Culture is the air we breathe. Why building a strong culture should be a top priority for school leaders.

Culture is the air we breathe. We can’t see it. It’s difficult to measure. Yet it’s vital to the way any organization operates.

Principal Heather Patterson of Polly Ryon Middle School in Lamar CISD (a Holdsworth partner district).

Principal Heather Patterson of Polly Ryon Middle School in Lamar CISD (a Holdsworth partner district).

“When you walk into a positive culture, it’s something you can feel immediately, whether it’s a store, an airplane or a school,” says Kirsten Hund, director of Holdsworth’s District Leadership Program.

Recently, ABC13 news dubbed Polly Ryon Middle School in Lamar CISD (a Holdsworth partner district) the ‘Disney World’ of schools because of the inclusive and whimsical atmosphere that Principal Heather Patterson has created. She wears colorful costumes, has a disco ball in her office, and kicks off every year with a dance party.

Her vision has yielded results. Polly Ryon is a place where students and teachers are excited to come and want to put in the work to succeed.

Culture plays a big role in the Holdsworth learning experience, prompting many of our partner districts to look in the mirror and ask, “Who are we?”

In Southwest ISD, for instance, leaders promote the hashtag #WeAreSW to build pride. As part of the Holdsworth partnership, the SWISD team has challenged themselves to take it a step further and identify the values that lie beneath that pride.

“We want #WeAreSW to mean a commitment to growth, service and results,” said Superintendent Lloyd Verstufyt. “If we can do that, we know we are setting our students up for a bright future.”


Though it may seem like a backburner issue for busy education leaders, Holdsworth believes creating a strong culture should be a top priority.

For educators just scratching the surface of the culture question, Hund recommends two books:

  • The Culture Code by Daniel CoyleThe Culture Code by Daniel Coyle – Coyle goes inside organizations like Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs and the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six to unlock the culture secrets that make them best-in-class.
  • Work Rules by Laszlo Bock – Laszlo digs into the culture at Google and explores what makes the organization a great place to work.

“You can set goals and make plans all day long, but if your culture is undermining those goals or not supporting them, it’s not going to happen,” Hund says. “The beautiful and scary thing about culture is that it’s up to leadership to create it.”