Culture eats strategy for lunch.

We are fortunate in our district that we can spend time, before the school year begins, with our building leaders in a retreat setting.  This summer was no exception.  However…this summer we had an especially exceptional retreat.

One of the things that made this retreat exceptional was the opportunity to directly talk with the authors of Lead Like A Pirate, Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf.  We had read their great book in advance, used activities and quotes from the book, and generated questions to pose to the authors.  They were kind enough to spend an hour, using Google Hangouts, to chat with us, and answer our questions. It was absolutely phenomenal!


One of the quotes from LLAP that guided our work at the retreat was, “Holding all-day meetings does not constitute a retreat.”  So we worked hard to make sure that wasn’t our story!

After the day’s work was done, our leaders had free time to do as they pleased.  What ended up being the activity of choice for the majority was to float a nearby river.  The temperature outside was easily in the mid-late 90s.  So sitting in an inner tube, floating down a river for a couple hours seemed not only logical, but a relief from the heat.

What we didn’t know was that this activity would turn out to be one of the highlights of the whole retreat.

4 of our 6 schools have new leadership teams.  1 of our 6 teams has exactly one year under its belt. We are bringing on board 3 brand new to our district leaders.  We are launching the careers of two brand new principals (high school and elementary).  When we designed the retreat, we bore this reality in mind, and wanted to manufacture opportunities for people to get to know each other and begin to grow together as a team of leaders.  Plopping down in an inner tube and floating a river was not a designed activity.

Turns out that is a great way for people just to chat.  Our new high school principal worked very hard to spend quality time with every single person on the river.  It was perfect!

As we finished up the retreat, we asked for general comments and feedback and one of our principals said this about the culture and climate he had experienced in our district, since arriving 3 years ago,

“I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It never dropped.”

Through the simple act of floating a river, our culture became real to our new team members.

People, relationships, teachers, kids, families.


We are ready for the best year ever!

Author: Jnelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 39 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 8 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years.

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