Transforming School Culture

The reason:  Improvement in the quality of schooling can only occur at the local school.  And, improvement demands a change in the culture of the local school.  Any effort to improve a local Christian school must address competing assumptions and beliefs among the staff.

Anthony Muhammad, 2009.  Transforming School Culture:  How to Overcome Staff Division.  Solution Tree Press:  Bloomington, Indiana.

Anthony Muhammad, 2009. Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division. Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, Indiana.

The Problem

Changing the culture of a school is a difficult concept to understand and even more difficult to embrace.  Why?  Because cultural change requires altering long-held assumptions, beliefs, and habits.  Yet current research establishes the fact that there is great hope in modifying the culture of a school.

A simple definition of school culture is this:  the things we believe about the education of children and the things we do in helping both children and staff to learn.  The local school is the site where learning does, or does not, occur.  Given this understanding, it is reasonable to suggest that improving student and staff learning largely depends upon modifying the culture of the local school.  Since the professional staff is a major part of school culture, it also follows that the belief system  can serve to be a major hindrance to achieving the goals of the school.

The Solution

Transforming School Culture  is based upon a study of 34 schools – 11 elementary, 14 middle, and 9 high schools.  The author confirms that there is present within the staffs of schools competing philosophies concerning the education of children.  He identifies four different groups of educators that characterize schools.  The heart of this books is devoted to defining these groups and the competing assumptions and belief systems that characterize them.

Fundamentalists:  This group is defined as those who desire to preserve the status-quo of the school.   They resent efforts to tamper with the current culture.

Believers:  This group believes in their ability to improve conditions at the school and embrace the principle of “learning for all.”  They believe they can make a difference in student learning.

Tweeners:  This group is composed of new staff members who are learning the culture of the school.

Survivors:  This group is composed of individuals who are overwhelmed by the demands and stress of the current culture and who are satisfied with just getting through the day.

Dr. Muhammad does not indict any of the four groups, but he does stress the need for agreement concerning moral purpose and acceptance of the principle of “learning for all.”    He further details a methodology for working with each of the four groups to bring about a unity of purpose and vision.  Finally, there are numerous practical suggestions for influencing the prevailing assumptions and beliefs about the education of children.

How would you answer the following questions?

1. In what sense is a level of creative tension within a school staff desirable?

2. In what sense is a level of tension within a school staff undesirable?

3. Do current preparation programs prepare candidates for leadership positions in local Christian schools to deal effectively with issues of cultural change?

4. What does research concerning school culture and cultural change suggest for professional development within a local Christian school?

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Dr. Suiter taught in the School of Education at Marshall University. After leaving public education in 1980, Suiter has served in a variety of leadership roles within the Christian school movement both at state and national levels.

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  • Edward Earwood

    Phil, I have read the book and attended a attended an online session where the author discussed this topic. He has a great handle on the topic and brings great thought to the table.