4 Developing a positive shared culture

You will have collected a large amount of evidence now as to the prevailing culture of your school. This will include your own thoughts about the characteristics of the school culture (Activities 1–3), observations of behaviours and actions around the school (Activity 4), the perspectives of the team you have been working with (Activity 5), and the views of other stakeholders (Activity 6).

Figure 5 A positive school culture requires an action plan.

To use this evidence effectively as a leader requires you to reflect on its key messages, share these and discuss them with others and agree a plan of action. The following activities and discussions will help you to start this process.

Activity 7: Team review of your findings so far

Along with your team, spend time reviewing all of the evidence you have collected. One model for doing this might involve dividing the workshop participants into pairs or trios, and asking them to consider one or two of the bullet points below (Character Education Partnership, 2010) in depth:

  • social climate
  • intellectual climate
  • rules and policies
  • traditions and routines
  • giving staff and students a voice
  • ways of effectively working with parents
  • norms for relationships and behaviours.

They could then report back to the group by answering the following questions for the particular aspect of the definition that you have considered:

  • What features of the current school practices are working most effectively in establishing a positive learning culture?
  • What features are preventing a positive learning culture to exist?
  • Have you discussed possible actions or changes that could be made to improve the situation?

Once you have considered each aspect in turn, you should – as a whole team – answer the following questions:

  1. Which of the bullet points do you feel are areas of strength for the school? That is, which of the bullet points are working most effectively in establishing a positive learning culture?
  2. Which of the bullet points do you feel are areas that need to be developed? That is, which of the bullet points represent aspects of school which are preventing a positive learning culture to exist?

The issues that your team identify in relation to the CEP definition and your answers to the two questions above will form the basis for you to develop an action plan to improve your school’s learning culture. Activity 8 will help you begin this process, but first it is worth revisiting some of the underpinning messages of this unit before structuring your approach.

As has been discussed, changing a school’s culture involves:

  • being aware of how actions are carried out, as well as what is done
  • understanding the importance of how cultural messages are transmitted in every interaction between school leader and staff, staff and students, or staff and parents
  • slow, incremental changes over a long period of time
  • every member of the school community
  • sharing your action plan with the SMC and including this in the school development plan.

As a school leader, you help to establish the school’s culture by modelling the behaviours, attitudes, expectations and interactions that support a positive learning environment for your students. You also help make the culture explicit by sharing the school’s vision and goals. It is through these two aspects, modelling the culture and sharing the school’s vision, that barriers preventing effective learning from taking place can be addressed.

Activity 8: Plan of action

In your workshop for Activity 7, you will have identified aspects of the school culture that need to be addressed. These might include specific, identifiable tasks to aspects that you have identified as problematic but for which you have no easy solutions (such as social climate). Some may feel very urgent, and others may form a longer-term project with multiple steps to contribute to a change.

To develop a strategic view of these issues, develop a plan of action with your team, if possible. An example for improving social climate is shown in Table 3 below; a blank template is in Resource 1. Use the headings in the first column and then, for each CEP definition from the list above, define the issue, record its urgency, describe what you are going to do and how you will communicate this, show who needs to be involved, and give details about how progress will be reviewed.

Table 3 Example plan of action.

Aspect of culture

(using CEP definition)

Social climate, intellectual climate, rules and policies, traditions and routines, giving staff and students a voice, ways of effectively working with parents, norms for relationships and behaviours (underline or circle which aspects relate to this issue)
Issue or issuesCreating a welcoming environment for learning
Urgency (high/short term, medium term or long term)High (short term)
How (actions or types of interactions)Ensuring each teacher stands at the classroom door to smile and say welcome to all children
Dissemination (how to share this action/interaction with others)Discuss it in a staff meeting, with a reminder in the following staff meeting
Collaboration (staff, students, parents, others)

The team and principal will model behaviours around the school

The student council and parent council will discuss other actions that could contribute to this issue

Review (who, timeframe, how)After six weeks, the school leader will walk around the school at lesson changes and hold a discussion in a staff meeting

You may have found completing this form quite challenging. Actually pinning down the who, how and when can be difficult, but this is the only way to make change happen. It is important to note that this action plan will need to be a working document with additions and changes made as new evidence comes to light; you may change the order of importance of actions, or find that staff, students or parents are highlighting different priorities to you.

It is also worth stating that this will not be ‘your’ action plan – it belongs to the school community. Remember that you need to share this with the SMC and seek their agreement to it. You may then decide to display it in a staff room, or share it with a student or parent council in order to keep the community involved in taking actions.

Change is easier in schools where there is a willing and explicit explanation of ‘why we do things the way we do them’. To ensure that schools remain responsive and relevant, it is critical for school leaders to ensure that the culture of the school is explicitly stated at all times, and regularly revisited to re-assess the validity of the reasons for the procedures and routines followed by the school. Remember that, as a leader, you are the role model.

3 Identifying and analysing the culture in your school