The Effects of School Culture and Climate

The school is a place where many people with different beliefs, attitudes come together to achieve certain goals. In order to be an effective leader in such an environment one must meet the needs of their employees but still allow them to successfully achieve their goals as individuals or as a group. The problems school districts face today is not all individuals or groups are willing to commit themselves to work to achieve the mission statement set for their school. However, factors that influence this type of behavior are ones beliefs and values. Such groups can be studied by leaders through theories to help gain knowledge on how to address certain issues. An effective leader is one who can control school culture and climate in today’s fast growing school system.

The article researched was An Audit of the Culture Starts with Two Handy Tools, written by Christopher Wagner and Penelope Masden-Copas. The article can be found on The Center for Improving School Culture out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. The authors believe that a school without a healthy culture will hinder the faculty in a way that will not allow them to be open or receptive to professional learning opportunities. It is often thought that school improvement starts with the receptiveness of the individual teacher. A theory stated by Wagner and Masden-Copas (2002) “If people don’t improve, programs never will” (p.42). One way to achieve one’s improvement is through professional development meetings, which allow for the staff to collaborate on new ideas. Ultimately, Wagner and Masden-Copas (2002) state how a school culture will “only occur in a healthy school culture designed to promote higher levels of professional collaboration, collegiality, and self-determination” (p.43).

In the article Wagner (2000) describes school culture as:
Shared experiences both in school and out of school (traditions and celebrations) that create a sense of community, family, and team membership. People in any healthy organization must have agreement on how to do things and what is worth doing. Staff stability and common goals permeate the school. Time is set aside for school wide recognition of all school stakeholders. Common agreement on curricular and instructional components, as well as order and discipline, are established through consensus. Open and honest communication is encouraged and there is an abundance of humor and trust. Tangible support from leaders at the school and district levels is also present. (p. 43)

In the article it’s clear on the issues that will cause for a school culture to be toxic.
One issue that will clearly interfere with the development of a school culture is when teachers blame students for the lack of progress. As adults one must realize that attitude reflects leadership. If the students can see a lack of communication, and collaboration between the administration and faculty a toxic culture is all that will be created. A negative school culture and climate have also been linked to the increase dropout rate of students. An increase in school drop out means a decrease in state funding. It is important that the school district come together to identify the weak areas to decrease the number of students leaving school, due to feeling negative about the school environment.

The main points of this research are to describe how school cultures and environments affect the behavior of teachers and students. School culture is the shared belief and attitude that characterizes the organization and establishes boundaries. The culture of a school integrates and implements its mission and vision. It is often thought that leadership guides behavior and respect. A school with a positive culture has relationships among everyone that gives a sense of caring to all learners and the community.

Successful schools recruit and retain strong leaders, but sustainable culture survives beyond individual leaders because it exists in the heart and soul of the organization (Collins 2001; Fullan 2001; Hargreaves and Fink 2006). Gaining a deep understanding of what a strong, positive culture looks like and how it works can help educators become more thoughtful about developing one.

Russell Hobby (2004) of Britain’s Hay Group suggests, “Viewed more positively, culture can also be the ultimate form of ‘capacity’ –a reservoir of energy and wisdom to sustain motivation and co-operation, shape relationships and aspirations, and guide effective choices at every level of the school”.

At successful schools participants are empowered. In almost all successful schools the school leader encourages participation by parents, students, and teachers. The teachers and parents in many cases serve on advisory boards for the school and they are part of the decision- making process which also empowers them. They are then committed to the philosophy of learning and encouraged to always do their best. When teachers are actively involved in making change, the end result is improved morale and will to participate and follow the leader of the school.

Building a strong culture does not happen in a short period of time, it could take months even a couple of years to get the positive culture into the school. According to Bryk and Schneider (2002), “relational trust is not something that can be achieved simply through some workshop, retreat, or form of sensitivity training, although all of these can be helpful. Rather, relational trust is forged in daily social exchanges. Trust grows over time through exchanges where the expectations held for others are validated in action” (p.136-137). “For relational trust to develop and be sustained,” say Byrk and Schneider (2002), both staff and students “must be able to make sense of their work together in terms of what they understand as the primary purpose of the school: Why are we really here” ( p.137)?

Changes must begin with the superintendent of the district and the central administration, backed by the school board. Within each building, the principal plays a primary role, providing leadership, articulating goals and behavioral expectations of teachers, and supporting staff in developing an effective school (Gonder & Hymes, 1994). The school leader must push for a positive culture within the school to create an environment in which learning can flourish among the staff and students.

One of the scenarios presented in this week’s reading dealt with an assistant principal going against the school leader and convincing others to go along with her. The new leader failed to look at the culture already established within that school and therefore didn’t accomplish the project. He didn’t realize that the assistant had a negative attitude and able to influence others at any expense.

Another scenario consisted of a veteran teacher questioning the competency of a first year teacher being able to perform a duty. The leader must have a positive culture instilled in the staff and allow them to voice their opinions and value their suggestions and not hurt anyone’s feelings.

The leader must achieve better and equitable outcomes for everyone to work together and must create organizational culture. Of course, this will not be simple, easy, or quick. As Michael Fullan (2001) puts it, “Reculturing is a contact sport that involves hard, labor-intensive work. But it is a sport that must be played more aggressively if our schools are to achieve the kinds of results we now expect of them.”

In conclusion, we as the leaders for tomorrow must remember that public schools should be an establishment built on caring for the needs of their staff as well as their students alike. Therefore school culture and climate includes everything that is done within the school. The key to creating a positive school culture is in the hands of the school leaders. Most importantly the way people treat and value one another, share ideas for teaching all come down to support and that is what is important in today’s schools. Trust between parents, students, community, and especially the members of the school district is the foundation for a healthy school culture that will strive to maximize students learning ability.

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Wagner, C., & Masden-Copas, P. (2002). An audit of the culture starts with two handy tools. The Center for Improving School Culture, Bowling Green, Kentucky. 42-47