I was recently discussing my upcoming professional transition (I wrote about here) with a local colleague from another district and within moments of me sharing the news she responded, "Why the heck are you leaving Cantiague? That place is like Disney World and you are never going to find that anywhere else!" I just laughed off her comment and changed the topic. Truth is, initially, all I wanted to do was cry because Cantiague is a pretty awesome space and maybe she was right... maybe I would never find Disney World again and everything moving forward would be a let down. Ugh - definitely not the way I wanted to be thinking about the next phase in my professional journey.
Fast forward a few days and Paul and I were discussing Disney World and how badly we wanted to go back (we have been 4 times). We both agree that the Disney experience is a magical one. As we were discussing why we both love Disney and all the rides we love, Paul shared a comment that really got me thinking about the exchange with my colleague: "The thing about Disney is that it's about how feel when you are there because of the way the employees treat you and because of how excited everyone else is to be there!" YES!!! That is exactly it... Paul hit the nail on the head... Disney is much more than a place... Disney is an experience... Disney is a feeling... Disney is about relationships... Disney has its own culture... Disney is about the people; not just the physical space!
A few days later, I called my colleague back pretending I had a professional question and near the end of the conversation I explained to her that I had been thinking about her Disney World comment and while I agreed that Cantiague is very much like Disney World, I also went on to explain that I believe any educational organization can have a Disney World feel by taking the following 3 steps...
1) Invest in relationships! Everything that happens in a school comes down to the way people relate to each other... the way kids relate to teachers... the way teachers relate to each other... the way teachers relate to families... the way leaders relate to the community; it is all about relationships! Relationships are at the core of Disney World - it is a magical and happy place because of the way people relate to each other and I think we can capture that magic in our schools if we take the time to build healthy relationships rooted in trust and respect! Take the time to get to know people's names and their passions, interests and the names of their family members. Build connections, share stories and find ways to relate to those around you because if you invest in relationships, the magic will start happening. If you need some tips on how to build those relationships, check out our new book Hacking Leadership!
2) Personalize the experience! Disney recognizes people who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries or family reunions and they do it in a way that makes people feel like they are special and that they are the only ones that matter. We can do that in our schools once we have established those healthy and positive relationships. We can personalize the learning for our teachers and students; we can personalize the schooling experience for our families; we can find ways to make everyone feel special. Whether it is announcing birthdays over the loud speaker or letting teachers plan and lead their own professional development based on their needs, if we can find ways to personalize the experience, then we have created an identity... a feeling... a culture!
3) Have fun! Yes, school is about learning, teaching, assessing, writing, reading and all that stuff but that doesn't have to feel like work... it can be fun! It can feel like an exciting opportunity based on the way we frame and present things. You know what I mean... For example, as educators, we all detest the dreaded "Faculty Meeting" where we all have to sit in silence and listen to one person ramble on about things that could have been communicated in an email; as students, we all detest that class where the teacher does all the talking and we can only show our learning through worksheets and tests that are typically completed in silence; and as family members, we can't stand when a school only communicates with us for bad reasons and problems! We can make school FUN! We can turn Faculty Meetings into time for teachers to pursue Passion Projects; we can embed concepts like Genius Hour into our classrooms so our children have ownership and choice in how they learn, what they learn and how they communicate their understandings; and, we can include our families in the fun of school - engage them in learning, call them for positive reasons and get to know them. If we make school fun (of course, I know it can't necessarily be fun and games all day) we starting spreading the magic!
Yes, Cantiague is like Disney World! Cantiague is like Disney World because of the children, the educators, the families and the community as a whole. Cantiague is like Disney World not because of the physical structure but because of the relationships that exist within. So, while I am sad to be leaving this Disney World, I am also excited about the opportunity to step into a new Disney World and do whatever I can do contribute to creating that magic!