Inclusion, Purpose, Caring, and Empathy | Steve Barkley

Inclusion, Purpose, Caring, and Empathy

The question What Do You Think text on notepad with pen

In a Fortune article describing the experiences of employees in the best 100 companies to work for, I read the following:

These companies doubled down on what decades of research tells us actually matters—trust, respect, purpose, and community. The best companies go beyond perks to create aspirational workplaces. They foster a culture of inclusion, purpose, caring, and empathy. Then they dig deeper and personalize those values in creative and inspiring ways, genuinely listening to their workforce. They meet employees where they are.

I thought the article pointed to some valuable areas for school leadership teams to be examining as they close out this school year and plan (as best they can) for the next. Consider using the article as a reflection starter for administrator and teacher leaders engaging in assessing and planning. Here are some thoughts that emerged as I read and reflected.


Employees at the best workplaces are encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work. The best companies are focused on ensuring every employee feels included.

For me, this means every staff member receives the message frequently that ‘what I do here really matters.’ I recall years ago listening to teachers’ complaints about how they disliked the teacher evaluation process in their school. Yet when school leadership discussed dropping evaluation, they complained louder. Even a poor appraisal process communicated at some level what I am doing here is important enough to warrant evaluation. My big push for coaching is communicating that everyone deserves a coach. Quality coaching personalizes to the individual’s role and contributions in ways that most evaluations do not.

In an email message from Will Richardson and Homa Tavangar at the Big Questions Institute came a suggestion of asking teachers, “What is sacred about what currently happens in schools.” They found that when they asked teachers, “What it’s like to be a teacher today?”….teachers had little if anything positive to say. When asked, “What is sacred in their own work,” teachers shared dozens and dozens of positive points, that also would apply to teaching work. Asking ‘what’s sacred’ helped them anchor in some positive aspects of teaching, as something to build on.

Teachers knowing that leaders heard, valued, and supported those sacred components would build inclusivity. Great coaching conversations could come from these discussions.


purposeBest companies purposefully connect their mission with employees’ jobs. Their employees are proud of their company’s reputation, values, and place in the community.

Creating collaborative groups was another suggestion in the email from the Big Questions Institute. “Having a trusted group that you can honestly share struggles and wins with can help your personal and professional growth and importantly, build perspective to climb out of ruts that can often characterize teaching.”

For me, purpose is built around common/shared goals. It’s why I began adopting the phrase ‘goals before norms’ in my work with PLCs. When we identify a purpose especially one of high value (sacred) it gives a reason for the sometimes, hard work of collaboration and shared accountability.

I found a great example in a recent conversation with a PLC leader of a physical and health education teaching team responsible for K-12 students. As this PLC looks at the remaining months of this year and next, they are dealing with the school gymnasium being deconstructed and reconstructed over 18 months. Also, some members will be leaving and new members joining the staff.

The PLC decide on five critical components (purposes) that can focus their work.

  • Activity—students engaged in physical development
  • Connectivity/Community—for students and staff
  • Happiness and Wellbeing – for students and staff
  • Communication- among team members, the students, the school, and parents
  • Safety

When I heard the list, I envisioned an ongoing check back for individuals and the team for assessing and planning. An opportunity to find pride in their accomplishments during what will be a challenging set of circumstances.

Caring and Empathy

The best companies have an increased focus on workers’ whole well-being—their personal life, family life, and life in their community…Listening and empathy without action weakens trust. Don’t bother asking for feedback if you don’t plan to do anything with it. Pay lip service to their needs without actionable support, and you’ll see morale decline and trust erode.
These words push me to see the need for empowerment and shared accountability. Bringing staff into the problem-solving and decision-making process is critical. “Granting” requests are usually not the best role for school leaders and often school leaders can lack the authority to fulfill a request. Working together as a team, school staffs can be empowered to create an environment that supports each other to maximize their potential and celebrate their success with students.

Advice from the Fortune article: “As with our personal lives, we want to be seen, heard, and know that we matter. Work is no different. Show them, don’t tell them.”

We need to make the same situation true for students in our classrooms.

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