Building a Positive School Culture By Using Conflict

Being a principal isn’t just about overseeing day-to-day operations; it’s working toward building a positive school culture that empowers both teachers and students to thrive. Once a new leader’s initial enthusiasm with the team wanes, it’s not uncommon to encounter bumps in the road when conflict and differences in opinions emerge.

Let’s take a deep dive into effective strategies for conflict management. Without these strategies, accountability and culture can take a hit.

Expect Conflict and Embrace It

Conflict is a natural part of any workplace/school and it should be seen as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Understand that encountering conflict doesn’t indicate a dysfunctional team; rather, it’s a sign that your team is ready to address crucial issues. Embrace it as a chance to build a stronger, more resilient team.

Conflict becomes constructive when it’s infused with accountability. Read some of our tips below to build a healthy culture centered around problem solving.

  • Establish a Safe Environment: Encourage open dialogue and diverse opinions. Make it clear you aren’t wanting all “yes people ”; how boring would that be?! But instead, the aim is to share opinions within the norms you’ve established.
  • Work on Personality: Invest in personality assessments and workshops–you know we both have found so much value around Enneagram conversations. Understanding different personality types can help your team communicate more effectively and navigate conflicts. It also removes the feeling that you are ‘attacking’ each other.
  • Model Vulnerability and Integrity: Lead by example. Show vulnerability by admitting mistakes and consistently upholding integrity in all your actions. You will fail, it’s inevitable. Be honest about that and move forward with humility and grace.
  • Set Clear Expectations: Define expectations for your teams. Focus feedback around these expectations and address any deviations promptly. When providing feedback, critique the project, not the person. 
  • Frequent Check-Ins: Have regular team check-ins to evaluate progress against expectations. Celebrate successes and address issues as they arise. Make it authentic and a big deal when you recognize the accomplishments of your team.  Label the behaviors that are making things improve for others.
  • Address Issues Early: Don’t wait for problems to escalate. Address conflicts individually and in a non-confrontational manner, emphasizing the importance of accountability. These conversations feel hard, but it’s so much more damaging to the culture and relationship when these conversations are avoided.
  • Ownership of Failures: Demonstrate that accountability starts at the top. When failures occur, take responsibility and use them as opportunities for growth.

Navigating Conflict and Accountability at the System Level

You know The Modern Principal will not just be giving out life lessons.  You know we are going to emphasize systems that need to be in place in order to address conflict quickly and promote accountability.  Try running each conflict through the lens below before creating your problem solving plan: 

  • Understand the Underlying Issues: Dive deep to identify the root causes of conflicts. Are they due to different perspectives, experiences, or philosophical differences? Knowing this will help you find your starting point with the conversation and action steps.
  • Anchor to Group Norms: Remind your team of the norms established within the group. These norms should guide how conflicts are addressed and resolved. If you don’t have a norm that addresses professional discourse and problem solving…add one!
  • Timing Matters: Determine when to address conflicts – sometimes, immediate resolution isn’t necessary. Some conflicts are healthy and push the team to improve and it’s okay to live in the gray for a bit as you work together to find the best path forward.

Balance Accountability With Support

As with everything involved with being a principal, there’s a fine balance between accountability and maintaining the soul of your team. Here’s how to walk that tightrope:

  • The ‘Hard Conversation’ vs. Self-Driven High Expectations: Understand that ‘hard conversations’ are part of the journey, especially in years 3-4, when change is happening and conflict emerges. Embrace it, lean into it and do not believe it’s an indication of a bigger problem just because you have to address certain behaviors.
  • Walk the Walk: Lead by example. Demonstrate professionalism, clarity, and a commitment to the shared goals of the school. Be present in classrooms and team meetings.
  • Voice and Responsibility: Implement systems that empower individuals to have a voice in the work. This fosters a sense of responsibility and self-driven accountability for achieving results.

From the Desk of The Modern Principal

As you continue your journey as a school leader and working toward building a positive school culture, remember that conflict isn’t a roadblock; it’s a stepping stone to growth and improvement. By infusing accountability into your team culture and embracing conflict as an opportunity, you can navigate the challenges of leadership successfully. 

Christy found the first two years the most challenging and for Karen, it was year three and four.  We both felt the rubber hit the road those years and we had to be so intentional with accountability, support, and maintaining the soul of our teams.  It is doable and it is worth it.  Stay strong Eduqueens!

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” – Stephen Covey
To learn more about building a positive school culture, listen to our latest podcast episode!!

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