David Culberhouse

Build School Morale by Attending to the 5 Cs

Morale isn't built in isolation ... and neither is it something tangible that we can point to and say, "There it is!" Rather, it is a force that builds and rises out of the ashes of our daily actions and interactions.

As educators and educational leaders, words such as data, accountability, and achievement have been ingrained into our daily vocabulary. We look for the tangible ... the visible, those things that we can monitor and measure. As educators, very seldom have we been able to avoid the words of W. Edwards Deming's famous quote, "In God we trust; all others must bring data."

And yet ...

There is another, you might even say "softer," side to what Deming is saying. It is necessary and needed if we are to build a "whole" culture. Albert Einstein does an eloquent job of summing that up with, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

As educators and leaders, it is imperative we acknowledge that some of the most important pieces for building a whole culture are often those pieces we can't necessarily measure through data. They are the intangibles. They are those things we know exist, but can’t touch, put our finger on, or even see. But we know they are there ... and we know they are important because they affect our schools and organizations as a whole as well as everyone within it.

And neither are they something we can produce or manufacture.

It is value. It is self-worth. Morale is a by-product, as is a positive and authentic culture. And when a culture is founded in value, where people feel valued and appreciated for who they are, what they do, and the talents and gifts they bring, it creates a "whole" organization or school.

To do this, leaders need to create opportunities for connections and relationships to occur, flourish, strengthen, and build. Otherwise, the authentic community and culture will fail to exist. For all of this to occur, leaders need to intentionally and purposefully attend to the 5 Cs in their school and organization.

  1. Culture
  2. Climate
  3. Community
  4. Connection
  5. (Capacity)

You can't set the tone and climate of your organization without first attending to the culture. For most schools and organizations, culture is not a thing, as much as it is a deeply-embedded mindset of "the way we do things around here." Which is why connections and relationships remain paramount to building a strong school culture, climate, and morale. Until people feel valued for who they are and what they do, it will remain difficult to break down the structures, barriers, and obstacles that inhibit growth, progress, and change.

When we build a culture and climate where the "whole" feel valued, we create the conditions for authentic community to exist. A community where connections and relationships strengthen the "whole," for it is in this environment where everyone feels a part of something bigger than themselves.

With culture, climate, community, and connections in place, a school or organization has now created the conditions, as well as the environment, where leaders at all levels have the opportunity to invest deeply in building and expanding the capacity of those within.

In a time when leadership knowledge and best practices are no longer hidden commodities to be held close to the chest, the 5 Cs provide a rare opportunity to create organizational momentum and flow as well as creating an environment where all people feel valued and morale can flourish and grow. It remains vital for leaders to understand that creating culture, climate, community, connection, and (capacity) are intentional acts where leaders need not only understand how to create them, but also the kind they are trying to create.

David Culberhouse, former teacher and principal of a California Distinguished School, is currently senior director of elementary education for the Rialto Unified School District in southern California. He is the co-moderator of the West Coast #satchat, weekly Twitter discussions about education and leadership held Saturday mornings, and was recently a guest on the Whole Child Podcast. Connect with Culberhouse on his blog and on Twitter @dculberhouse.

Comments (9)

Barry Saide

March 11, 2014

Great stuff, David! I love what you write, and can truly identify with it.

David Culberhouse

March 11, 2014

Thank you, Barry. Appreciate you taking the time to comment and give it a read.

Jane Logan

March 12, 2014

And that is why I have spent the first 7 weeks of school building relationships with my students to let them know they are valued.  Very thoughtful and interesting post.

Brant Hayenga

March 12, 2014

I agree with all of your C’s, and would add another - confidence. I see a big obstacle to most schools’ culture and climate in the now well documented fact that most teacher preparation programs do a woefully inadequate job training teachers. Many teacher prep programs actually mis-train the teachers.

With this knowledge, it is incumbent upon administrators to provide enough high-quality professional development (not feel good motivational garbage, but the actual methods and theory that the colleges neglected to teach) so that the teachers now know how to be a great teacher.

Without this type of PD, most teachers don’t know what to do, and this interferes with the culture, climate, and confidence, and ultimately leads to the unfortunate students who receive inadequate educations.

Ellen D'Amore

March 12, 2014

This blog speaks to me. I am the cocreator of a program designed to build connections between students and school. It’s an advisory program and can be explained here http://prezi.com/hyx9nezcpcdn/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share
We are looking for ways to improve morale among staff and I think your 5Cs is a great framework. Thank you for sharing.

Ellen D'Amore

March 12, 2014

Mary Bellavance

March 14, 2014

Right on!  I am going to share this piece with my staff, as we have invested much time with these important steps.  I’m also going to use 1 of your quotes in my #ASCD14 presentation tomorrow!  Thanks so much!

Dennis Schug

March 16, 2014

David, your words are always poignant and precise. Reading your work provides hours of reflection on meaningful leadership. Thank you for being a role model for me and for your readers.


March 21, 2014

A good learning for leaders to sustain their leadership.

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