School Culture

Posted by on Aug 23, 2009


*This is a reflection post required for my JHU-ISTE Leadership program.

This post is in response to the following two questions.

* What impact does the creation of a positive school culture have on school reform?
* How has what you have learned so far in the course shaped your concept of an effective leader?

As one of the most pragmatic of tasks on any administrator’s agenda, I believe addressing the school culture is one of the most important.  If a building administrator can take some time to absorb the current culture when he or she arrives afresh at a building, and then determine what it is that bears keeping and what needs reculturing, I believe the opportunity to enact overall reform will be made much more powerful.

In thinking about culture, I believe many people discuss the idea as the gauging of the history of an institution.  Acknowledging that we stand on the shoulders of giants is important, but I fear that sometimes we become enabled or entrenched by the remembrance of those shoulders upon which we are standing.  Assumptions are made that what was established before is good, and must remain good, for the very fact that it still remains.  The reverence debilitates the capacity to look critically and gauge which still stands because nobody dared kick it a bit to see if it was sturdy enough to build years of effort and value upon.  To give the foundation a bit of a prod with fresh eyes from time to time is invaluable.  And it could directly lead to the kind of reform that lasts.

When then moving to reculture, I believe it is much more important to look at creating an effective culture rather than just a positive one.  A positive culture can simply mean a general getting along of all groups in the building.  Everyone gets along with everyone else smashingly and people feel very positive about the educational institution as a whole.  This kind of environment can be an enjoyable place to work, but it doesn’t mean that anything meaningful is actually taking place within the walls of the institution.  I’d like to establish a culture where the needs of students supersede all other needs.  Where it might be uncomfortable or trying or even difficult for a teacher to do what is best for the learning of a student, but in the culture I’d like to foster, teachers would recognize that the effort and pain and frustration are worth it when it directly benefits the students.

There is no way I can transition smoothly into the second question.  It is simply too broad and tangental to the first.  It would be nice if the three paragraphs above held that which has come to most greatly impact my concept of an effective leader, but it isn’t.  To this point, what has most shaped my concept of an effective leader is the reading of the Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership.  Each chapter I have read has left an indelible mark, and I simply can’t recommend the book enough to anyone who is thinking about engaging in a study on the topic.  It’s most certainly worth the purchase, and I know I will be returning to it time and again in the years to come as there are so many excellent ideas and concepts worth revisiting on a recurring basis.

And, I still maintain that I don’t want to be an effective leader.  I’m still of mind to be exceptional.  Again, not for the sake of what that could mean for me, but rather, for what that would mean to those within the building where I might have the privilege to lead.

Thanks to Pixelmaniac for the use of the Flickr image.

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