Building a culture of no excuses

I am certain as the days of summer dwindle down and you gear up for another school year; all of the “things” are floating through your mind. I’ve been there. The mind of a school leader can be a busy place. So, let me offer some advice.

This is the year. This is the year we stop the excuses. The start of a new school year is a great time to align who you want to be… as a school. What is the cultural DNA that runs through every system in your building? I encourage you to take a stand this year. Begin to build a culture of no excuses. In our profession, we accept too many excuses. When I took over as the leader of one of the lowest-performing high schools in Central Florida I was tired of allowing our school to accept excuses. So we stopped. Here’s how.

We were transparent with every stakeholder that we were going to stop making excuses; and we, as a school community, would stop accepting them. On day one, I started with my staff coming back from summer break. I listed every excuse that had been thrown our way – and said “no more”. It did not matter what the circumstances were – they were our circumstances. We were going to move forward and overcome them. Each barrier we would disassemble as a team – brick by brick, if necessary. This had never been spoken out loud in our building. I could see the spark that would ignite our culture of no excuses.

Next up… our students. At the time we had barriers in the big three – academics, attendance, and behaviors. So we stopped accepting excuses in all three phases. With academics, we set goals with our collective student body that we were going to push them to their academic limits – and support them as much as we could along the way. Our promise as a school is that we would eliminate busy work and only ask them to engage in lessons and learning that was purposeful – no excuses.

Our students with attendance issues we went after. We knocked on doors, we had our call-out system give them wake-up calls if they could not get to school on time – we stopped accepting excuses. From parents who brought their students in late – we stopped accepting excuses. We shared with them our commitment to bring purpose to our school, to the learning, to our community. They slowly began to understand – no excuses.

For behaviors, we needed to back our teachers up and ensure that we provided restorative practices that would return students to the learning, but also discourage poor behaviors. We worked with our staff to build engaging lessons with little downtime. We also had a conversation with every student when they came to the dean’s office – and we accepted no excuses.

Our messaging to parents was that we would hold our students accountable; however, this meant that we wanted them to hold us accountable. Our school community began to understand that this was a partnership. When we asked for parents to attend our PTSO, or our School Advisory Council, or our College Information Nights – we expected them to be there – no excuses.

You would be surprised that when people say it enough – they begin to believe it.

I would encourage you to choose right now to begin building your own culture of no excuses in your school or district. Set the tone for an incredible school year. The work we have ahead of us is urgent – now go do it – no excuses!