Transforming Your School

Cultural change:  it is not a program to be adopted.  Rather, it is a process of transforming the belief system of a school.  It is a transformation that has lasting value and it must conform to principles to be found only in the Word of God.

© 2006 Andreas Schaefer. Creative Commons. See image citations for full reference (#39).

© 2006 Andreas Schaefer. Creative Commons. See image citations for full reference (#39).

It deals with habits, with long-held assumptions about the education of children, and with goals and expectations.  It deals with the way a school staff views their role in the education of children.  It must be systemic in nature, something apart from individual members of the professional staff that is worthy of their commitment.

The model for cultural change that is mentioned most prominently in the literature is called a Professional Learning Community (PLC).  Current researchers and writers, particularly DuFour and Fullan (2013), talk about three big ideas that must characterize a professional learning community:

First, there must be an unending focus on learning for all students.  Schools exist for learning.  That is the prime purpose.  The entire staff must embrace the truth that all students can learn and learn at levels that will enable them to experience success.  Focusing on “learning for all” means that the entire staff must work to develop the capacity to help each student succeed in his/her school experience.

Second, the culture of the school must be characterized by a collaborative and collective effort to support both student and adult learning.  Teachers can no longer work in isolation.  The professional staff must work within a collaborative culture to address problems.  Furthermore, the staff must be willing to embrace the concept of collective responsibility for the learning of students.

Third, there must be a desire on the part of the professional staff to make decisions about the curricular and instructional systems on the basis of evidence of student learning or the lack of it.  In other words, there must be a “results orientation” that is accepted by all stakeholders.

Over the past twenty-five years, numerous schools and school districts have committed to the development of professional learning communities within local schools.  Traditional assumptions about education have been examined.  Traditional beliefs and expectations have been studied.   Six major characteristics to support a PLC have been have been identified:

  1. Shared mission, vision, values and goals, all of which are directed toward “learning” by both students and staff.  The focus of the local school is on learning.
  2. The culture must be collaborative in nature with each professional committed to learning.
  3. Systematic inquiry into what works best for all stakeholders, particularly students.
  4. Action orientation where all practices are regularly examined for effectiveness.
  5. Commitment to continuous improvement.
  6. Decisions are made on the basis of results.

It is time for those involved in Christian schooling to examine carefully the current practices and current results of the movement.  Let me pose these questions:

  • Who should direct the effort to do a major study of the structural and cultural model that characterizes the Christian school movement??
  • Is there a mindset within the movement that is satisfied with what the movement is producing?
  • What are the major roadblocks for examining current practices within the movement?

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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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  • Jeff Peterson

    I’ve really enjoyed this series on culture from Dr. Suiter. It’s caused me to reconsider some things in the classroom and athletic department. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

  • Edward Earwood

    Jeff, Glad you have enjoyed the series that Dr. Suiter is providing for us. I, too, have enjoyed reading the articles as they come across the desk. Knowing the challenges facing today’s school leaders, I find Dr. Suiter’s insights timely and helpful.