Culture: From the Latin cultus, which means care
Over the summer, I had asked each teacher and staff member to meet with me individually. One of the things I wanted to learn was what made Saklan special to them. Overwhelmingly, a message of the power of relationships came through in these conversations. Here are a few of their responses:
- We are lucky to have each other.
- I feel like we are family.
- We know how to pull together.
- We look out for each other.
- Saklan has helped me grow as a person.
- We connect through personal relationships.
All of the values above are about connection to each other. As educators, we spent our first day back to school discussing the power of our culture at Saklan. We wondered what is the foundation of a culture that promotes connection? How is it created, maintained, and grown?
We connect by sending belonging cues to each other that signal “we are close, we are safe, and we share a future.” Science backs this up. The amygdala is mostly known as the part of the brain that is responsible for the “flight or fight response.” We now know that it also lights up when receiving belonging cues. It seeks connection, searching for others who are on “our team.” But it can’t do both at the same time. If it is worried about safety, it cannot seek connections. Only in an atmosphere where it feels safe and is receiving “belonging cues” does it make a connection.
This week our middle school students and their teachers are away at our annual Advance. They are building positive interpersonal connection and preparing for the upcoming school year. One of their activities, the Trust Walk (pictured above) is very powerful. The “guide” is constantly signaling, “You are safe.” And more powerfully, the blind-folded individual is signaling, “I am vulnerable. I am seeking connection and trust.” Vulnerability is one of the strongest belonging cues one can send to build trust. Trust does not lead to us sharing our vulnerabilities, it is the other way around. When we make ourselves vulnerable, we build trust.
Harvard recently did a ten-year study of two companies that were similar in every way except when it came to having a culture of connection. The difference in performance between the two companies, is that the one that had the strong culture of trust and belonging had 756% higher productivity over the ten years versus the other that did not embrace a sharing culture. Connection is not just one of the many things we need to build a strong community – it is the most important thing.
We need to continually send belonging cues to students to foster connection and safety. But we also need to be sure to do it between each other. Without it, we will struggle to reach Saklan’s full potential. So what belonging cues will you send?