To change school culture – tackle the hard stuff

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There are a lot of so-called good schools but how many of them are really great schools and really typify the type of learning and success that we wish to see for our students? How much of what goes on in your school is as much by chance than by design?

How much better do you think your school and colleagues could be? A bit or a lot better? So, what is holding you and your school back?

It is important to reflect on these questions honesty. If you are looking to factors beyond our control, then it is unlikely that the improvement that you are seeking will happen. If there are constraints to improving your school, how well do you work with them and how well do you work with the resources at your disposal?

Change starts with you and what you are willing to do and you lead and inspire the people around you to make a difference. “Be the change you wish to see,” as Mahatma Gandhi put it, is a great place to start. This is not easy, however, as it involves tackling some really hard stuff and modelling the way is not enough.

Changing school culture for the better is both demanding and challenging because it is uncomfortable. I really like this post by Sam LeDeaux ‘Whatever it takes it takes for kids…Except THAT’, as it brings to the front some of the key facets of school culture that leaders try to implement with varying degrees of resistance from their teachers.

It is difficult to achieve the following:

  • Have all teachers meaningfully and willingly collaborate with one another
  • Have all teachers embrace learning and push themselves beyond their comfort zone.
  • Have all teachers voice their opinion even when if it goes against the opinion of the small–but loud–negative group
  • Have everyone hold each other accountable for the what we wish to see happen in our schools
  • Have a difficult conversation with a colleague
  • Have all teachers use data effectively to inform instruction
  • Have all teachers candidly reflect on their daily practice and make necessary revisions

Essentially in trying to change school culture, we are trying to change habits, many of which have been able to develop over a long period of time. With all change, we are expected to start with the “Why?” Clearly defining the need for change should create the urgency to make it happen.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Even when there is a clear need for change, there can still be much resistance. Of course, such resistance demands that leaders investigate why this level of tension exists. That involves asking hard and, sometimes, direct questions, gathering evidence to present that makes the argument for change event more compelling. At points along the journey that is cultural change, it is inevitable that things will get personal and working relationships will be tested. As a leader, you question whether it is worth it. Is the change that you seek to make things better in your school and for your students worth the push bask, stress and, possible, loss of popularity? It is one of the reasons so many avoid leadership in schools, because it is hard and there may be the fear of being disliked.

Personal preservation as a leader, however, is not a reason to avoid the hard stuff of cultural change. Schools require courageous leaders willing to tackle the status quo. They strive to allow their high flying teachers to flourish and ask the hard questions of those more reluctant to get on the improvement bus. This can be achieved through both being supportive of teachers but also in having the determination to ask the hard questions or present the facts that some in our profession do not want to hear even though they may tell you that they will do whatever it takes for the kids.

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