People often ask @matthewquigley and I how we did it. How did you start a school in such a short amount of time? How do you build strong culture? Our answer: We surrounded ourselves with incredible people. People who are better, smarter, more creative, more passionate, more talented than us. We surrounded ourselves with people we respect and admire. We surrounded ourselves with people who believed in our vision. Couple that with a strong belief that it is possible and that children deserve better. That is Anastasis.
Yesterday, one of our all-star teachers brought in a Louis Vuitton purse. Brand new. Probably worth about $1400. Lance offered it to us, “I’ve had it for a few years, my wife isn’t a designer purse kinda gal, who wants it?” The purse is beautiful. I won’t say that I wasn’t tempted to take it. I have a hard time portraying this image. Don’t get me wrong, I love designer everything but I’m specific about it. I view designer dresses, shoes, bags, the way I do art. If I can appreciate the designer as an artist, if I know their story, if the design resonates with me, I’m all over it. In other words, designer for the sake of designer doesn’t do it for me. That may be anti-girl. The funny thing is, all of the girls turned it down. “How do people spend that much on a bag, I’m not sure that is the image I want to portray.” “It is just too big for me to use as a purse realistically.” “Why don’t you sell it on ebay and use the money for your new baby girl?” In the end, Lance still had the purse. He said he would hang onto it for a few days in case any of us changed our mind.
As it turns out, Lance didn’t hang onto the purse. Instead, he gave it to one of our janitorial staff as a gift. He asked her if she would teach him Spanish in return. She happily agreed to this arrangement.
When I walked out of our staff meeting, I saw Betza sitting in a chair with the purse clutched to her in an embrace. When she saw me, her face broke into a reverent smile. “The professor gave me this beautiful purse.” Our student teacher joined me in the hall and translated Betza’s words for me. She proceeded to tell us about how she was wealthy in her country, the wife of a diplomat. She has grown children who are all over the world. One is in Milan studying fashion. She said over and over again how blessed she was by the kind professor’s gift. She said, “In the United States, God has given me the gift of humbleness.” What a statement!
These are the kind of people who surround us. People who sacrifice for others. People who love deeply. People who can laugh together.
How did we build this culture? When @matthewquigley and I began the interview process with teachers, we agreed that it needed to be someone who shared our vision. Equally important: it had to be someone we could laugh with. In the interview process, our last question was, “What is your drink of choice?” You can learn a lot about a person by their answer. At first, this was really a joke, to help add a little levity to the interview process. As it turns out, the answers told us a lot about who each person was outside the classroom.
I don’t think it is possible to create strong school culture until you have a strong staff culture. I love the people I work with. We share jokes, life’s rough spots, and relaxation. We read books together, convince each other it is a good idea to go to a midnight showing of Hunger Games even through we have to work the next day. We watch basketball games together, have dinner with each other and have shared many happy hours. We truly enjoy each others company. That is an easy place to build from.
Our students and families pick up on this. When you have a staff who can laugh together, you have students who join in. Students have a model of healthy social interaction. We work hard to give our students opportunities to work and play together regardless of the age. Every morning, our whole school walks a mile together. This is a great time of culture building as students talk, explore, and skip together. It is incredible to see one student comment on the amount of trash they see on the walk and bend down to start picking it up. Even more incredible is to watch as the majority of the school community joins in to help pick up trash.
After our morning walk, our school gathers together for a morning devotion. Having all of the students together like this is so valuable. They are all hearing the same vision cast. They have this shared experience every day. Our students also have recess all at the same time, and lunch together every day. We don’t separate their relaxation time based on an age level. They do it together. I can’t tell you how neat it is to watch two seventh grade girls notice that a fourth grade girl is sitting alone at lunch, pick up everything, and join her. Without prompting from an adult. That is how community should be done.
We invite our parents to be a part of the community. Often parents join us on the morning walk (sometimes with dogs in tow). They sit in on the devotion time. They stop by to have lunch. They offer to carpool for field trips. They come to Parent University to learn together. They get to know their child’s teacher outside of the parent teacher conference.
As a school community, we are experiencing the gift of humbleness. Starting a school will do that to you.