Generally defined as "the way we do things around here," culture is the underground system of norms, values, beliefs, traditions, and rituals that have built up over time as people work together, solve problems and confront challenges.
The school leader recognizes that effectively examining school culture is a long term process that involves observation, identification and reflection. Such examination is followed by collaboration, action, implementation, and assessment.
The foundation of any highly effective school is the quality of the culture. High performing schools have teachers who work collaboratively with the administrators to intentionally shape a cohesive and positive culture within the school. They work with colleagues to develop consistent and pervasive practices that communicate high expectations for all students. They are dedicated to the school’s mission, exhibit behaviors that align with the school’s core beliefs and help to create an environment of excellence on behalf of the students they serve.
“Culture is a powerful web of rituals and traditions, norms, and values that affects every corner of school life” (Peterson and Deal, 2002). What are the elements?
The West Virginia Department of Education has defined standards for principals that apply to culture as:
Standard I - Develops and Supports a Learning Mission
A contemporary principal has an obligation to develop and support a mission for his/her school. The mission should be developed collaboratively by all stakeholders. The mission should address learning for all and develop the core content with 21st century skills for conceptual understanding, and the ability to effectively use information in context. It is important for the school’s mission to be aligned with the county and state so that we are all headed in the same direction. The mission should be mindful of the urgency for students to compete in a global economy with social and political issues. A school's mission must also be characterized by different kinds of learning experiences so that the "digital natives" are prepared for the future. Supporting the mission through a balanced assessment system will give accountability to the mission.
Standard III - Builds and Sustains a Learning-Centered CultureThe contemporary principal establishes the vision and mission conducive to successful acquisition of 21st century skills for all of his/her students. The principal communicates strong beliefs regarding best practices and research based initiatives in preparing all students for the global community. The principal empowers teacher leaders, encourages creativity and innovation dedicated to rigor and relevance for all learners.
Culture is a school-wide, agreed upon, and shared mission that unites the staff and guides actions, policies and procedures throughout the school.
The Culture Typology Activity was developed for use by teachers and principals as a method to help schools and school leaders: