Principal as Culture Builder

Principal as
Culture Builder
A Cultural Perspective for Learning in
• Defining School Culture
Schein’s Cultural Elements
• Historical and current artifacts (including behavior norms,
traditions, and myths)
• Commonly held values and beliefs among internal and
external participants in the organization
• Basic assumptions that provide the underlying basis for
actions, values, and beliefs by the participants
Understanding A School’s Existing Culture
1. How long has the school existed?
2. Why was it built, and who were the first
3. Who had a major influence on the school’s
4. What critical incidents occurred in the past,
and how were they resolved, if at all?
Understanding A School’s Existing Culture cont.
5. What were the preceding principals,
teachers, and students like?
6. What does the school’s architecture convey?
How is space arranged and used?
7. What subcultures exist inside and outside the
8. Who are the recognized (and unrecognized
heroes and villains of the school?
Understanding A School’s Existing Culture cont.
9. What do people say (and think) when asked
what the school stands for? What would they
miss if they left?
10. What events are assigned special
11.How is conflict typically defined? How is it
Understanding A School’s Existing Culture cont.
12. What are the key ceremonies and stories of
the school?
13. What do people wish for? Are there
patterns to their individual dreams?
Wagner’s three cultural elements that relate
specifically to the overall culture of the school
• Professional collaboration
• Affiliative and collegial relationships
• Efficacy or self-determination
Questions to link the understanding of the
school’s culture with your role as a leader:
• What do students, staff, and community
members say (and think) when asked what the
school stands for?
• How do the key people in the school use
personal pronouns in describing the school?
Characteristics of a Toxic Culture
1. Focused on negative values
2. Fragmented—meaning is derived from
subculture membership, antistudent
sentiments, or life outside work
3. Almost exclusively destructive
4. Spiritually fractured
Negative Roles
Pessimistic storytellers
Keepers of the nightmare
Prima donnas
Space cadets
Outcomes of Strong School Cultures
Principal Leadership in Creating, Maintaining,
and Changing Culture Creating School Culture
The first set, primary embedding mechanisms:
1. What leaders pay attention to, measure, and
control on a regular basis
2. How leaders react to critical incidents and
organizational crisis
3. Observed criteria by which leaders allocate
scare resources
The first set, primary embedding mechanisms cont.
4. Deliberate role modeling, teaching, and
5. Observed criteria by which leaders allocate
rewards and status
6. Observed criteria by which leaders recruit,
select, promote, retire, and excommunicate
organizational members
A second set of mechanisms acts as
culture reinforcers
Organizational design and structure
Organizational systems and procedures
Organizational rites and rituals
Design of physical space, facades, and buildings
Stories, legends, and myths about people and
6. Formal statements of organizational philosophy,
values, and creed
Maintaining School Culture
• Internal veterans
• Internal newcomers
• External constituents
Changing School Culture:
Seven steps in responding to toxic cultures
1. Confront the negativity head on; give people a chance to
vent their venom in a public forum
2. Shield and support positive cultural elements and staff
3. Focus energy on the recruitment, selection, and retention
of effective, positive staff
4. Rabidly celebrate the positive and the possible
5. Consciously and directly focus on eradicating the negative
and rebuilding around positive norms and beliefs
6. Develop new stories of success, renewal, and
7. Help those who might succeed and thrive in a new district
make the move to a new school
The Principal Facilitating Others in
Understanding and Developing Culture
Five Possibilities that Symbolize what
Principals and Assistant Principals can do
1. Symbolize core values in the way offices and
classrooms are arranged
2. Model values through the leader’s demeanor and
3. Use time to communicate what is important, what
should be attended to
4. Realize that what is appreciated, recognized, and
honored signals the key values of what is admirable
and achievable
5. Recognize that official correspondence is a visible
measure of values and reinforces the importance of
that is being disseminated
Four Ways to Shape the Culture
1. They infuse shared values and beliefs into
every aspect of the culture
2. They anoint heroes and heroines, anointing
and recognizing the best role models in the
3. They observe rituals as a means of building
and maintaining esprit de corps
4. They perpetuate meaningful, value-laden
traditions and ceremonies
Three Examples of Ways Teacher Leaders can
Work with Principles in Reinforcing Positive
Aspects of Culture:
• Celebrate successes in staff meetings and
• Tell stories of accomplishment and
collaboration whenever they have the
• Use clear, shared language created during
professional development to foster
commitment to staff and student learning

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