School Culture

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By Doni Joszef

There’s something in the air at practically every Starbucks. The vibes are positive, the atmosphere is cozy, the employees are oddly pleasant to interact with. They learn your name, and if you come back (which we suspect you will) they remember your name, with a genuine smile, to boot. You’re proud to pay more for your coffee—because you’re getting more than just coffee beans. You’re gaining a sense of membership in an exclusive club. You feel at home there because they make a conscious effort to make you feel at home. It’s called cultivating a positive culture, and Starbucks has absolutely mastered this art.

There’s something in the air at practically every Apple store. The environment is energizing, the aesthetics are stimulating, and the employees are more like quirky hipsters than awkward computer geeks. You feel at home, and as a result, you’re proud to pay more for your computer—because you’re getting more than just a computer. You’re gaining membership in an exclusive club. You feel at home there because they make a conscious effort to make you feel at home. It’s called cultivating a positive culture, and Apple has absolutely mastered this art.

We make this observation not for the sake of random speculation, but to visualize what it means to systematically manufacture a solid institutional culture. There is clearly a method to the madness and, surprisingly, it’s not the money but the internal momentum which moves the ship in the right direction. Everyone—from the managers to the customers—feels personally connected to this institution, and that personal touch seems to make all the difference. Turning the lens now away from Frappuccinos and iPads, toward schoolyards and classrooms . . . How can we create this sense of belonging amongst students, amongst teachers, and amongst parents? Are we ready to make school a more personal, collaborative, engaging experience?

Apple Geniuses and Starbucks Baristas don’t stare at their phones all day. They look their customers in the eyes, they welcome them, and they create a sense of personal connection which infuses the atmosphere with an overall homey feel. Can teachers do this for their students? Can administrators do this for their faculty?

The research shows that they can—so long as they all demonstrate a commitment to common values which drive the system as a whole, and empowers each member (if willing and receptive to it) with a personal voice in the process. Of course, this is all easier said than done. But it’s doable, nonetheless! v

Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e‑mail DJoszef@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.

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