Creating a Culture of Yes, You Can!
Readers of this blog are well aware of my affinity for the 1990s Seattle sound. And while my listening preference often leans toward the grunge and alternative end of the dial, I dabble in all kinds of genres.
Enter A Tribe Called Quest.
The New York based hip hop foursome revolutionized the scene with its 1991 debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. The group’s sound, which they would pioneer, was dubbed “alternative hip hop,” and was highlighted by the 1992 single, “Scenario.”
Recently, I re-acquainted myself with the crew and had “Can I Kick It?” on repeat as I started my journey as a K-5 principal. The song, which features a heavy sample of Lou Reed’s classic, “Walk on the Wild Side,” is catchy, upbeat, and includes an answer to the titular title, “yes, you can!”
My first month as the proud leader of a small elementary school in New Jersey was marked by a careful combination of anxiety and excitement, one often fueling the other. I shook hands, offered high fives, met with kindergarten parents, and hosted my first ever staff meeting. By all accounts, it was a positive, collaborative opening and one on which I will look back with pride.
But something curious happened more times that I can count during that first month. Teachers and students alike kept approaching me with a familiar refrain, “Can I…?”
As a hallmark of my leadership, I want to say yes more than I want to say no. In his outstanding work, Lead With Culture, Jay Billy reminds us that having a “sure, why not” approach to leadership fosters risk and empowerment. Such risk and empowerment cannot happen without the right question. For me, “Can I?” starts the bidding.
Can I change that bulletin board so it looks like a Harry Potter house but with kindness messages? Yes, you can!
Can I change my schedule so math isn’t always the last thing we do? I think the kids need it. Yes, you can!
Can I start Feel Good Friday during which we all wear kindness shirts and invite the kids to do the same? We can even play music as the kids come in! Yes, you can!
Can I use my prep to go visit a teacher during Workshop? I think I need to see her in action. Yes. you can!
Can I start a Girls’ Group at lunch to work on some of the drama I’m seeing between our 5th grade girls? Yes, you can!
Ultimately, creating a “Yes, you can!” culture is more about letting go than it is about giving in. Too often, leaders are reluctant toward anything new for fear that it undermines their authority or flies in the face of “what we’ve always done.” Or worse, some leaders need to feel like every idea has to be their own rather than stepping back and allowing their teachers to take ownership over the building and its culture.
So whether you’re just starting your leadership journey or you recognize that your leadership needs a shot of hip hop, start with a simple question: Can I?
Yes, you can!