Our Culture is Our Stories

BY ANDREW DAVIS

One of the first lessons I remember learning in business school is that competitive advantage and strategy are made manifest in an organization’s architecture, routines, and culture. I have relished watching this play out at MTS. Our organizational architecture (departmentalized), as well as physical architecture (K-8 students sharing spaces), are an integral part of our competitive advantage. Likewise, our routines – the daily schedule with regular movement for students, time spent in performing arts and PE, and traditions such as Grandparents Tea – are also integral to who we are.

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And, of course, our culture is essential to MTS. In my first business school class on strategy, I learned that culture is defined, in part, by the stories we choose to tell. One of my roles as Head of School is the role of of story teller. On admissions tours, I tell the story of a 7th grader cheering for a 1st grader on the basketball court after school – meaningful connections between young and old is a part of our culture. When I meet with 7th and 8th grade families, I tell the story of graduates returning to campus, so proud of how well prepared they are and sharing what a good fit their high school is.

This year, we have added monthly all school assemblies to our routines at MTS. At the end of each assembly I tell  a story related to the values espoused in our mission and integral to our culture. At our first assembly, I told the story of portaging a canoe through thick mud. While self-reliance, a value in our mission statement, was the focus of the story, I hope that my story communicated more than this value. As part of that story, I shared with the students that I had, at 14 years old, cried on the side of the trail. In disclosing this, I hope I communicated a cultural acceptance of emotion and vulnerability – that in our culture it is okay for a boy to cry.

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Most recently I spoke to our students about the value of integrity. Rather than sharing a personal anecdote, I started by defining integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is looking and doing the right thing when  it is inconvenient. Then, knowing it would evoke some giggles, but hopefully be memorable, I told the students that the best way to remember integrity is “never wear dirty underwear.” We all know wearing dirty underwear is not the right thing to do – everyone vigorously nodded in agreement. We all understood that no one would know if you did. Integrity is deciding to wear clean underwear, even if it is inconvenient. Like with my story about self-reliance, I hope there was further learning with this funny aphorism. By telling this story, students learned that we can be serious – integrity is serious business – but we can also laugh. Laughter and learning together is part of our culture.

 We will talk about family vacations, like this one with all of us in Colorado this summer.

We will talk about family vacations, like this one with all of us in Colorado this summer.

As you gather with friends and family over Thanksgiving, I encourage you to think about the stories that your family tells. With my parents in Florida next week, we will undoubtedly tell stories of favorite meals, family vacations, and the turkey that never cooked when the oven died mid-roasting. Listening to those stories, Harrison and Huck will learn that food, family, and laughter are a big part of the Davis family culture. Thanksgiving is for being grateful and for sharing culture.

 And great meals, like this Thanksgiving dinner at my uncle Windle's bed and breakfast in Hudson, New York

And great meals, like this Thanksgiving dinner at my uncle Windle's bed and breakfast in Hudson, New York

Enjoy the Turkey and the stories!