212 Degrees of Customer Service in Education

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

Dr. Bill Daggett preaches, "Culture trumps strategy!" How do we get our whole school to focus on culture? Let's take the school's temperature…If 100 degree is warm, than 212 degrees is boiling! Customer service in education may not seem foreign to many educators, but this is what we do every day…we welcome students, parents, community members, and hopefully other employees in our schools. How we treat these people is important to the success of the overall organization. Within five minutes we can walk into a school and determine what temperature the customer service is going to be…metaphorically speaking!

Here are five easy things that we can look at to determine the temperature of a school:

  • student to student interactions;
  • teacher to student interactions;
  • teacher to other staff member interactions;
  • administration and clerical staff to teachers;
  • administration and clerical staff to parents and community members.

Watching students interact with each other in the classroom, hallway, or out on the playground tell you a lot about the clientele that attend school. Are these students respectful to each other, do they know how to address conflict when there is a disagreement, and how do they support each other when challenged? Do you see students respectfully answering each other when questioned, or using manners when they accidentally get bumped? Do students interact as they pass each other in the hallway?

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Watching how a teacher interacts with their homeroom students can be interesting. Sometimes these interactions are different or nonexistent when the student isn't one of their own…either a different classroom, different grade level, or even different school. What kind of language do they use to promote good behavior? What kind of language do they use with kids when something needs to be addressed or changed? Then, how do the kids respond to this verbiage?

Watching staff members in a meeting, in the teacher's lounge, or even passing each other in the hallway can tell you a lot about the people in your building. Do they acknowledge each other as they pass? Do they plan time together? Do they have relationships that go beyond the walls of the school building? Do the teachers talk to all staff members the same way (classified support staff included)?

Watching the principal, assistant principal, administrative assistants interact with staff members tells you a lot about the school culture. Does the principal make it a point to talk to as many people in the school as possible each day? How does the administrative assistant interact with staff members and do staff members avoid or gravitate towards them? Does the assistant principal support teachers with more than just discipline?

Watching administration deal with parents and community members can give insight into their priorities in the school environment. Do the office personal put face to face interactions first, or do they stop a conversation to answer the phone? Do they acknowledge the parent in some fashion as soon as they enter the office? How much time can expire when a parent walks into the office before someone helps them?

The following thermometer analogy gives you some ideas on what you can do to go from freezing, to lukewarm 100 degree customer service, to boiling 212 degrees of customer service.

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32 Degrees - Freezing

  • Staff doesn't acknowledge each other in the hallway.
  • Student behaviors are inconsistent and there are signs of disrespect towards each other routinely.
  • Staff doesn't acknowledge or greet community members or parents when they are on campus.
  • Curriculum trumps culture.

100 Degrees - Lukewarm

  • Staff members may smile at each other, and they may say hello to other employees during the week.
  • Administrators greet parents when they come into the office, they may greet people outside before or after school.
  • Students are relatively nice to each other, but there are still issues with respecting and accepting all students.
  • Staff members may help in the office, but do not feel obligated to support each other.
  • Not quite clear whether "culture is more important than curriculum"…it's inconsistent.

212 Degrees - Boiling

  • All staff members smile, say hello, or make a statement to each other every time they pass… everywhere.
  • All staff members acknowledge students in the hallway when they pass, whether they are in their homeroom or classroom, grade level, or even school. This can be done with a smile, a high five, or another positive statement.
  • All staff members can respectfully address, correct, or praise behaviors anywhere in the school.
  • Administrators take time to get to know students, staff, parents, and community members and work on relationships each and every day.
  • Administrative secretaries whom are on the front lines greet students, staff members, parents, and community members in a timely fashion, and do so with a smile, positive statement, or by asking a question.
  • Administrative secretaries take time to get to know and form relationships with students, staff, parents, and community members.
  • Students have been modeled language to ask for support, how to deal with conflict, how to identify acts of kindness and empathy, and celebrate it.
  • Students have been modeled language on how to interact with other students positively with respect.
  • All staff members are not afraid to help out in the office when there is congestion.
  • All staff members acknowledge parents and community members in the office, hallways, classrooms, or even at school-wide events or assemblies. This can be done with a smile, a question, or a positive statement.
  • There is evidence that "culture trumps curriculum."

A great new book that gives more ideas on creating a positive culture is Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning that Teachers, Students, and Parents Love (©2016), by Joe Sanfelippo (@ and Tony Sinansis. They state, "Because a school's culture extends to all of its stakeholders, effective interactions are the single most important non-negotiable in creating flourishing schools." They give ideas you can implement tomorrow that help tell your story about your school and how you can highlight the 212 degrees of Customer Service you now can preach! In meeting Tony Sinansis (@TonySinansis) this summer in Washington, D.C. at the National Association of Elementary School Principal's Conference, I found him to be the real deal. This guy is positive, has a growth mindset, listens to peons like me, and acknowledges and celebrates other people's ideas. I want to work for or with this guy some day! To learn more about Hack Learning go to HackLearning.com or #hacklearning on Twitter.

In order to increase the temperature of your customer service, start by holding each other accountable, building trusting relationships between co-workers, as well as being positive role models for our colleagues, students, and parents inside the school walls, as well as outside of school. We have chosen this profession which is ultimately steeped in "customer service." Whether our customers are students, parents, or community members, we must remember to always create an environment where we would want to work, learn, and celebrate!

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Jon Konen