On Culture, Fun, and Gratitude

Reflecting on the Leadership Strand from today’s Cohort 21 virtual face-to-face, I thought it would be worthwhile to share one resource and two takeaways that I have found to be particularly helpful in thinking about school culture. 

Culture Cues from a Flamingo

The resource I’d like to share comes from an unexpected place. This advice doesn’t come from a school leader, or from the education world at all, but rather from a sunglasses company. Founded by three of my genius friends from way-back-when, Ben Abell, Stephen Lease and Keri Blunt, goodr makes athletic sunglasses that don’t suck. But if you were to ask the founders what they sell, they would tell you that they don’t sell sunglasses, they sell fun. And they will follow that by saying that fun doesn’t mean happy hours 5 days a week, and despite their cheeky sense of humour in their branding, they take fun very seriously. 

I had the pleasure of participating in goodr’s quarterly team meeting last year, called goodrstock. Costumes are required, as are silly events like this scavenger hunt challenge that involved headbanging with a pedometer on my head.

I can tell you from being a guest at a few of their team events in Los Angeles, goodr has mastered the art of fun by creating a culture of work hard, play hard. Their team, which is now more than 60 people, is exceptionally positive, motivated, self directed, collaborative and highly productive. 

Recognizing their strength in this area of creating culture, this year Stephen and Sean Tinney (whose title is Chief Relationship Officer – imagine if every school had one of those?!) launched a podcast called CULTURE goodr.

The first season was all about how they pivoted during the start of the pandemic, but I found the second season to be the most interesting. Season two shares lessons from how they took a page from Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, to create their company culture. Each episode breaks down a different topic into actionable strategies to help leaders intentionally design culture at their organization. 

The podcast covers topics like “Taking Your Values from Bullshit to Behaviours” which explains how to execute on your mission and vision by creating “supporting and slippery behaviours”, which could easily be applied to a school setting. The episode “Clear Is Kind” could be applied to everything from how we explain things to students to how we communicate with parents. 

One episode that I think would challenge educators the most would be the episode called “Chill Is The New Busy,” in which he highlights a dominant challenge in work today, the “hustle for self worth,” and how being “busy” is worn like a badge of honor. To fight this, goodr has a company policy that employees should NOT work more than 40 hours a week. 

This might seem impossible for schools to accomplish, as we all know there are never enough hours in a day, but what a great challenge to strive towards? There are simple supporting behaviours that we could establish in our schools to work towards this goal, such as setting a policy that teachers should not check email after 5pm or on weekends (and as leaders, don’t send emails during this time either! Use the schedule send feature in Gmail to send it the following morning). 

What supporting behaviours could you implement in your school to create a culture of chill?

Take a listen, and let me know what you think. Stephen would be thrilled to know that his voice is resonating with the education community, and I’d be interested to know what schools can take away from a company whose quarterly events involve things like running a “Whiskey Mile”, who name their sunglass colours things like “Freshly Baked Man Buns” and who profess that their CEO is actually a stuffed flamingo named Carl. Couldn’t we all use a little more fun in our culture these days? That brings me to my first take away from today.

Two Takeaways

1. We All Need a Little More Fun in Our Lives

It was interesting to hear in the leadership conversation that many schools implemented things like weekly virtual socials or coffee hours during the lockdown in the spring. However, we expected that this staff socializing would return to normal when in-person learning started again in September, and most of these initiatives fell by the wayside. It seems staff culture has taken a hit because of it. 

What if your staff meeting could channel fun like this?

Although teachers might be back in the building for face-to-face instruction, safety restrictions have prevented those random collisions that happen in the halls, the sharing of personal stories and life events that happen in the staff room, and the general sense of community and connection among staff. What if we could bring that back with a really simple intervention? Something as simple as a weekly virtual staff social hour might go a long way to bring some positive connection and interaction to the day. 

At Future Design School, we started a weekly Google Meet called “Quarantinis” (we really should trademark that term, right?). Every Thursday afternoon, we get together for a social, to spend a few minutes sharing the highlights from the week, celebrating each other’s success, and unpacking the learning from the week, followed by a fun social time. Sometimes we play games, sometimes my amazing colleague Quin wows us all with his magic tricks, and sometimes we just have a drink and catch up. 

Our friends at goodr also have some good advice on this topic: their company was remote long before the pandemic, and even though goodrstock can’t happen in person these days, they are keeping the fun alive. The Cohort is already taking cues from this list – virtual fitness challenges (join our C21 moves Strava group here).

Click the “Use Template” button on the upper right to make your own copy.

Has your school been hosting social hours for staff? How are you creating connection and community amongst staff? Lisa (@lmitchell) from HTS shared that teachers have been raffling off little prizes and gifts at staff meetings, or providing a little extra coverage for teachers. 

Bonus: if you want to run a virtual pub night, like we did last night for Cohort, click here to grab the slide deck template that you can use for the “rooms” in your virtual pub! (All rooms are set up as master slides. To edit, click Slide > Edit Master and you can change the C21 logo to your own logo, etc.)

2. Giving Thanks Changes Your Brain

Another small thing that I think we can do to improve our mindsets in challenging times is offer gratitude. Back when I was training for my first triathlon in 2007, I had an exceptional coach, Scott Willet. One of the best pieces of advice that he gave me was “When you feel like you’ve hit the wall, that you’re ready to quit, start giving gratitude. Thank a volunteer on the course, cheer back at the fans that are cheering you on, say hello to another runner and tell them they look great.” If you’re a runner, try this (when races come back) — it works!  

According to Harvard Medical School, giving gratitude can actually change the neurological activity in your brain to make you feel more positive:

“Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”  

Neuroscientific research in the field of positive psychology has shown that:

“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside”

Being grateful changes the chemical makeup of our brain.

Something that Garth (@gnichols) used to do when we worked together at Greenwood was to leave notes on my desk just to say thanks or celebrate something good that happened that week. This later became the Cohort 21 High Five — something to look forward to in face-to-face events to come! 

How might we create a culture of gratitude in our schools? Could we do simple things like leaving a note in someone’s mailbox to say thanks, or sending someone public gratitude on Twitter?

7 comments to “On Culture, Fun, and Gratitude”
  1. Leslie, great questions and challenges here! I love how you draw inspiration for education from all facets of life. Also looking forward to listening to your suggested postcast episodes on my next run 🙂

      • Really enjoyed the “clear is kind” episode. It’s funny, I really value honesty from others, but can have an exceedingly hard time being truthful myself (thinking of those times I’ve told someone “I love it!” when in fact…I didn’t?!). I think this concept also works really well in receiving and providing feedback as well. I see a lot of value in this approach, not just as a teacher or leader, but just as a plain ol’ human being.

  2. I love the idea of giving gratitude! I’d love if part of our school program had a gratitude journal. I’ve tried to do aspects of it in my classroom–but with the hustle and bustle, I find I can only get to it once every couple classes and I want to be much more intentional about this! An old workplace of mine used to start every meeting with a different warm fuzzy. Do you know of any good warm fuzzy start activities? I’ve tried doing some quick Google searches, but never landed on a resource I really liked…I wish I knew where my old boss got all those cool warm fuzzy ideas!

    • Hi May!
      I love the idea of starting the day with warm fuzzies. I wonder if you could take an idea from Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, and turn it into an activity. In the book, she talks about the concept of the Marble Jar as an analogy for earning trust. Stephen also talks about this in the Clear is Kind episode on Culture goodr.

      The idea is that everyone in your life has a jar, and everytime they do something to earn your trust, you give them a marble. Everytime they do something to break that trust, you take away a marble. Eventually, you will have some people in your life with full marble jars, and others with empty jars (or if you’re like me, you give everyone a full marble jar out of the gate, which is probably something I should work on!)

      You could take this idea and turn it into an activity about gratitude. What if every student got a marble jar and a handful of marbles (or rocks, etc) and then at the start of each class, students can put a marble in someone else’s jar and express one thing that they are grateful to that person for.

      Another great resource is the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. They have a host of activities and ideas for developing cultures of gratitude in students: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/who_we_serve/educators/educator_resources/gratitude_curricula

      Let me know what you try and how it works!

  3. Oh that’s a great idea. Hmm…my limitation/thought now is, in a non-semestered school, you will have 8 different classes sharing the one classroom. If I wanted to implement it for all my grade 10s, I would have 50+ jars…and no where to store it in the grade 10 room. Any work arounds? I would rather something tangible than digital too since it could serve as a good tech break!

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