Shaping School Culture

Shaping School Culture
The authors of the book Shaping School Culture: The Heart of School Leadership, Terrence Deal and Kent Peterson, relate leadership to school culture. They attempt to get into the center of school reform by getting into their cultures. They argue that the heart of school leadership is in their cultures. Therefore, reforms in school leadership can be achieved through cultural reform. According to Deal and Peterson (1999), culture refers to common beliefs, norms, and customs. It exists in all types of organizations including offices, community groups, homes and schools. This paper will analyze the authors’ leadership theory and make connections to the real world of schools.
Terrence Deal and Kent Peterson have divided the book into two sections. The first section discusses the elements of culture. The second section provides a discussion on the effects of shaping the school culture as it relates to school leaders and administrators. According to them, traditions are important to all school community members when they are suitably executed. A school’s culture is always at work, either assisting or hampering adult learning. It will affect the way school community members think, feel, and act. Fullan (2001) states that understanding and shaping a school’s culture is important in supporting staff and student learning. Different schools may have the same or different cultures. School culture refers to a set of norms, values, and beliefs that govern members of the school community. Moreover, it includes rituals, ceremonies, symbols, and stories.
School culture consists of unwritten expectations built up over time as members of the school community work together to solve conflicts, deal with challenges, and cope with failures. For instance, every school has a set of expectations about what constitutes good teaching mechanisms, what can be discussed in staff meetings, and the significance of staff development (Deal & Peterson, 1999). It is also contained in rituals and ceremonies. For instance, there are schools that hold communal events to mark important collective transitions and recognize people’s contributions. Symbols and stories form part of it as well. These are aspects used to communicate core values, reinforce the mission, and build a common sense of commitment. According to Donaldson (2001), the success of a school is mainly dependent on its culture. Deal and Peterson (1999) state that a school’s culture can be either positive or negative.
A school that has a positive culture allows staff and student learning to prosper. It provides meaningful staff development and successful curricular reform. It cultivates a professional environment that makes an effective use of student performance data. In this culture, school members value learning and work toward enhancement of a curriculum and instructions that focus on students. Lambert (1998) describes it as a culture with a collective sense of purpose and values, norms of constant learning and development, collective and collegial interactions, and a commitment to a sense of responsibility for the learning of all students. Lambert also adds that it provides rituals and traditions that celebrate and recognize student achievement, teacher innovation, and parental commitment. A positive professional culture improves the quality and success of staff development.
Staff development is an important aspect of school culture. It occurs when teachers feel that professional development is important and valued. It is a collective activity nurtured by historical examples of meaningful professional learning and collective commitment to student development. Staff learning is strengthened by sharing concepts, group learning, and symbolic and oral recognition of newly learned skills. Faculty meetings and other school ceremonies facilitate recognition and appreciation of staff. For instance, a staff meeting can begin with a positive action a staff member took to assist a student. The former can be further appreciated with a ceremonial cup of coffee and a round of applause. Positive staff development cultures value innovative staff members and design well-defined development plans. They also plan staff study groups, which have a diversity of learning methods. Student development is another important aspect of a positive school culture. It occurs when student accomplishments are celebrated by school rituals and traditions. The culture provides a shared commitment to help students learn. For instance, teachers and staff members can greet students every morning, reminding them to work hard and achieve greater heights.
Strong positive cultures provide a shared sense of purpose and commitment to assist students learn. Ganado Primary School was once recognized as one of the worst schools in the state of Arizona. It did not have a strong professional culture to support its growth and development. Professional development was not valued, and teachers did not believe in new ideas (Deal & Peterson, 1999). However, the principal and his staff decided to adopt a new positive culture to support staff and student learning, teacher innovation, and meaningful parent involvement. Every member of the school is viewed as a learner, and the school provides many opportunities for learning. For instance, it has developed a Collaborative Literacy Intervention Project (CLIP) to support training of all teachers. Teachers hold regular meetings for “curriculum conversations” to discuss new instructional techniques and share experiences. The school celebrates student accomplishment through a program called “Celebrating Quality Learning Awards”.
Furthermore, the school has a staff professional library, which symbolically communicates the importance of learning. Moreover, it has accumulated over 4,000 professional books and 400 educational videotapes, which help it carry out effective teaching and other professional matters. It also has an academy, where parents meet annually to discuss and enhance their parenting skills. New ideas are encouraged and supported. According to Hopfenberg (1995), teachers feel accountable for enhancing their own skills and knowledge to assist students learn. They anticipate and inspire cooperation and sharing. Thus, the school culture values professional learning. Hollibrook Elementary School, Texas, has developed a strong, student-focused culture. Over the years, it has built a professional culture that values students. Every year, it holds ceremonies and traditions to reinforce student learning.
The authors acknowledge that not all schools have a positive culture. There are those that have toxic cultures. The schools have adopted negative values, which put their students at the risk of failing. Toxic cultures are caused by values such as selfishness, pessimism, and apathy. In most cases, the staff is extremely fragmented, and students lack proper service. For instance, there are schools where some teachers lack the initiative for new ideas. They always criticize those that are concerned about student achievement. In addition, they make fun of teachers who volunteer to attend workshops. Staff meetings form battlegrounds among teachers with different ideas. Lack of staff cohesion can effectively sabotage any attempts at collegial enhancement. Even good schools contain toxic subcultures. There are groups of parents or teachers who spread a sense of frustration, anomie, and ineptness. Their conversations, communications, and planning are shrouded with negativity. Their stories relate to failure, and they consider anti-heroes as heroes.
There is no person who would want to live and work in schools with toxic cultures. The schools need leadership to transform their toxic cultures and embrace positive change. Building this change requires time and concentration from parents, administrators, staff, and students. According to Deal and Peterson (1999), leaders are critical to shaping school culture. Principals have a responsibility to communicate core value to all the teachers. It is the responsibility of teachers to reinforce values in their actions and words. Parents visit the schools to support the spirit, take part in governance, and celebrate achievement. Leadership is a collaborative effort. In the strongest schools, it originates from diverse sources. There are various things school leaders should do when shaping culture. The first thing is to study its history and present form. They should understand the deeper meanings embedded in it before attempting to restructure it. Secondly, leaders should find out and articulate core values. In the process, they should uphold those that support student learning. This process should identify and uphold constructive aspects of the culture. Lastly, they should transform those that are undesirable and dysfunctional (Meier, 2014).
School leaders shape culture in many ways. They communicate core values in actions and words; identify and recognize teachers who have worked diligently to serve the students and purpose of the school; perform rituals and traditions that reinforce the school’s core values. Moreover, they articulately communicate the underlying mission of the school and celebrate the staff, the students, and the community achievements. Their main focus is on students’ success and achievement. The abovementioned activities are among the many other ways in which school leaders shape culture. They should make it a daily routine to reinforce norms and values. They should also be reinforced through their words and interactions. In addition, resources are an important aspect of culture. Allocation of resources determines the success of various sections of a school. Leaders can strengthen quality professional learning by allocating extra funds to important activities (Southworth, 2002). They include implementation of new ideas, staff development, and recognition of those committed to learning their skills.
The authors of the book have clearly indicated the relationship between school leadership and culture. Shaping culture is an important aspect toward school reform. Nowadays, there is significant national focus on higher national curriculum standards, assessments, and accountability from the government. These are important in aligning the learning content, teaching, and assessment. However, these efforts can fail without a culture that will support and value them. In addition to clear structures, teacher learning needs strong, professional cultures. A school’s culture either encourages or hinders quality professional learning. Every member in a school has the responsibility to develop and sustain a positive, professional culture that supports staff learning. In addition, the culture should support student learning. This will make school institutions provide quality knowledge, and every child will be able to receive a quality education.

Deal, T. E. & Peterson, K. D. (1999). Shaping school culture: The heart of school leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Donaldson, G. A. (2001). Cultivating leadership in schools. New York: Teachers College Press.
Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hopfenberg, W. S. (1995). The accelerated schools resource guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lambert, L. (1998). Building leadership capacity in schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Meier, D. (2014). The power of their ideas: Lessons for America from a small school in Harlem. Boston: Beacon Press.
Southworth, G. (2002). Instructional leadership in schools: Reflections and empirical evidence. School Leadership & Management, 22(1), 73-91.

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