth takes hold in your school culture, you can be bold. Bold is memorable. Bold is daring, yes even risky. But it’s also inspiring.
Your collective signature provides the esprit de corps to make the extra flourish and distinction, the signature difference that shapes culture.
No one talks about the same, but they do talk about impact. They do talk about your collective signature.
What is your signature? How does your uniqueness as a school make your work meaningful and impactful? What are you doing to ensure you are not the same as every other school?
Be meaningful. Be bold. Be you.
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