Be a Cultural Custodian

New Rule:  Be a Cultural Custodian

I often hear that there are not enough teachers.  Bullfeathers.  There are more than enough teachers.  The issue is that many are choosing not to teach.  Hmmm.  Why? Some research I have read indicates that fifty percent of the teachers are leaving the profession in five years.  This dropout rate for teachers is high and getting higher.  From my experience, it is the culture.

Let’s look closer at the work of Frederick Herzberg.  In 1959 Herzberg wrote the following useful phrase helping to explain this fundamental part of his theory. “We can expand … by stating that the job satisfiers deal with the factors involved in doing the job, whereas the job dissatisfiers deal with the factors which define the job context.”  Sounds like the culture to me. In 2008 he wrote a small book called, One More Time. We keep finding the same answers. Some author comes up with a new title or new catchphrase, soon there is a book, and voila – consulting. Quit writing about it and do it.

Basically, Herzberg said that there are intrinsic motivational factors of any job. Start using it.

  • Achievement – do people feel like they are being successful and contributing to the goals of the company?
  • Recognition for the work itself – do colleagues and supervisors acknowledge good work?
  • Responsibility- do you have what you need to do a good job and can you make decisions based on your professional judgment?
  • Growth or advancement – is there a focus on getting better and does the system help people get better at their craft? Growth on the job is a major source of intrinsic motivation.

On the other hand, the dissatisfaction-avoidance factors are extrinsic to the job. He lists the following:

  • Company policy and administration – being restricted to one method of working or policies that, while well-intentioned, do not fit every situation.
  • Supervision – Gallup in their research has said, people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.
  • Interpersonal relationships – Conflict abounds. If the leader or the system will not deal with unresolved conflict, human capital is wasted and people are at risk.
  • Working conditions – Having no input or shared decision-making for how people are treated.  Not having enough resources is another big issue in education.  We will never have enough time or money; however, we can have supportive condition to allow our best efforts to come forward.
  • Salary – Most of us think educators are underpaid and I agree.  As long as there is external equity with surrounding districts, this may not be the biggest issue.
  • Status – As the status of the teacher continues to decline, the less attractive the job becomes.  I have had teachers tell me that they had been called a “Fing B.”  Is that part of the job?  Really.  Of course, it depends on the leadership and based on what is acceptable. In Korea they have a saying, “you don’t even step on the shadow of a teacher.”
  • Security – Once contracts and unions provided some sense of security.  As public confidence in schools declines, the public schools lose students which creates more scarcity.  The recent supreme court decision doesn’t help.  There will be less job security.

My thesis is, if the culture and working conditions were more focused on positive intrinsic motivators and focused on learning (not test scores), many of the dissatisfiers would have less impact on attracting and retaining our best learners as teachers. We would have more learning role models in our schools.  These “learning catalysts,” often called teachers, attract and engage students.  The search for the silver bullet and test prep is killing our kids, driving our best educators out, and ultimately jeopardizing our country.

Chinese educators have come to the U.S. looking for more creative ideas to educate students.  One was heard saying, ‘we can’t figure out why you want to go where we were.’  DUH  There are schools that are learningful and exciting.  Most Likely to Succeed  (Wagner & Dintersmith 2015) and What School Could Be (Dintersmith 2018) are two resources to start with.

It also takes leaders and leadership. I got the title of this rule from a book called Chief Joy Officer (2018) by Richard Sheridan.  I have referred to Sheridan’s first book Joy, Inc., previously and a book summary is already posted.  Sheridan quotes Ryan Sullivan, the founder of A2 Functional Fitness. Sullivan describes it: The Cultural Custodian: This is the person that manages the space, schedule, cleaning, maintenance, day-to-day (business, and culture of the organization. Any issues with (anything involving the core Cooperative will be addressed by the cultural custodian. In a traditional business model, ‘this person would be a director or CEO. Good leaders are servants of their communities. For this reason, the cultural custodian is charged with providing balanced value to each and every member of the Collective. This Pillar acts as the guardian of the organization rather than a director and is why part of the job duties of the cultural custodian includes cleaning and maintenance of the facility. It is his/her job to care for every aspect of the Cooperative.

My belief is, that if leaders can’t help create and sustain a learning culture, the organization will not be able to provide that for the professionals working in the schools.  In the 80s, after doing a workshop with Art Costa, we went to dinner.  Art, who has been my mentor for over thirty years looked at me and said, ‘Bill you are a principal, what are you doing to create a mentally stimulating environment for your staff?’  Stunned, I responded, “I have to do that too.”  Then, Art said, “if you don’t create a mentally stimulating environment for your staff, why do you think they will create it for kids?”  He went right to my heart and values.  Thank you, Art.

So, when Sheridan put the term ‘cultural custodian’ in his book, it was another AHA moment for me.  That is what leaders, and especially leaders at the building level need to be doing.  If the culture isn’t right, we will never spend most of our time on learning. Richard Sheridan is the co-founder of Menlo Innovations which is a software development company.  I have learned about many effective leadership and organizational practices from Richard’s writing and spending a day with him at Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, MI. I highly recommend his two books.

I will be writing in the future a few of my ideas of how to build a learning culture in schools.


Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). What School Could Be.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Herzberg, Frederick – Motivation Theory –

Herzberg, Frederick. (2008). One more time: how do you motivate employees? Boston:  Harvard

Business Press.

Sheridan, Richard. (2018). Chief Joy Officer.  New York: Portfolio/Penguin

Wagner, Tony & Dintersmith, Ted. (2015). Most Likely to Succeed.  New York: Scribner



Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!