Real Talk for Teachers: Is this School Right for Me?

Presenter: Sean Larry Stevens, NYC School Leader

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What is School Culture?


  • One vision systematically implemented ("one vision, many systems")
  • Consistency of systems and language
  • Virtue building
  • Details
  • Staff culture

It is NOT

  • Motivational speeches
  • Statement of values
  • Mission and vision statements

'Hacks' to Analyze School Culture

Data (ask for it from the main office or operations manager!)

  • Attendance and uniforms
  • Homework (completion and accuracy)
  • Teacher retention
  • Academic achievement
  • Family and community engagement events


  • Walls and outside showcases
  • Floors, hallways, and bathrooms
  • Bulletin boards (inside classroom)
  • Teacher workspaces and offices

Strategic Tactics to Analyze School Culture

Conversations with:

Q: "If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?"

Red flag: statements regarding systemic functions that are broken as opposed to issues the school has little control over, such as 'school starts too early')

Q: "What makes you want to come here everyday?"

Red flag: teachers talk mostly about the kids.
Good: teachers talk about the community, other teachers, leadership -- something more than just the kids (who will always be there and is likely the reason you're teaching in the first place)

School leaders
Q: "Describe your leadership."

Good: people & teacher-centric; authentic & honest

Q: "What are your top, foundational priorities?"

Good: teacher quality/retention, continual improvement

Observations of:

Student-teacher 'talk ratio'
Are students taking ownership of learning? Are they controlling and leading the conversation?

Student-teacher interactions
Sit back in the hallway and watch interactions. Is the tone positive/understanding? If it's discipline-related, is it warm and strict?

Five star customer service
Is there an atmosphere of hospitality and courtesy? How stressed are teachers and how do they treat colleagues?

Walkthrough with school leader
What does a typical day look like? (red flag: no mention of in-classroom feedback, being present for arrival-lunch-dismissal, or ignores real-time issues that arise during walk)

Top 5 Drivers of Teacher Satisfaction

Based on survey of 150 K-12 teachers in June 2016:

5) Development and Feedback
4) Teacher Autonomy
3) Academic Excellence
2) School Culture
1) School Leadership

School leadership and culture are at the top of the list of teacher satisfaction and retention.

Recommended Reading List

School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker
Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better by Doug Lemov
Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans by Rafe Esquith
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson

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