School culture and the changing process

Essay 2014 7 Pages

Pedagogy - The Teacher, Educational Leadership




The impact of school culture on the change process and vise versa

Mills’Framework of the change process.




Educators are constantly dealing with change as they strive to respond to their students’ and societal needs. Their success in this venture lies not in changing individual components of school structures in isolation but by changing the whole culture (Latta, 2006). As Naylor (2006) argues, culture and change are inter-related and constantly influence each other either negatively or positively with the latter culminating into school improvement which should be the hallmark of the change process. This paper therefore, discusses the impact of school culture on the change process and vise versa. It also shows how Miles’ change framework can be employed in the change process to achieve school improvement.

The impact of school culture on the change process and vise versa

The concept of culture has been defined variously by different authors. Deal and Peterson (2009) defined it as a shared stream of norms, values, beliefs, traditions, and rituals built up over time. Schein (2010) considers it as a set of tacit expectations and assumptions that are shared by members of an organization that direct the activities of school personnel and students. Change on the other hand has been described as the adoption of an innovation, where the ultimate goal is to improve the outcomes through alteration of practices (Elbot, 2007). On the other hand, school improvement refers to sustained efforts aimed at changing the learning conditions and other related internal conditions in a school, with the aim of accomplishing educational goals more effectively (James, 2000). Given the fact that school culture plays a powerful role in changing a school, any attempt to make changes requires understanding of a school’s culture (Schein, 2010). Therefore, failing to address the underlying school culture before making any changes is bound to fail. The primary focus regarding change in schools should be on changing the traditional school culture that do not promote continuous improvement. Once this has been achieved, specific changes in the best interestof the school and the learner will be easier to implement

Culture influences all aspects of school, including such things as how the staff dresses, what teachers talk about in the staffroom, their instructional methods and their willingness to change (Harris & Bennett, 2005). I agree with Harris (2002) observation that, If culture changes, everything changes because culture surrounds and envelopes teachers thus forming their perspectives and influencing their decisions and actions. As Peterson (2009) notes, school culture is not a static entity. Whereas it develops as teachers, students, and members of the community interact with each other, it is constantly being changed and shaped through these interactions and reflections on life and the world in general. These changes form a relational trust which acts as a glue that makes stakeholders relate well and believe that each member is fulfilling their role in order to achieve school improvement (Zmuda, 2004). Therefore, culture is a self-repeating cycle. On the other hand, change affects culture hence, for real and lasting change to be realized, leaders have to tackle the deep-seated beliefs that have been held over time which eventually alter the existing culture.

The culture of a school can have a positive influence on learning or it can seriously inhibit the functioning of the school (Rossman, 2008). Strong positive cultures are places where teachers pour their hearts into teaching; with the underlying norms of collegiality, improvement, innovation and hard work. Student achievement and accomplishments are celebrated and parental commitment is the norm. Schools that are conducted in a culture exhibiting these positive qualities have teachers who are willing to facilitate change. Eller (2009) observes that it is much easier to bring about change in a school with positive culture since such teachers are willing to take risks. Conversely, schools with a negative culture are places where negativity dominates conversations, interactions, and planning; the only stories recounted are of failure (Deal & Peterson, 2010). No one wants to live and work in these kinds of schools since they have cultural patterns that do not serve staff or students. Louis (2006) points out that with little support inside the school, it is very hard to make changes in such schools since it has oppositional groups of staff or parents who want to spread a sense of frustration and hopelessness. Therefore, it takes leadership, time, and focus to rebuild these festering institutions. In some cases a new culture must be instituted that will accommodate change and in order for change to be effected, the underlying culture of the school and the change must match (Kowalski 2010).

From this perspective therefore, culture should be viewed as the background against which change process takes place. Schein (2010) has noted that culture influences the choice of change and the change process determines the kind of culture to expect. Consequently, school culture and change are purported to be tightly intertwined. They are two sides of the same coin in that the school culture impacts change and the change process impacts school culture.

School leaders play an important role in changing a school culture. They try to understand the deeper meanings embedded in the school culture before trying to change it. They also uncover and articulate core values, looking for those that buttress what is best for students. Further, they try to understand those aspects of the culture that are destructive and those that are constructive, thereafter, they work to fashion a positive context, reinforcing cultural elements that are positive and modifying those that are negative and dysfunctional. In this respect, it can be argued that without the attention of leaders, school cultures can become unproductive. However, by paying fervent attention to the symbolic side of their schools, leaders can help develop the foundation for change and subsequent improvement.

Mills’Framework of the change process.

In the interplay between the school culture and the change process, Fullan (2001) has demonstrated a change process which consists of a series of three overlapping phases namely initiation, implementation and institutionalization. During initiation phase, a leader decides to embark on an innovation and develops a commitment towards the process (Hargreaves, Lieberman, &Fullan, 2010). According to James (2000) initiating the change process is a major task for schools leaders. For instance, incase the leader wishes to initiate a new reading approach to enhance reading such as the phonic approach, it may take more than a year to achieve it. First, Hopkins (2001) suggests that a leader will need to review the current state of school reading culture and articulate the type of change which is the phonic approach to all the stakeholder groups with the primary focus on what the school could achieve in future if it adopts the change.This may not be easy in some schools.It may take several months of consultation, interaction, discussion and negotiation with the teachers, learners and parents for an amicable agreement of change.

Van Wyk, (2009) points out that in some schools; members are bound to resist the proposed change. This may originate from teachers who have taught for long using other methods and may not be willing to try out a new approach. A leader should therefore endeavor to communicate clearly how the intended change will benefit the group. In cases where some members continue to display hostility to the proposed change, Lieberman (2009) suggests that, the leader should try to offer them an opportunity to share their dissenting point of view. However, through sensitization meetings the leader may gain the support of some if not all the members. Nonetheless, he should give all stakeholder groups time to reflect on the change using needs analysis and together come up with a clear, well-structured approach on how to initiate the change. It is worth-noting that involving the stakeholders at the initial stage makes them own the process which enhances collaboration and together they can move towards a common goal of school improvement.

In the implementation phase, Vegas (2008) observe that there is attempted use of the innovation. I agree with Zimmer(2003) suggestion that, it is important to pilot the project to a smaller group before implementing it as a school-wide project to ascertain its feasibility. The leader therefore will delegate the responsibility to few teachers to carry out action plansmpossibly to class one learners. Adequate and sustained staff development and in-service training at this stage will enhance development and sustain commitment. This will be necessary because some teachers may have limited knowledge in the new approach. Berends, Bodilly, and Kirby, (2002) suggest that motivation during this phase is important and can be enhanced through incentives and rewards to those outstanding in implementing the change because this will keep everyone focused. When stakeholders realize that their efforts are being recognized, they are motivated to support the reform for change whose ultimate goal is school improvement. Additionally, continuous monitoring of progress and overcoming of problems is central for successful implementation (Deal & Peterson, 2009).

In institutionalization phase, the innovation stops being regarded as something new and becomes part of theschool’s usual way of doing things (Fullan, 2001). At this point the reading approach will be transformed from a pilot project to a school-wide initiative where there is widespread use in the school. The approach may be used for learners who are struggling with reading. The leader will emphasize on embedding the change within the schools structures such as curriculum and classroom teaching. There will also be elimination of competing or contradictory practices. This can be achieved through use of local facilitators such as advisory teachers for skills training. For such change to be sustained, the leader should ensure that there are enough resources in the schools to support the change thus the adopted change will have changed the school culture. The figure 1 below illustrates this cycle.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

From the illustration, it can be argued that, change is a process and not an event since what happens at one stage strongly affects the subsequent stages, and new determinants may also appear because the process is so entangled. Events happening at one phase may also trigger or alter decisions made at previous stages, which then proceed to work their way through in a continuous interactive way.Therefore each phase cannot be handled in isolation of the others because of their overlapping nature.Although Miles framework of school improvement has been criticized of linearity in nature one might consider adopting it because of the growing body of evidence of the successful use of the frame in many different contexts (Harris, 2005)


From the discussion above, it can be argued that school culture impacts on the change process and the change process impacts on the culture. During these interactions of school culture and change, the focus should always be on school improvement.


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Title: School culture and the changing process