Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Your Mantra - The Velcro of Your School

One of my favorite book projects has been the current effort with Ken Williams as we look to address what we both feel is a huge gap in schools today, and is also reflective of our passion as educators – school culture. We are working on a process we’ve identified as authentic alignment and one of the key features of the WHY stage is the development of a mantra or rallying cry.

We describe the mantra as a powerful, energy infused chant that everyone inside your learning community can get inside their heads and feel through their core. Your mantra should generate answers to questions about your beliefs, goals, and your reasons for being an educator. Sounds like a tall order, right? We’ve gone on to suggest it should encapsulate these elements:

Memorable – find its way into your commitments, behavior, and decisions.
Simple – focus on one specific thing in three to five words.
Credible – walk the talk, alignment needs to drive our words and actions.
Positive – affirmative tone aimed at what you’re seeking, not what you’re avoiding.
Uniquely Yours – it should be unmistakably about your site.

Following the development of your mantra, staff members should develop a commitment statement or I message based on the context of their individual role at the school. We list some examples in the book and here’s my personal favorite (and accompanying I message):

Act As If…

I operate each day as if we are already the ideal school we described.

I’ve been sharing the work with schools and districts that I’ve been working with lately and am appreciative of how quickly they are taking hold of this and diving into the work. A recent afternoon with a school yielded this as their first effort on creating a mantra and I message:

Every Name, Every Need

I will know every student by his or her name and
work with them based on their need.

It’s also an activity that resonates with all departments in a school district. A recent leadership workshop included the Facilities department and they crafted this as their mantra:

Providing Educational Spaces That Work

This has all served to remind me of the power of having a compelling WHY to drive all of our work on behalf of students. It also serves to pull us together as a true learning community driven by our beliefs and commitments. The mantra needs to be more than a catchy slogan. The commitments behind the mantra need to permeate the work. You should be able connect the dots between your collective commitments and the mantra.  When off course, the mantra should help guide you back on course.  It's your litmus test, your North Star. I look forward to continuing this work with others and seeing the benefit of aligning the work with the actions and commitments.


  1. Love this, Tom! The velcro analogy really resonates with school teams...I read your blog and think of the guiding school mantra as an iceberg. Exploring the meaning, mission and commitments associated with the guiding school mantra make it MORE than a slogan...the mantra is short, repeatable, 3-5 words and energy filled...bite sized...and compact...much like the small part of an iceberg that peeks above the surface of the ocean...meanwhile 85% of the iceberg is beneath the surface...the part beneath the surface is all powerful meaning behind the guiding school mantra. Great stuff, partner!

  2. I like it! This reminds me of something we do as athletes too. Our team will have mantras that we will literally chant during breaks in game play. They don't even need to make sense to outsiders, as long as they have meaning to those on the team. These mantras help to focus, motivate, and remind us of our shared purpose.