Darren Cox is a principal at St. Phillips Christian school primary/secondary school. Darren completed the CliftonStrengths assessment and a coaching session during a leadership course. He felt this was the first assessment that really “got him.” It was liberating and encouraging to him. He doesn’t fit the mold of a principal, but he learned that people can do all types of jobs using their strengths. If he benefited, how much could everyone else? So, he had his staff and students take the assessment as well.
Strategy and steps?
- In 3 years took school from 200 to over 1000 students
- Had opportunity to create a tone and culture
- Student and staff well-being is a major need these days
- Had already started to introduce positive psychology; SF aligned perfectly
- Spoke to senior leadership about SF; got some buy-in and interest; they all took the assessment
- All 6 said it was the best thing they’ve ever done; they then shared their experience with it and how they now better understand themselves and their roles
- Staff was chomping at the bit to get started
- Assessment is good, but then what? We needed to budget and prioritize the consultation (coaching) to go along with it
- We have open learning zones at our school; work as teams; but we don’t always get to set them up for success
- Now, at the beginning of the year the teams can meet, talk about their strengths and better understand each other
- When the team gels better, the students will have a better experience
- The heart of leadership is to want good things for people
- We’re on a treasure hunt, not a witch hunt; bring out the treasure and understand how we can best use each other
- Strengths is common language across the school
- You have to invest in people, spend time with them, listen to them, then resource and equip them
- Students and employees go home every day knowing they were able to use their strengths in a positive way – that’s what it’s all about
- It’s not just the “latest thing”; this is the journey we are on there
- Schools help create community, culture and belonging
ROI? Board? Parents?
- 130 staff so this comes with a cost
- Significant investment in students
- We have parents’ night to make them aware of it
- The feedback from staff surveys was overwhelmingly positive, which the board liked
- We’ve never had to measure the impact of our choir
- We’ve never had to measure the impact of our sports teams
- But we have them and know they are important
- So why should we have to measure the impact of strengths when we know the difference its making
- But we are looking at what data we can collect on these intangibles
- The emotional intelligence of staff has improved tremendously, but how do we measure that?
How are you bringing it into the campus day to day?
- We started earlier so we could fit more time into our pastoral care
- More opportunity for us to speak to well-being
- We cast a vision that was compelling and people wanted to be a part of so we overcame any pushback
- Everyone in the school is aware of everyone else’s strengths; they are on our learning mgmt. system
- We use this in creating groups for various needs/activities
- Think about what groupings will help people achieve outcomes
- Include strengths in career discussions
- Staff evaluations are now done around their strengths
- Strengths are now part of our language at the school with both students and staff
- Use strengths in discussions around student behavior issues
- Students put their strengths on their CVs; they can talk about the benefit they can bring to a work site
Any talk about taking CliftonStrengths to the other schools/campuses? And within your own school what is the vision?
- I’ve presented to the other principles and some are dipping their toe in the water
- Head office have all taken it and had some coaching
- Vocational educational training (VET) program is non-traditional program; with SF the retention rate among those students has increased; they also have more confidence in themselves; I’m not naughty, I’m just wired this way
- Dynamic Alternative Learning Environment – currently work with leaders there; students are wired a bit different but are equally as important and can make a contribution
- You’ve done a good job of establishing cultural touchstones
- We have a Beyond award – going beyond in how they use their strength
- We have a Maximizer award
- It gives a common language that allows students to talk easier with teachers; has improved the culture on campus
- Top 5 for all but executive leadership who get all 34
- We have a bank of activities that staff can do with students – two that work well are how do you like to receive feedback and “I learn best when…”
- Teachers can offer alternative ways to do assignments
- We model everything with staff; then they bring it into their class
- Key indicators we measure are around staff well-being
- Also retention rate and recruitment
What questions do you hear when you speak?
- Most are about how to create a culture
- How to be the best possible leader I can be and hold myself accountable
As Principal of St Philip’s Christian College Cessnock, an innovative school situated on 100 acres in the Hunter Valley, Darren Cox is a passionate and transformational leader. Darren has developed a small country school of 250 to one of the most sought after schools in the region now catering for over 1000 students and projected to reach 1600. Darren is a confident and inspiring leader who has been involved in education for over 25 years. He is an empowering leader who has created a successful culture of professional learning and leadership development. Darren has used his strengths in strategic planning and change management to see improved literacy results and teacher quality improve across the school. He is an outstanding and motivating speaker who has a love for people and life and his vision, passion and enthusiasm are contagious.
Darren's top five strengths are Woo, Strategic, Communication, Activator, and Positivity.
Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Cheryl Pace, contributed to this post.