Top 10 School Culture Hacks of 2020

Last year I released my Top 10 Culture Hacks of 2019.

2020 brought some unexpected challenges, so I figured it was time to update the list to reflect the changing school landscape.

Each idea listed below is easy to implement into any setting. Even better, almost every idea was stolen from another school district, business, or book.

So STEAL AWAY!!

10) #TheTrojanWay Awards - At the end of each year we ask for nominations of staff members who best embody our district core values. In 2020 we had to take our "show on the road" by making surprise award deliveries at employees' houses. The result was so good we may just do off-site ceremonies moving forward!


Video One | Video Two | Video Three


The Hack: Get family and friends involved! They LOVE being a part of these awards, and it makes the event more special for the recipient.

9) Employee Referral Bonus - Let's face it - teachers are getting hard to find! To address this issue, we started giving $250 referral bonuses when our staff recruit new teachers to the district. While this hasn't solved all of our teacher shortage issues, it has created some excitement in our staff about recruitment. Curious about our program? Here's a document with all the info. ​


The Hack: Make the award a big deal! Go around and surprise staff with an oversized check and take their picture. Who doesn't like receiving $250 CASH?!

8) Remote Work Option - 2020 has been the year for making changes! One of those changes has been with remote work. Too many school districts still force staff to physically attend work. Why are we treating this like the 1990's? Let your staff work from home!

Staff love having options. Give them the option of working from home or coming into work whenever the opportunity presents itself (you'd be surprised how many staff still like coming in to work). This approach does wonders for workplace culture. Much more can be read in this blog entry

The Hack: In our district, we have adopted the following mentality: "As long as employees accomplish the goals for which they are responsible, how they get there should not matter."

7) Donut Friday Giveaways - Our school district does social media giveaways at least once a month. The purpose of these drawings is not only to give away some tasty goodies, but to engage our community on social media. We started off doing donuts, but now we give away just about anything (cookies, pies, gift cards, etc.) that makes sense. More information can be found here.


The Hack: HAVE FUN!! We often record a Facebook Live drawing for our community to watch. This is a great time to give away prizes as well as communicate important information or recognize groups and individuals.


Video One | Video Two | Video Three

6) Free Professional Book Purchases - We purchase professional development books for staff using school funds as often as we can. Why? Because encouraging staff growth is one of the best investments a school can make. Have some questions about the process? Check out this blog entry.

The Hack: Instead of making teachers do a book study or book report to receive a book (what is this, 9th grade?), trust your staff by asking them to do NOTHING and assume they will put the book to good use!

5) Free Vacation Day Drawings - There are few things greater than the gift of time. Shortly before winter break, all 13 district administrators and directors randomly draw the name of one direct report. Those lucky staff members earn a free half-day of personal leave covered by their boss! Much more information about this program can be found here.

The Hack: This event produces humorous photos when the leader has to cover a position that may be a little out of his or her wheelhouse (like when I filled in for a secretary last year!)

4) New Baby Onesies - Any employee or employee's spouse in your organization should be publicly recognized for the birth of a child - talk about a life-changing moment! Use this opportunity to publicly recognize those new parents as well as reinforce the "family" culture by giving them a district-themed baby onesie. Many staff have said they want a baby just for the onesie (they are joking ... I think!!).


The Hack: Ask baby-mamas and baby-daddies to share pics of their babies dressed up in their onesies - these photos are social media gold!!

3) Birthday Emails to Staff Members - How many of you work for a boss who hands out birthday cards and all that is written is his or her name at the bottom? This approach is so impersonal! I was "that person" until I heard that leaders should consider sending birthday emails to employees. I know, I know ... emails are so impersonal. But when you are talking about 250 employees, efficiency is key. This process takes some setup beforehand (a secretary must import all birthdays into you calendar) but the results are worth it!


The Hack: Not only are the emails a great way to wish employees a happy birthday, they provide the perfect opportunity to give specific, positive feedback to employees. Who doesn't like hearing nice things on their special day?!

2) Flower Deliveries to New Staff - A staff member's first day of work is a BIG deal! Unfortunately, too many schools treat it like just another day. Create a lasting memory by working with a local florist to deliver a plant or flowers to all new teachers on the first day of school.


The Hack: Go to the next level by creating a flower pot or vase has your school/school district logo. These look fantastic in classrooms and offices!!

1) Student Birthday Postcards - By far, one of the best decisions I've made was to handwrite birthday postcards for each of our district's 1500 students. To get this process started, generate a list of student birthdays and purchase a couple thousand specialty postcards through Vistaprint. Looking to streamline the process? You may need to delegate addressing and mailing to a secretary :)


The Hack: This activity is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do students love the gesture, the cards lead to endless student and family conversations when I am out and about in the community.


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