Comprehensive Term Paper: School Principal’s Role in Shaping School Culture
Educational reforms have been advocated for years but success has not been widespread - Comprehensive Term Paper: School Principal’s Role in Shaping School Culture introduction. School cultures must first be improved in order for reforms to take place. School culture influences everything from curriculum, to instructional approaches, to student learning and professional development. Negative school cultures inhibit learning and improvement. Who are primarily accountable for ensuring a healthy school culture and making educational reforms work? School principals by virtue of their leadership, authority and responsibility have the biggest influence in shaping school cultures. They can enable or block educational reforms. What various roles do they perform to shape school cultures? School principals are organizational and cultural leaders, visionaries, models of behavior, historians and anthropologists, ceremonial leaders, nurturers and healers, and instructional leaders.
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School cultures are difficult to change. Shared vision and deep commitment are required to institute reforms. School principals can promote these values through instructional leadership, collaborative decision-making and collegial relationships with their staff members. There is also an increasing shortage of qualified principals. School Principals must promote the development of ‘Professional Learning Communities’ in their schools. The latter will help build teachers’ capacities to enable them to support the principal’s current reforms and undertake leadership roles in the future. The emotional and instructional support given by these communities also make the difficult task of implementing educational reforms more believable and achievable. However, in order to succeed, school principals must recognize the complexity of making this transformation and remain dedicated as they work, learn and exercise patience in letting the ‘process’ happen.
How can we have a well-trained and competitive labor force in the time of globalization? How can we decrease crime? How can we decrease racism and promote intercultural Understanding? Quality education is the long-term solution to most if not all of society’s problems. But there is crisis in our educational institutions. Students have not been learning and teachers have not been teaching at the level of excellence, society demands from them. Studies have identified ‘school culture’ as a powerful force which affects student learning and can either block or enable educational reforms. It can solidly resist or enthusiastically promote change. Therefore, concerned parents, educators, and community members must learn to understand, “What is school culture? Who shapes and directs this force? How does he or she shape it? And most importantly, “Who can we trust to do this job?”
II. School Culture and School Reforms
What is school culture? Dr. Kent Peterson, author of the book, “Shaping School Culture- the Heart of Leadership” defined school culture as “the underlining set of norms, values, beliefs, rituals, and traditions that make up the unwritten rules of how to think, feel and act in an organization” (Sellers, 2003, p. 2). Dr. Petersen also articulated the abstract level of culture. “School culture is below the stream of consciousness oftentimes and it is really what affects how people interact in an organization”(qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.3). Wayne K. Hoy, in his article, “Organizational Climate and Culture: a Conceptual Analysis of the School Workplace” gave the definition of culture as ‘shared values’. “Values are shared conceptions of what is desirable. They are reflections of the more basic assumptions of culture that define what members should do in the organization to be successful. When individuals are asked to explain why they behave the way they do, their answers may reflect the basic values of the organization. Core values define the character of the organization and give it a sense of identity and mission. Action becomes infused with such values as openness, trust, cooperation, intimacy, or teamwork; and stories, myths, ceremonies, and rituals reinforce the basic core values of the organization” (Hoy, 1990, p. 157-158). Hoy also defined culture as norms. “Norms are usually unwritten and informal expectations that influence behavior…Prevailing norms map the “way things are” around the organization. For example, “Around here, it is all right to admit mistakes, as long as you don’t make them again,” or “we don’t wash our dirty linen in public” (Hoy, 1990, p.158).
School culture as beliefs underlining the groups’ streams of consciousness, shared values and norms; affects everything in schools. School culture is “a very, very powerful part of what goes on in school” (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p. 3-4).
The culture of the organization is a key factor in productivity and success. Without a culture that supports and recognizes the importance of certain kinds of learning goals; changes and improvements just won’t happen… Culture affects what people focus on. ‘What’s important to pay attention too?’ Culture affects motivation. Motivation affects productivity. And finally, culture affects the willingness of staff members, students, parents, administrators, to put time into continuous improvement and refining their craft. So culture is key to productivity” (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p. 3-4).
However, all these factors affected by school culture are under the influence of school principals. Literature on school effectiveness and improvement has established “the significance of school principals in establishing a school culture that promotes and values learning and embodies realistic but high expectations of all students and teachers. The impact is largely mediated through teachers and classroom teaching”(Hill, 2002, p. 61). Bulach and Peddle (2001) also established the positive relationship between leadership, instructional behavior and culture. Moreover, Bulach and Corvers unpublished study revealed that “a survey can be used to measure a principal’s leadership behavior as an early indicator of what is happening to a school’s culture and eventually student achievement”(qtd. in Bulach et al, 2006, p. 8). Thus, great care must be exercised when hiring school principals. It is also significant to point out that school cultures are very difficult to change. “Challenging existing ways are often viewed negatively. Informal leaders are not interested in changes that might alter their influence or status”(Parish & Aquila, 1996, p.1). School culture must first be improved before educational reforms can work.
But what constitutes a positive culture? According to Dr. Kent Petersen, positive cultures have the following elements: “widely shared sense of purpose; norms of continuous improvement; sense of responsibility for students’ learning; collaborative and collegial relationships between staff members and focus on professional development, staff-reflection and sharing of professional practice.” Most importantly, in a positive culture, people believe that they can make improvements” (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.3-4). To respond to the challenge, what are the various roles performed by school principals to shape a positive school culture? School principals undertake the following roles: Organizational and Cultural Leaders, Visionaries and Keeper of the Flame, Models of Behavior, Historians and Anthropological Sleuths, Ceremonial and Ritual Priests, Nurturers and Healers, and Instructional Leaders and Coaches (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.4-9).
III. School Principals’ Roles in Shaping School Culture
School Principals as Organizational and Cultural Leaders
Mark Tucker and Judy Codding in their book, “The Principal Challenge: Leading and Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability stated that, “A school principal is the moral leader and builder of culture.” As a leader, the school principal facilitates the development of strategic vision; provides purpose, direction and goals for individuals and groups; creates a school culture for learning that recognizes the needs and cognitive differences of students and supports collaboration and continuous improvement; and lastly, sets priorities in the context of the needs of the community, district, students and staff needs(p. 36). The importance of cultural leadership was presented by a director of instructional management from Colorado.
If I were to ascribe my success as a school administrator to any one component, it would have to be that of understanding the critical importance of cultural leadership in creating schools that make a difference. While skills in management and administration are certainly necessary as well, I don’t see them as the “special ingredient” that makes one a really effective leader. . . . From my perspective, clear values and purpose are the core element of cultural leadership, and the other factors often discussed (Wendel, Hoke & Joekel, 1996, p. 21)
What other factors turn principals into successful leaders? According to Bulach et. al, “The principals’ human behavior skills, levels of trust, the way decisions are made, failure to empower subordinates and deal with conflicts are often the reasons why Principals are successful or not as educational leaders”(p.7). While according to Henry Mintzberg, in his book Managers not MBAs, “Leadership is not about making clever decisions. It is about energizing other people to make good decisions and do better things.” Fullan agreed with Mintzberg and stated that leaders must have “hope (an unwarranted optimism), enthusiasm and energy…These leaders tend to engage others with their energy, and are in turn, are energized by the activities and accomplishment of the group” (Fullan, 2003,p.93). Furthermore, Goleman et. al, in 2002 asserted that, “emotionally intelligent people and leaders live better and more effectively in complex times.” He defined emotional intelligence as “the ability to have in sync relationships and emotional bonds that help them stay focus amidst change and uncertainty” (qtd. in Fullan p. 93). Goleman further asserted that the most effective leadership styles which have a positive impact on culture and performance are: visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic. On the other hand, the pace-setting and commanding leadership styles only have a short-term positive impact because it de-motivated and did not develop the capacity and commitment of their staff” (Fullan, 2003, p. 93). School Principals as Visionaries and Keepers of the Flame “School administrators stated that the way to success begins with a vision based on personal beliefs and values. Committing oneself to that vision and sharing it with others are necessary to further refine and shape the vision into specific goals for the school. Everyone comes to understand where the school is going, that is what its aims are, and what the school will be like when those aims are reached. Furthermore, putting a vision into action by being an innovator and a risk taker, initiating change and always looking to the future and what can be, is common among successful school administrators as they work with staff, parents, students, and the community”(Wendel, Hoke & Joekel, 1996, p. 68).“My role as a school leader is to transmit an overall shared vision centering on the basic belief that all children can learn,” related a large-school superintendent in North Carolina. A five-year curriculum plan for the district resulted from this vision”(Wendel, Hoke & Joekel, 1996, p. 68).
Moreover, the “principals chief responsibility is to shape and keep the vision, not just to preach it but personify it and make it come alive, stay alive” (Evans, 2003, p. 424). School Principals as Models of Behavior “Principals shape the culture in all their daily interactions… every interaction with someone in the school, whether it’s a student, parent, teacher or community member, is a chance to reinforce the core value of the school” (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.11). “School administrators constantly reflect their values in whatever they do. They must keep in mind that they are models others look up to for leadership”(Wendel, Hoke & Joekel, 1996, p. 57). What I feel a need to emphasize is that the value statements, if worthwhile, must become a part of the culture of a district. Once this happens, they infuse our daily behavior with staff, students, parents, and the public. The key is having the leadership behave in ways that let others know that they “walk their talk” when it comes to value statements. (Wendel, Hoke & Joekel, 1996, p. 22) Principals as Historians and Anthropological Sleuths School Principals must learn the history of their school and identify root problems and causes. They must create a list of the negative parts of the culture; gather intelligence, plan how to change the negative parts of their culture; and set performance targets (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.4). They must work for both the small wins and the substantial gains to shape their school culture positively. They must also learn to identify motivations, foes and friends (Tucker & Codding, 2002, p. 36).
School Principals as Nurturers and Healers
Principals must also nurture the positive parts of their cultures such as their icons. “Icons are physical artifacts that are used to communicate culture such as logos, mottoes, and trophies.” Dr. Petersen cited the Joyce Elementary School in Detroit Michigan as an example. It was a school struggling fifteen years ago but in time was able to build itself into a positive school. Despite being in a poor district, when you walk into the school it is clean, well-kept and there are grass and flowers in the school lawn and walkways. The school mission and values were proudly displayed in banners. “It communicated the “hopefulness” and a belief in the power of kids and teachers to work together and improve learning.”(qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.5)
School Principals as Priests of Celebration Rituals and Traditions
“Rituals are the basic ceremonies that provide tangible examples of what is important in the organization. Rituals include rites of passage, enhancement, renewal, and integration” (Hoy,1990, p. 158). School principals must celebrate the positive parts of their culture throughout the year to bring people together in a community. They must celebrate student successes and award teachers who have contributed new instructional methods that improved student learning (qtd. in Sellers, 2003, p.5).
School Principals as Knowledgeable Instructional Leaders Aside from being strong leaders, school principals must become knowledgeable instructional leaders. Mackey et. al (2006) study on the positive influence of Principals in students’ reading scores revealed that, the principals positive influence came from: “(1) the principal’s vision of the reading program, (2) the educational background the principal brings with her/him; and (3) how the principal defines and applies her/his role as an instructional leader within the school” (p.1).
…By coming personally involved in professional development as part of his district administrators’ meetings, he [school principal] was able to formulate the direction of a more balanced reading approach that he wanted for his school… The teacher also added cultural programs to enrich the experience of the students…He spoke to us about how he applied this to himself and his teachers. He put technology throughout the school through grant funding. During the year of this study, he bought professional books, classroom libraries, and literacy center materials for all of the teachers in the school…Before last year I did a lot of delegation. I sat down and said I would do it and it made a difference” (Mackey, Pitcher & Decman, 2006). Therefore, the active and knowledgeable participation of the principal in the instruction of the students has a positive effect. Principals must be leaders that lead and not just delegate.
School Principals as Collaborative Members of Professional Learning Communities
School principals positively shape their school culture by being collegial and collaborative. This develops trust and respect and openness to improvement. Core elements of Professional Learning Communities are: focus on learning; collective inquiry into best practices; an active orientation or “learning by doing”; commitment to continuous improvement and focusing on results. In order for this to work, there must be de-privatization of practice and shared norms and values. “Effective professional learning involves intensive, sustained, theoretically based yet practically situated learning, with opportunities to observe good practices, to be involved in coaching and mentoring processes, and to take time for reflection” (qtd. in Hill, 2002, p. 61). As pointed out by a high school principal from Indiana, “ [I have a] belief in the use of a collaborative style of management. I prefer to involve those who will be affected by decisions in making those decisions. Having been principal in two schools for a total of five years, I have been able to begin school improvement programs in both schools. (Wendel, Hoke & Joekel, 1996, p. 23)
IV. Managing the Complexity of Shaping School Culture Fullan in his book ‘Change Forces with a Vengeance (2003)’ stated that leading cultural transformation is very difficult and “If you go too far as a leader you risk being ‘marginalized’ by authorities, ‘diverted,’ ‘attacked,’ and so forth ” (p. 100). He included, Heifetz and Linsky advise to school principals. The principal must ‘Get on the balcony,’ and gain proper perspective on the problem by stepping back from time to time. Next, he must “think politically” or establish relationships with everyone, including those who are not supportive. The principal must be empathetic and learn from their opposition. He must also be accountable and realistic about his limitations and attrition in staff members. The principal must also be prepared to ‘orchestrate the conflict.’ This is done by bringing attention to the hard issues and keeping it focused on those issues. He must let people “feel the weight of responsibility for tackling those issues. Conflicts will surface within the relevant groups as contrary points of view are heard.” Next, the principal must ‘give the work back’ or engage in capacity-building. This is “about giving people the training, resources, and opportunity to pursue complex tasks, and then to hold them accountable. Leaders have ‘to think constantly about giving the work back to the people who need to take the responsibility.” Finally, the principal must be steadfast. This means not panicking amidst the anxiety and discord. Patience must be exercised or as “Heifetz and Linsky call ‘letting the issue ripen’. “Thus, for example, capacity-building which focuses on moral purpose, skills, knowledge about achievement gaps and what can be done about them might all be thought of as part of the ripening process where people’s sense of passion, commitment and know-how reach a breakthrough point” (Fullan, 2003, p. 101-102).
School culture is very powerful. It affects the level of academic excellence of students, teachers’ commitment and professional development; motivation and optimism. School culture is defined as the underlying beliefs, shared values, norms, traditions, symbols, artifacts and rituals in schools. School principals play a significant part in shaping school culture because their leadership behavior directly correlates with the quality of school culture and student learning. Thus, it is important to get qualified and moral school principals because as models of behavior, their personal values are infused in school culture. Their vision, policy and decision-making are also shaped by their values. School principals must study and analyze their school culture so they can identify the negative parts and work on removing them. They must also identify the positive parts of their culture so they can celebrate them and reinforce them. Rituals and ceremonies are important because they tell the school community what is important and what is of value. Beyond strong leadership, school principals must also be knowledgeable instruction leaders. They can only lead by leading. There are some parts of their work they cannot delegate to experts or other teachers. Furthermore, educational reform is not just the school principals’ responsibility but the teachers, students and other members of the community as well. To be able to achieve sustainable educational and cultural reforms; they must work to establish professional learning communities so they can build teacher capacities and promote best practices that will create widespread and successful educational transformation. To achieve this difficult task Fullan in his work, “Change Force with Vengeance,” coaches school principals with the strategy and attitude to take in battling for these reforms.
Finally, who can we trust to do this job? All school principals must have the right values and core purpose of education that “all students must learn”. All school principals must be able to collaborate and energize the school community with this core value. However, each school will be undergoing different challenges, whether it is reading, or math and science, or lack of motivation of staff members, or inability to foster community support. From our findings on instructional leadership; the school principals must be knowledgeable of the area of challenge being faced by the school. Therefore, aside from getting people who are, moral leaders and exceptional organizational leaders; we need to match this person to the school who will benefit from his or her specific professional expertise.
Bulach, Clete, Boothe, Diane, and Pickett, Winston. (2006). “Analyzing the Leadership Behavior of School Principals. 1:1. Evans, P. M. (2003). A Principal’s Dilemmas: Theory and Reality of School Redesign. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(6), 424. Fullan, M. (2003). Change Forces with a Vengeance. London: RoutledgeFalmer. Fullan, M. (2006, November). Leading Professional Learning: Think ‘System’ and Not ‘Individual School’ If the Goal Is to Fundamentally Change the Culture of Schools. School Administrator, 63, 10+. Hoy, W. K. (1990). Organizational Climate and Culture: a Conceptual Analysis of the School Workplace. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 1(2), 149-168. Mackey, B., Pitcher, S., & Decman, J. (2006). The Influence of Four Elementary Principals upon Their Schools’ Reading Programs and Students’ Reading Scores. Education, 127(1), 39+. Maehr, M. L., & Midgley, C. (1996). Transforming School Cultures. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Parish, R., & Aquila, F. (1996). Cultural Ways of Working and Believing in School: Preserving the Way Things Are. Phi Delta Kappan, 78(4), 298+. Hill, P. W. (2002). Chapter Two What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning. In The Principal Challenge: Leading and Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability, Tucker, M. S. & Codding, J. B. (Eds.) (pp. 43-71). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sellers, Nancy. Interview with Dr. Kent Peterson, co-author of Shaping School Culture Fieldbook.” December 2003. Tucker, M. S. & Codding, J. B. (Eds.). (2002). The Principal Challenge: Leading and Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Wendel, F. C., Hoke, F. A., & Joekel, R. G. (1996). Outstanding School Administrators: Their Keys to Success. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Annotated Bibliography Bulach, Clete, Boothe, Diane, and Pickett, Winston. (2006). “Analyzing the Leadership Behavior of School Principals. 1:1. This establishes the positive correlation between leadership behavior, school culture and student achievement. Evans, P. M. (2003). A Principal’s Dilemmas: Theory and Reality of School Redesign. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(6), 424. The hard work and commitment needed to overcome the difficulties and crises encountered from teachers, students, parents, and school board, as the principal tries to institute changes in schools is discussed in this article. Fullan, M. (2003). Change Forces with a Vengeance. London: RoutledgeFalmer. If you do not want to be unprepared and feel helpless during the battle for educational reforms, you must read this book. It offers practical strategies on how to s survive and succeed in implementing sustainable school transformation. Fullan, M. (2006, November). Leading Professional Learning: Think ‘System’ and Not ‘Individual School’ If the Goal Is to Fundamentally Change the Culture of Schools. School Administrator, 63, 10+. Another must read book for school principals and all educators. This discusses that Professional Learning Communities are needed to implement sustainable and nationwide educational reforms. School principals must not only collaborate within their school but with other school as well and promote the exchange of best practices. This will also help solve the shortage problem of qualified principals.
Hoy, W. K. (1990). Organizational Climate and Culture: a Conceptual Analysis of the School Workplace. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 1(2), 149-168. This helps us understand what school culture is all about and how to analyze it. He described it from the level of abstraction of unconsciousness, to the level of shared values and then the more accessible level of norms.
Mackey, B., Pitcher, S., & Decman, J. (2006). The Influence of Four Elementary Principals upon Their Schools’ Reading Programs and Students’ Reading Scores. Education, 127(1), 39+. This discusses the importance of the school principal’s knowledge and instructional leadership in shaping school culture and instilling reforms. Aside from shared values and strong leadership, the principal must actively participate in the instruction of the educational reforms he wants to institute to the teachers and to the students as well. He cannot merely delegate this work to experts or undertake a reform in which he has not undertaken any research or studies.
Parish, R., & Aquila, F. (1996). Cultural Ways of Working and Believing in School: Preserving the Way Things Are. Phi Delta Kappan, 78(4), 298+. “Since when have we made schedules around here for students?” This article discusses the reluctance of organizations to change because of the threat to security and status these changes may bring to long-standing educators who have forgotten the moral purpose of schools and have come to believe that the schools are for them and not for the students. Hill, P. W. (2002). Chapter Two What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning. In The Principal Challenge: Leading and Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability, Tucker, M. S. & Codding, J. B. (Eds.) (pp. 43-71). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This establishes the significance of school principals to the academic achievement of their students and exhorts a wake-up call to the problem of school leadership. Sellers, Nancy. Interview with Dr. Kent Peterson, co-author of Shaping School Culture Fieldbook.” December 2003. For those who cannot get the book of Deal and Peterson on Shaping School Culture, this interview will provide a good summary. Tucker, M. S. & Codding, J. B. (Eds.). (2002). The Principal Challenge: Leading and Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This discusses the importance of principals as moral leaders and builders of culture. It also illustrates the principals’ functions as organizational leaders and their need to motivate and manage people.
Wendel, F. C., Hoke, F. A., & Joekel, R. G. (1996). Outstanding School Administrators: Their Keys to Success. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. The authors investigated the successful strategies and attitudes of hundreds of individuals nominated as outstanding administrators. I have quoted the principals included in these books extensively because they were able to illustrate clearly in their own words, the significance of their roles and actions in shaping school culture and improving student learning.