Engagement: The Great Differentiator for Schools – and All Businesses


I recently attended a conference for the education industry – one of our areas of focus – and found it interesting that a familiar theme was used throughout the event: engagement. We often consider the need for employee and customer engagement as a term used for corporations or consumer product companies but less often as it relates to education. But, like any industry, the challenges of not being engaged – and the opportunities if you are – can make an insurmountable difference in the growth and development of an organization for both internal and external constituents.

Engagement is often reduced to a “feel good” term, a soft science without impactful measurables. However, developing and implementing a strong engagement approach should be recognized for what it is: one of the most influential initiatives your organization can ever undertake.

For schools, engagement can help retain valuable employees, inspire new and innovative offerings, dramatically enhance relationships and attract new families. And who doesn’t want to attend a private school – or move into a public school district – that exudes energy and excellence?

Two of my favorite books that focus on culture and engagement are The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon and You Win in the Locker Room First by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith (former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons). If you are looking for inspiring new reads in 2020, definitely dive into these two books. In the latter book, it states, “Culture drives expectations and beliefs; expectations and beliefs drive behavior; behavior drives habits; and habits create the future. It all starts with culture.”

What can engagement look like for your school? Here’s some items to consider:

  • Share Expectations. Some of the most dangerous words on the planet are: “it goes without saying.” Everything should be stated, and if possible, several times. Like students, staff expect to know requirements and be allowed to succeed by identifying ways to meet them. Allow creativity in addressing those expectations, engage with them about possible revisions and ensure all understand the bigger picture of the “why”. Only through a collective approach, can expectations be shared, owned and met.
  • Identify and Lean into Your “Contagious Leaders”. Have you noticed that some of your team members have more enthusiasm for your approach? Invest in them and delegate peer-to-peer activities to them. As with any organization, a positive and engaging culture grows fastest among colleagues rather than from the top of the organization.
  • It’s Not All About the Test Scores. While school outcomes (e.g. test score results) are critical, how you get there is equally – if not more – important, and longer lasting. Are you developing a culture of open and ongoing communications with your team? This isn’t a bi-weekly newsletter or just discussions revolving around annual reviews, it’s about regular group and 1-1 conversations on what is going well, where things can improve and how you can assist.Note: Expect that the first few conversations could likely turn negative if you haven’t had open conversations in the past since individuals haven’t had the opportunity to voice their concerns in the past, but committing to ongoing discussions will allow employees to gain trust and move from venting to  productive solutions and identifying opportunities.
  • Find Opportunities to Have Fun! Yes, it’s a work environment, but it’s also a place where individuals spend more of the waking hours than anywhere else. Develop and/or utilize either your contagious leaders or perhaps those less engaged, to create opportunities to get others on board. Is it a bowling night out? A scavenger hunt during in-service days? Success stories and recognition for those who have gone above and beyond. The ideas are only limited by the ability of those impacted to get involved.
  • Invest in Team Training. Bringing in outside speakers and training experts can allow everyone – including school leadership – to learn and grow at the same time. Making the investment can say a lot of how you value your employees and their personal and professional growth. Chartwell conducts considerable training and facilitation for educators and would welcome the opportunity to provide you with insight and best practices in enhancing your school. Click here to check out our video to learn more.

Culture and engagement take time. There will set backs but if you’re willing to remain committed and consistent to your approach, the outcomes can be more than you imagined – and benefit all involved.