While school culture is evident in all schools, it is nevertheless, elusive and difficult to define (Hinde, 2002) The difficulty of the quest is the reality that school culture is not static but rather shaped and reshaped through interactions with stakeholders, worldview perspectives, and reflective opportunities (Finnan, 2000). Changing the prevailing school culture is both the most important and most difficult aspect of educational leadership (Barth, 2002).
Effective school leaders help shape the school's culture of learning for all by communicating the norms and values for high expectations as well as providing the tools for assessing elements supporting the school's purpose and mission. The school’s culture needs to reinforce positive elements while transforming current negative areas hindering the learning for all mission. The Character Education Partnership (CEP) believes character is an important attribute for a positive school culture. The CEP posits two categories for defining character:
1) Moral character, as exhibited through high levels of kindness, honesty, and respect toward others.
2) Performance character, as demonstrated by “perseverance, critical thinking, and commitment to quality” (CEP, 2012, p. 3).
Effective school leaders seek to adjust their school’s culture to create sustained school improvement by promoting the following three conditions:
1) Measures of success and metrics for areas of improvement beyond mere test scores,
2) Comprehensive understanding of what entails “school culture" (p. 5),
3) Tools for developing and assessing the school’s culture and delineation of accountability for diverse aspects of the school’s culture (CEP, 2012).
The principal, teachers, and parents are all school leaders needing to be available to shape a school’s non-negotiable culture (Peterson & Deal, 1998). Collaboration is essential for developing systemic buy-in for promoting a school culture that drives sustained school improvement (Marzano & Waters, 2009). Since “The public school establishment is one of the most stubbornly intransigent forces on the planet” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 2), positive culture change needs new thinking, willingness, humility, collaboration, and a collective vision grounded in a clear mission. The effective school leader and district leader must uniformly explicate a positive change plan to rally other stakeholders to collaboratively develop consensus and thereby effectively implement required change initiatives.
Stakeholders will need to put the past in perspective and willingly embrace a new view of collaborative district and school leadership, which is a critical component of effective schools (Marzano & Waters, 2009). The change begins with recognizing that although schools are loosely coupled by design, they can be tightly coupled in relation to non-negotiable goals and a culture for promoting student learning. Therefore, the district office and its leaders need to guide the vision and consensus toward a district-wide culture based on “defined autonomy” (p. 8). It is then essential to communicate this mission and the clear vision to both internal and external stakeholders, otherwise, change is slow or nonexistent.
The mutual responsibility of a district leader and school principal within a highly reliable district is to develop “a shared vision of what the school could be like (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 100). This is directly related to the responsibility of superintendent’s leadership to “ensure collaborative goal setting” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 94). By working with the staff to develop a culture perceived by stakeholders’ to advance the new mission of learning for all within its school, the educational leaders develop a collaborative vision of what could be possible for the school.
Therefore, “during collaborative goal setting, the principal’s role is twofold relative to this responsibility—to ensure that a meaningful, shared vision is constructed at the school and to ensure that the school-level vision incorporates the district-level vision as manifested by the nonnegotiable goals for achievement and instruction” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 95). Quoting results from Jenkins, Louis, Walberg, and Keefe (1994, p. 72), Lezotte and Snyder (2011) reinforce the most significant feature common to world-class schools “was their continual effort toward becoming “learning organizations with a commitment to continuous problem-solving and a sense of shared responsibility for improvement” (p. 67). A consistent exhibition of a clear vision leading toward the desired mission, commitment by all to learning for all, and sharing the responsibility for success of the mission, certainly appears to be the minimal culture of an effective school.
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