How does school culture affect student performance?

Report
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
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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?

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