Podcast S1. Ep.2: School Culture - CS Co-Founder Houston Kraft

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John sits down with CharacterStrong Co-Founder Houston Kraft and they talk about what Houston has learned about school culture presenting to over 600 schools internationally.


And so if we do believe that culture is based on behavior and those behaviors leave impact everywhere, fingerprints, then the question is are we teaching those behaviors thoughtfully, explicitly. Are we teaching the kind of fingerprints that we want people to leave and where to leave them and how to leave them?
— Houston Kraft

Episode Transcript:

  • John: All right, everybody. Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast. My name's John Norlin. I'm one of the hosts and I'm so excited to have our CharacterStrong cofounder Houston Craft with us today and Houston, I mentioned this in our just intro where we talked about who we are, why we're doing this thing that I wanted to have you as the very first guest and if I only had one question to ask you, knowing this, you have a very unique perspective when it comes to the work of school culture and climate and that you have been in over 600 schools across this country over the last decade. Not everybody gets to experience that. Many of us, if we work in education we're in one school, maybe two schools over that time. So my guess is that you see school culture like day in, day out, like how do you see it? How do you see school culture when you walk into a building? Because my guess is you see the good, the bad and the ugly. So how do you see it? Like that's my question because it's a unique perspective that I think could add some value to us working at whatever level we're in, whether it be elementary, middle, or high school.

  • Houston: Yeah, it's been a really fun, fun ride. There's been a lot of Hampton Inns along the way and a lot of rental car shuttles.

  • John: And that's not all glamorous and just say like, it's hard or.

  • Houston: I don't know if I made it seem glamorous. Yeah. I mean it's a gift to be able to travel to some of the most random, interesting parts of the country. And you're always reminded that no matter where you go ...

  • John: People are what probably the coolest part over.

  • Houston: Absolutely. And kids are kids wherever you're at, no matter if it's a 4,000 student school or I've been to the school with one senior. Prom is weird. I did, I was at a middle school a couple of years ago and after it was over some guy from the district office sat me down and he asked a similar question. He goes, Houston, you've been to lots of schools, when you, when you walk in do you see culture right away. And I said, yeah, absolutely. And he said, tell me about that. Where do you see the fingerprints, the fingerprints of kindness? And I've always really loved that visual, that right when you walk in a building, the evidence of the people in that building's influence is immediate. You see it right away. You feel it right away. And for me, I mean, if I were to answer your question in the shortest way I know how, it would be, the number one indicator is, does the school believe that every person in that building does have a fingerprint of kindness? Does every person in that building play a role in culture building

  • John: And take ownership for that.

  • Houston: And take ownership of that? Because if not, then I can describe to you the experience. I drive into a school and I don't know where to park or a guest spot isn't available. I walk into the office and the secretary looks at me like I'm either a kid who's late or a teacher who doesn't know where, who they are, where they are, or they have no idea why I'm there, which, not that I'm expecting that they care who I am, but I think the idea that the secretary wouldn't know what's going on that day regarding the message that the school is invited me to share around compassion, kindness, character, is evidence to me that that school doesn't believe that everyone is a piece of the puzzle in building that message.

  • Houston: This is just for the kids, is the mentality there. And I love Dr. Clayton Cook, who we work with out of University of Minnesota who says we're really in the business of adult behavior change. And so that's why I believe in the work that we do at CharacterStrong so much is I think we think about it holistically because culture is holistic. We talk about culture is behavior and everyone has behaviors. The custodian has a behavior. The secretary has a behavior. That every student has a behavior. Every teacher, every para, every person in that campus has a behavior and those behaviors leave fingerprints. And whether I'm brand new to the building as a guest or whether I'm a 30 year veteran teacher there, I'm going ... those fingerprints impact me on a day to day basis. And so ownership over the idea that every single person in that building plays a role in culture building is what I would say the schools that do this work thoughtfully, that do this work effectively, that build a culture that's really intentional are the ones that have a deep recognition that every single person in that building plays a role.

  • Houston: And so if we do believe that culture is based on behavior and those behaviors leave impact everywhere, fingerprints, then the question is are we teaching those behaviors thoughtfully, explicitly. Are we teaching the kind of fingerprints that we want people to leave and where to leave them and how to leave them? Are we teaching people how to use that influence positively? Are we involving people in the vision? I think that's huge. Right? I love that Dale Carnegie quote, "People support the world they help create." And does the secretary have just as much of a voice in that message and believing in that message as the students that I'm about to go speak to? Do the staff sit in the audience with the kids

  • John: Or is that optional that they're there?


 
...because culture is holistic. We talk about culture is behavior and everyone has behaviors. The custodian has a behavior. The secretary has a behavior. That every student has a behavior. Every teacher, every para, every person in that campus has a behavior and those behaviors leave fingerprints. And whether I’m brand new to the building as a guest or whether I’m a 30 year veteran teacher there, I’m going ... those fingerprints impact me on a day to day basis.
— Houston Kraft
 

  • Houston: Or is it optional? Because what I know is if I go and tell a message, no matter how good I am at my job, kids are going to feel a thing. They might be inspired for a while. When they feel inspired, they act inspired. But feelings, particularly in teenagers, change really quickly. And if there's no adults in the building who's going to keep that message alive? Keep coming back to the conversation, ask the questions, follow up, have the common language to make sure that they, to keep the narrative going? Then yeah, the impact is going to last as long as a teenagers feelings, which is not very long. And so making sure that we're not requiring teachers to show up or else you're in trouble. No. How do you bring them into the vision?

  • John: Deeper.

  • Houston: It's got to be deeper than that. You have to be here is very different than ...

  • John: compliance.

  • Houston: ... compliance versus inspiration or feeling like we're a part of something bigger and more important. You know, I go to schools all the time where I never see the principal, not once.

  • Houston: And I think that's a problem.

  • John: Big time.

  • Houston: If this message is truly about culture, which to me the conversation of making kindness normal is just a kid thing.

  • John: Yeah. Right.

  • Houston: It's that we need all hands on deck and so the fingerprints of kindness are most evident to me actually right when I pull in the parking lot. Right when I walk in that building, the people who interact with me, particularly the adults, do they know why I'm there and do they believe in why I'm there? Have they been given ownership in why I'm there? Right? Did they have a voice in creating that vision and then do they show up, and have the tools and a vision to make the time to keep the conversation alive after that day.

  • John: Yup. It's good. How about this, knowing that these are meant to be shorter in nature, the last example of a fingerprint of kindness that's very practical that you saw. It doesn't have to be the best, but just I was in a building and I saw this, just an example. Something that you saw.

  • Houston: Yeah. Well, I mean to go right back to my example of pulling in the parking lot, I was at a school, just a couple of weeks ago down in California, pull in and there is a parking spot reserved in an otherwise very full parking lot, a parking spot reserved with my name on it, which is awesome, as someone who's a total stranger to the building, doesn't even know where to park most of the time. And I walk in and the principal is the first person that greets me. In fact, they're outside waiting ...

  • John: Looking for you.

  • Houston: Looking for me. Wearing a shirt, a "make kindness normal" shirt, and his first thing is, "I'm so excited you're here."

  • John: And you know that that's, you're not the only person that that person does that for.

  • Houston: Oh yeah,

  • John: That this is how we welcome people. This is how we treat people.

  • Houston: This is how we do things here. And that's culture.

  • John: That's cool. That's a great example. And attitude reflects leadership. So when I don't see that principal, they set that tone. They're not the only one responsible for the culture, but they definitely set the tone. Right? And then it goes to the teachers. They set the tone for the students. All of those things. Love it. That idea of all of us have a role to play when it comes to this and as every member in the school, one of the things that I always remember as in our high school, seniors would be asked to take a survey and a lot of times at the end of the year person that they would identify that was most influential to them was someone who maybe it wasn't a classroom teacher, might be the lead custodian, might be the lead security person, it might be the librarian, not always, but many of the cases it was someone who you wouldn't think was like the main person and actually was and it was because every day, I talked to that person at lunch, I talked to that person in the hallways or before school or after school and they had the biggest influence on that student's life.

  • John: So I love that. Do all staff feel that they are part of that or are they treated that way? Are they held accountable for that expectation? Right. All of those pieces. So good stuff. We're going to come back. We're going to keep talking school culture and having different guests as well, but that's good stuff and hopefully we'll have you talking more about some of those things that you've seen over the years when going into schools and seeing that culture in action.

  • Houston: And as you show up to school today, what's going to be your fingerprint of kindness. Make it a great day.

  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.


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