A Culture 30 Years in the Making: Susan Foss Looks Back

By Susan Foss, co-founder of Foss Swim School


As the 30th anniversary year of Foss Swim School draws to a close, I feel so happy and proud of what this school has become and of the exceptional people who work here. We knew from the start that to be successful, we not only needed to have the best swim curriculum and purpose-built learning pools, but a strong culture that would help us hire and keep great people.

Our success depended on it! It was important right from the beginning to decide what kind of culture we wanted to have. People matter. Our early success meant we couldn’t do it all alone, and the more we grew, the more we depended on our team members. The right teachers and staff will have the most success connecting with and teaching our families and students. When our swimmers succeed, we all succeed.

The schools are where the magic is happening, in the lessons and in the connections between student and teacher. And everyone at FOSS, from the staff in our home office who run the business side of things to the facilities staff who ensure our pools and schools are running in top form, is working towards the same goal. It’s like a symphony – having great musicians adding their own contributions, all playing from the same piece of music.

We make sure to celebrate everyone’s contributions and help people see how they are helping support our mission of developing safer, more confident swimmers, guaranteed. It’s a great cause, and there is a lot of pride across our team.

Building the FOSS Culture over 30 Years

None of this happened by accident, but it wasn’t set in stone from day one either. In the very early days when we were exploding in size, apart from the teaching curriculum Jon himself created, we often didn’t know that much more than the people we were bringing on board. But looking back, I can see some themes that are a big part of who Foss Swim School is today.

  • Commit to training (and cross training) for everyone: From early on, we were committed to training. People need to know what is expected of them both professionally and as a part of the team. We build bonds by training together. We also build expertise: The exact number of hours of training teachers get may vary as we adjust the program, but it is significant and more than many swim programs require. We also do team building and cross training so our people can serve multiple roles and understand how it all fits together.
  • Like what you do and who you do it with: It was obvious early on that the most important skills for teachers and staff are to value our mission, love teaching, and love working with kids. Teachers don’t need to be champion swimmers. We look for the right attitude and ability to engage others. This also is great for retaining and recruiting: We naturally have friendly, outgoing people who like to have fun – and that’s the kind of place people naturally want to be!
  • Be playful and lead with laughter: We always have a playful side at Foss Swim School. It’s built into the steps of our teaching philosophy: laughter, then learning, then confidence and mastery. That goes for how we teach students, but also how we connect with co-workers. We are always playful, finding opportunities to have fun on the job and at staff events. We believe in being a “work family:” a dynamic group that has a sense of belonging and loyalty. We want our people to wake up wanting to come to work so they can see their friends.
  • Remember we are all on a continuum of learning: We don’t expect everyone to be perfect, but we do expect them to try. We invite people to try and push themselves into positions they may not have thought they were ready for. It provides a path for growth, and an environment where people treat each other with grace and understanding. We give schools the autonomy to set their own goals and build their own culture while remaining part of the same family. It helps us keep growing and evolving.

Setting the table for the next 30 years

I believe people work for people, not for systems. Building our culture to be people-centric and a place where we have strong personal bonds is key to our success. But underpinning this are the strong systems we have built over the years. Systems are the anchor that ensures consistent quality, and a foundation from which we can innovate. Our school curriculum, training program, and business operations are examples of the bedrock systems on which Foss Swim School is built.

I’m so happy to see how we have over the decades helped so many of our people develop and grow, right alongside our students. It’s been a wonderful thirty years, and looking at the blending of mission, culture, and operations we have today, I’m excited to see how we continue to grow!

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