The Art of School Leadership School Culture Auckland, New Zealand August 2, 2007 Thomas R. Hoerr, Ph.D. [email protected] www.newcityschool.org How does school culture affect student performance? Culture is school-specific. • While schools’ mission statements vary, all are designed to result in student growth and achievement. • Schools are successful because they possess a strong and vibrant culture. Mission versus culture • A school’s mission sets out both the what and how in general terms: What is sought and how it is to be attained. • But the school culture determines the specific ways people behave • The school culture determines whether the mission truly comes to life. • Mission = formal; culture = informal • BOTH are important Let’s begin with mission • • • • • • Does your school have a formal mission? How was it developed? When was it revised? Where is it posted? Who knows it? What does it do? The New City School mission New City School prepares children age three through grade six to become joyful learners, to succeed academically, and to be confident and knowledgeable about themselves and others. As an international leader in elementary education, New City School offers outstanding academics, a nurturing ambience and a unique tradition of diversity. New City School students are insightful leaders and creative problem solvers who thrive in an ever-changing world. What sets us apart? New City School prepares children age three through grade six to become joyful learners, to succeed academically, and to be confident and knowledgeable about themselves and others. As an international leader in elementary education, New City School offers outstanding academics, a nurturing ambience and a unique tradition of diversity. New City School students are insightful leaders and creative problem solvers who thrive in an ever-changing world. Culture • An institutional culture informs and guides us far more deeply and pervasively than does a mission statement. • Everyone feels and knows the school’s culture on a daily basis. What is your school’s culture? 1. What does a student or parent feel when they enter the door? 2. What are the characteristics of students who excel? Those who struggle? 3. What describes teachers who excel? Those who struggle? Think TIME Magazine… Culture affects our perceptions and behaviors What do these photos tell you about my school’s culture? And? What is culture, anyway? • In Managing Change, John O’Toole says, “Culture is the unique whole – the shared ideas, customs, assumptions, expectations, philosophy, traditions, mores, and values – that determines how a group of people will behave.” • Deal and Peterson, in Shaping School Culture, note that “Cultural patterns are highly enduring, have a powerful impact on performance, and shape the ways people think, act, and feel.” • Roland Barth: culture is “the complex pattern of norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, ceremonies, traditions, and myths that are deeply ingrained in the very core of the organization” • All organizations have a culture but culture is more important in a school. • Deal and Peterson again: “In the world of education with its multiple challenges and complex goals, ritual is probably more important than in a business with a tangible product or service.” • A school’s culture provides a framework for educational decisions and practices. • Culture is a value filter. • Culture determines pedagogy, assessment, communication with students’ parents, and faculty relationships. • In schools where the culture is strong, there is an expectation and tone; the way to proceed is clear. • When culture is strong, faculty members approach problems and act in certain ways because that is the way things are done here. • A school’s culture tells people how they should behave. • The most important task of a school leader is framing and monitoring the school’s culture. • Good leaders establish a culture. Culture: Where to start? • Typically we begin with forming and managing the aspects of a school’s culture which relate to students. • It is a missed opportunity! • The faculty sets the tone and manages the expectations for student behavior. • Administrators need to spend more time establishing the culture for faculty than for students. Total control or absent control? • Absent of a strong culture, behaviors are led and governed by administrative edicts and guidelines. • Or there is no consistency or direction; each teacher is on her own. Teachers “free-lancing” becomes the norm which results in students’ parents being far less confident about the school. When a culture is strong • The ways to approach problems are obvious and consistent. • The administrator does not need to weigh-in on every decision. • Teachers’ attitudes and behaviors are guided, from how to respond to a dyspeptic parent to how to deal with a student who doesn’t want to try. • It defines the degree to which teachers look at their colleagues and administrators as resources (distributed intelligence). Words and deeds… • A strong culture must be developed, reinforced, and then reinforced some more. • It should be obvious from what is said and done by school leadership. • Strong leaders seek and create opportunities to use the words or phrases that convey school culture. Words • A key point is the importance of using succinct statements, words and phrases that can be readily embraced and repeated. • Academics, ambience, diversity • Signage • Stationery • At every parent meeting • At most staff meetings Being consistently consistent • It is imperative that all the educators – teachers and administrators – as well as the support staff know what is valued at every turn. • Unless the principal is clear and consistent, the messages can be mixed. Is your school a “learning organization”? • Are times structured to enable teachers to plan together, as colleagues? • Are there mechanisms which support multi-disciplinary or cross-grade collaborations? • Is faculty collegiality something that is addressed teachers’ end-of-year evaluations? • What are the expectations for faculty members and administrators serving on committees? • How is the expertise of senior faculty members utilized? • How does the mentor program support newer teachers? Faculty meetings • Are they worthwhile? • What if they were optional? • When faculty meetings are just about disseminating information, an opportunity is lost. • Meetings are ripe opportunities for administrators to reinforce the school’s culture not just by what they say, but by what they do. • One-way meetings in which administrators talk and teachers listen are not a good use of anyone’s time. Faculty meetings should be learning meetings What if you began meetings by asking: • What have you done the past week that makes you proud? • What have you done in the past week that you’d do differently if you had the opportunity? • What curriculum should we delete or deemphasize? • What is frustrating you? • What excites you? • How can the administration help you become a better teacher? Or… • Another strategy would be to convene a faculty “Question Committee,” whose job it was to meet monthly and create the questions for faculty meetings and help facilitate the dialogue. • This affirms the culture of our schools. Parent communications • School communications should do more than convey upcoming events; they are opportunities to shape culture. • What else? • How is the phone answered? • Intake conferences? • L.A. Honda dealerships If aliens landed… Walking through the school at midnight, one should be able to tell what is valued and which kinds of students succeed. • Halls • Walls • Is there a reception area? Perception is reality • An act can be perceived quite differently. • If a culture is strong, the experiences which work against it will be ignored and discarded; they are viewed as exceptions and aberrations. • If a culture is not strong, however... Cultures evolve: Who’s in charge of the evolution? • While values may remain constant, cultures change to reflect the changing landscape and/or mission of the school. • Rita Bornstein, Legitimacy In the Academic Presidency, notes: “Often it takes new leadership to ask, ‘Why are we doing things this way?’” • A school’s culture is a powerful force for framing perceptions and focusing behaviors. Great schools have powerful cultures. • Every leader must be thoughtful about her school’s culture and to consciously work to use it to guide attitudes and actions. YOUR school’s culture Answering the following questions can provide insight into your school’s culture. Because perception is reality, you may wish to share your responses with others and compare responses. The collegiality that can stem from this kind of dialogue is powerful If a school’s culture is strong, there will be unanimity in responses, regardless of the organizational roles that people occupy. If a culture is not strong, there will be a range of opinions, some quite contradictory to others. What are the qualities that are sought in hiring faculty members? What criteria are used in evaluating teachers? What is the purpose of faculty meetings? What is done for students who struggle? What is done for students who excel? What is the relationship between faculty members and students’ parents? What should we be celebrating?