The School Culture
The term culture has been defined in various ways
by many authors as discussed earlier in this paper. Here the culture
of the school will be viewed as the existence of an interplay between
three factors: the attitudes and beliefs of persons both inside
the school and in the external environment, the cultural norms of
the school, and the relationships between persons in the school.
Each of these factors may present barriers to change or a bridge
to long-lasting implementation of school improvement. It bears repeating,
however, that the interrelatedness of these facets of the school
most strongly affects the efforts of those seeking to improve schools.
As Fullan (1991) notes, factors affecting implementation "form a
system of variables that interact to determine success or failure"
The Impact of Culture
An examination of school culture is important because, as Goodlad's
study (1984) points out, "alike as schools may be in many ways,
each school has an ambience (or culture) of its own and, further,
its ambience may suggest to the careful observer useful approaches
to making it a better school" (p. 81). Krueger and Parish (1982),
in their study of five districts implementing and then discontinuing
programs, postulate that the key to program implementation and continuation
is "the interactive relationships that teachers have worked out
together regarding 'how we gets things done here' " (p. 133). Depending
upon how well leaders understand and use this notion, culture can
assist school improvement efforts for at-risk students, or act as
a barrier to change (Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Krueger & Parish, 1982;
Sarason, 1982; Patterson, Purkey, & Parker, 1986).
The culture of the school reflects the local culture in many ways
(Rossman, Corbett, & Firestone, 1988; Welch, 1989). When schools
seek to improve, a focus on the values, beliefs, and norms of both
the school and the environment outside the school is necessary (Sarason,
1982; Deal and Peterson, 1990).
Patterson, Purkey, and Parker (1986) summarize the general knowledge
base regarding school culture:
- School culture does affect the behavior and achievement of
elementary and secondary school students (though the effect of
classroom and student variables remains greater).
- School culture does not fall from the sky; it is created and
thus can be manipulated by people within the school.
- School cultures are unique; whatever their commonalities, no
two schools will be exactly alike -- nor should they be.
- To the extent that it provides a focus and clear purpose for
the school, culture becomes the cohesion that bonds the school
together as it goes about its mission.
- Though we concentrate on its beneficial nature, culture can
be counterproductive and an obstacle to educational success; culture
can also be oppressive and discriminatory for various subgroups
within the school.
- Lasting fundamental change (e.g. changes in teaching practices
or the decision making structure) requires understanding and,
often, altering the school's culture; cultural change is a slow
Attitudes and Beliefs
The effect of school culture on school improvement efforts is significant.
The attitudes and beliefs of persons in the school shape that culture.
Many times innovations are not put into practice because they conflict
with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images
that limit persons to familiar ways of thinking and acting (Senge,
1990; Senge & Lannon-Kim, 1991). This failure is played out in schools
on a regular basis. The attitudes and beliefs of those in the school
create mental models of what schooling is and how others in the
school should and will respond to events and actions. It is from
these attitudes and beliefs that the culture of the school is created.
Attitudes and beliefs about schooling.
As noted earlier in this paper, a school is complex in and of itself,
as well as being part of a larger system. Frequently the individual's
conception of the system serves as a basis for maintaining the status
quo and opposing change, according to Sarason (1982). Anticipating
trouble in relation to the system is characteristic of many school
staff. A perception of the system as intolerant is cited by Sarason
(1982) as one of the most frequent and strongest barriers to trying
what are conceived as innovative procedures. If untested, this assumption
becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy. Goldman & O'Shea (1990) in
their analysis of their school note that a system paranoia exists
that says "they won't let me do it," or "I knew things hadn't changed,"
or "there they go again" (p. 43). This paranoia creates barriers
Fine (1991) asserts that educators generate belief systems because
they need to explain their efforts in ways that give them a sense
of accomplishment. These belief systems may help educators feel
more successful, but may also prevent them from imagining what could
be. According to Fine (1991), some of these beliefs are:
- Things can't change.
- Discipline is the overwhelming obstacle to school success.
- Work with the survivors.
- Educational bureaucracy obstructs progressive public education.
- I do the best job I can in my classroom. (p. 156)
Patterson, Purkey, and Parker (1986) delineate five prevailing
assumptions about the world in which educators work. The first is
that "school systems are guided by a single set of uniform goals";
a second is that "power in school systems is (and should be) located
at the top" (p. 7). These assumptions, the researchers believe,
contribute to behaviors among school staff that prevent power sharing.
Third, "decision making in school systems is seen as a logical problem-
solving process that arrives at the one best solution" (p. 8); alternatives
or modifications of this "one best solution" may not be sought.
An extension of this idea is that "there is one best way to teach
for maximum educational effectiveness" (p. 8). Finally, the belief
that "the public is supportive of school systems and influences
them in predictable and marginal ways" (p. 8) ignores the impact
that parents and the community have on schools.
Patterson, Purkey, and Parker (1986) suggest some alternative
assumptions that could facilitate school improvement by helping
to restore a sense of efficacy to educators:
- School systems are guided by multiple and sometimes competing
sets of goals.
- Power in school systems is distributed throughout the organization.
- Decision making in school systems is a bargaining process in
order to arrive at solutions that satisfy a number of constituencies.
- The public is influential in major and sometimes unpredictable
- A variety of situationally appropriate ways to teach is allowed
and desired so that teachers may be optimally effective. (p. 7-8)
Attitudes regarding at-risk students.
Cultural influences impact behaviors of students and may contribute
to failure in schools for minority students. According to Gault
and Murphy (1987), many American schools claim to practice cultural
pluralism, but in reality all students are expected to fit into
the white middle class culture. Students with different cultural
backgrounds, values, and skills than those generally valued by American
schools may be perceived as incapable of performing according to
the school's standards.
In addition to the assumptions described above, some commonly
accepted myths about minority children become barriers to their
access to quality education. The report of a Massachusetts Institute
of Technology project, Education That Works: An Action Plan for
the Education of Minorities, (1990) identified many of these myths,
including the following:
- Learning is due to innate abilities, and minorities are simply
less capable of educational excellence than Whites. (p. 37)
- The situation is hopeless; The problems minority youth face…are
so overwhelming that society is incapable of providing effective
responses. (p. 37)
- Quality education for all is a luxury, since not all jobs presently
require creativity and problem solving skills. (p. 38)
- Education is an expense and not an investment. (p. 38)
- Equity and excellence in education are in conflict. (p. 38)
- All we need are marginal changes. (p. 39)
- Minorities don't care about education. (p. 39)
- The problem will go away. (p. 40)
- Educational success or failure is within the complete control
of each individual, and in America anybody can make it. (p. 40)
Goldenberg and Gallimore (1991) found that teachers' assumptions
about students and their families reinforced their views about child
development and academic learning in general. Teachers tend to blame
the family for the child's at-risk condition rather than the child
or the school (Richardson, Casanova, Placier, & Guilfoyle, 1989).
These beliefs slant teachers' choices of classroom activities, and
their evaluation of student performance toward goals. The teachers'
perceptions of the child and of the child's family are strongly
affected by the teachers' beliefs and expectations about academic
performance and classroom behavior, the characteristics of the rest
of the students in the classroom, and the school setting (Richardson
et al., 1989).
Student attitudes toward schooling.
Just as the perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and values of teachers
impact change efforts, student beliefs and attitudes influence school
improvement. Students must believe that they are respected as persons
and that they are tied to the school. However, as noted earlier,
two attitudes prevalent among high school students are boredom and
alienation (Wehlage, 1988).
One sign of alienation is a reluctance to engage in academic competition.
Houston (1991) suggests that minority students in non- urban schools
may be reluctant to engage in academic competition because:
- They don't believe that their individual efforts to achieve
will be rewarded by the dominant culture.
- They believe that they are intellectually inferior to their
- They resent and distrust the dominant culture and reject some
of its values.
- They believe that the values of their culture are in conflict
with those of the dominant culture. (p. 64)
In a study of 1064 secondary school students in an urban school
district, Calabrese and Poe (1990) found that "African American
and Latino [American] students must confront schooling conditions
that may cause higher levels of alienation.…Their recognition of
discrimination in an environment that professes to offer equal opportunity
creates a sense of estrangement and alienation" (p. 25). Students
must recognize a high level of caring, respect and expectations
for their success, as well as a capacity for influencing what goes
on in school in order to increase their commitment to the school
and change efforts (Firestone & Rosenblum, 1988). These cultural
aspects of school are discussed in later sections of this synthesis.
Like any child who is significantly different from the majority
of classmates, gifted children too are apt to experience feelings
of social discomfort and sometimes isolation or alienation. In such
a situation the child seeks peer acceptance by masking giftedness,
conforming to peer behavior patterns, and purposely underachieving
Attitudes among people in the external environment.
External values affect the culture of the school, shaping what goes
on inside. Deal (1985) suggests a number of changes in the external
environment that have eroded the support of local communities:
- The belief in attending school as a prime pathway to virtue
and success in later life, is no longer widely or firmly shared.
- The intuition and insights of local educators have been replaced
by an emphasis on research, giving more authority to researchers'
and consultants' expertise than tradition and experience.
- More use of evaluation, management by objectives, and a focus
on technical aspects of instruction and administration have occurred.
- Professional teacher associations have become highly vocal
and cultivated ties with or emulated the practices of labor and
- Events such as desegregation, court enforced student rights,
and new approaches for particular groups of students have changed
the traditions, moral order, and historical practices of local
schools. (p. 613)
Attitudes Toward Change
Teacher attitudes toward change.
Waugh and Punch (1987) reviewed the literature on change and identified
variables related to teacher receptivity to change: basic attitudes
toward education (discussed in the previous section), resolution
"of fears and uncertainties associated with change, personal cost
appraisal for change, practicality of the [change], …perceived expectations
and beliefs about the change in operation," and perceived school
support (discussed later in this paper) (p. 237).
Several researchers emphasize that a teacher's attitude toward
change is dependent upon how change affects them personally. Hord,
Rutherford, Huling-Austin, and Hall (1987) assert that it is critical
to understand the point of view of those involved in the change
effort. "A central and major premise of the [Concerns Based Adoption
Model] is that the single most important factor in any change process
is the people who will be most affected by the change" (Hord et
al., 1987, p. 29). From their studies of change, Hord et al. identify
seven developmental stages of concern related to the introduction
of innovations in schools. These stages provide insights into teachers'
attitudes that contribute to their willingness to engage in the
school improvement effort. The "self" stage of concern occurs during
the early stages of the change effort, when teachers are primarily
interested in the personal effects the change will have. Individuals
progress (assuming that concerns at each level are addressed) through
concerns about completing the task, concerns about the innovations'
impact on students, and, finally, concerns about finding "even better
ways to reach and teach students" (p. 32).
Welch (1989) reports that teachers assess advantages and disadvantages
of collaborative consultation primarily in terms of how implementation
will impact them personally, rather than how it might impact student
growth. He states that "for innovative change in school settings
to be meaningful, its effectiveness must be proven in terms of the
personal and professional growth of all involved, not just student
growth" (p. 538).
Practical changes are those that address salient needs, that fit
well with the teachers' situation, that are focused, and that include
concrete how-to-do-it possibilities (Fullan, 1991). Feedback, especially
about the positive results of one's efforts, is a large factor in
teachers' commitment to change. Corbett, Dawson, & Firestone (1984),
found that incentives (defined as any source of gratification or
deprivation) play a critical role in the change process. Those involved
in school improvement efforts must believe that the needs being
addressed are important and that they are meeting those needs (Huberman
& Miles, 1984). Having some success, in a tangible way, is a critical
incentive during implementation (Fullan, 1991).
Deal and Kennedy (1982) suggest that change should be thought
of as skill-building and training as part of the change process.
They believe that even if people understand and accept a change,
a major impediment to successful change is lack of the skills and
ability to carry out the new plan. "In school improvement efforts,
leaders must take the time to help people in schools, particularly
teachers, genuinely understand the importance of adopting a new
program, attending in-service training, and implementing a particular
program" (Krueger & Parish, 1982, p. 136). "[Teachers] need to know
whether there is sufficient knowledge available to make smaller
changes that fall short of a complete redesign…[and] what, [if any],
common markers characterize those schools, programs and classrooms
that are successfully serving at-risk students" (Cuban, 1989, p.
799). How to determine who is using the new program and in what
form the program is being used is explored in the work of Hord et
al. (1987). Misdirected change may result in confusion for students.
Student attitudes toward change.
Fullan (1991) proposes four images that represent the range of student
attitudes toward change. These attitudes are indifference, confusion,
temporary escape from boredom, and heightened interest and engagement
with learning and school. "Indifference is closely tied to the claim
that the more things change in education, the more they remain the
same…For [many students] the main benefit of the school is the opportunity
it provides to interact with close friends on a daily basis" (p.
181). Misdirected change may result in confusion for students. If
programs and policies are unclear to teachers and administrators,
it is not unreasonable to assume that they will result in "confusion
on the part of students" (Fullan, 1991, p. 183).
Fullan (1991) reports that pupils' interpretations of their traditional
roles in the classroom can impede change. Any innovation that requires
students to do something new will succeed or fail based on students'
actual participation. Students will participate, according to Fullan,
if they understand, have the necessary skills, and are motivated
to try what is expected. The temporary escape pattern of response
occurs when students view innovations as only a change of pace in
the routine and boredom of schooling. Finally, a student response
of heightened interest and engagement is "central to any school
improvement effort" (Fullan, 1991, p. 183).
Community attitudes toward change.
"Schools are generally responsive to constituent groups. This means
that people outside schools will have influence on the type of new
programs that may be introduced" (Krueger & Parish, 1982, p. 134).
Change efforts fail if the community does not provide ongoing encouragement,
support and resources (Gauthier, 1983). Schools are vulnerable to
pressures for change from external groups because they must try
to satisfy what their constituents believe is proper for schools
Various constituencies want various things, all for less money.
Many citizens, because they have no children in the schools, apparently
feel they need not be concerned about the quality of education (Patterson,
Purkey, & Parker, 1986). Schools, however, "have great difficulty
in becoming self-renewing without support from their states and
local districts and especially from their surrounding constituencies"
(Goodlad, 1984, p. 31).
According to Fullan (1991), communities can take one or a combination
of three actions in response to school change: put pressure on district
administrators to change, oppose specific innovations, or do nothing.
Gold and Miles (1981, cited in Fullan, 1991) give an example of
what happens when a community was not involved in the adoption of
"open education." With teachers unable to explain why they were
adopting this innovation, concern increased and parents put an end
to the innovation.
School boards play a role in change efforts, yet are often overlooked,
according to Fullan (1991). School boards can indirectly affect
implementation by hiring or firing reform-oriented superintendents.
In their investigation of the role of school boards in successful
districts in ten districts in British Columbia, LaRocque & Coleman
(1989, cited in Fullan, 1991) found that in situations where the
school board and the district are actively working together, substantial
improvements can be achieved, compared to boards that remain uninvolved
or have many conflicts.
Additional Factors That Influence Attitudes Toward Change
Burnout, defined by Sarason (1982) as adaptation to overload, stress,
and the perception that conditions are not likely to change, can
cause several negative factors that impact school improvement efforts.
loss of concern for the client and a tendency to treat clients
in a detached, mechanical fashion; increasing discouragement,
pessimism, and fatalism about one's work; decline in motivation,
effort, and involvement in work; apathy; negativism; frequent
irritability and anger with clients and colleagues; preoccupation
with one's own comfort and welfare on the job; a tendency to rationalize
failure by blaming the clients or 'the system'; resistance to
change; growing rigidity; and loss of creativity. (Sarason, 1982,
These attitudes will impact change efforts and at-risk students
who tend to be more sensitive to the context of the school.
The legacy of prior change.
The legacy of prior change projects, by its influence on teacher
attitudes, values, and perceptions, may act as either a barrier
to or a facilitator of change. Cynicism and apathy may reflect negative
experiences and produce teachers who are unwilling to proceed regardless
of the content or quality of the program (Corbett, Dawson, & Firestone,
1984; Fullan, 1991). Even more disturbing, according to Deal (1990),
is the impact of constant change on the culture of schools and the
attitudes of educators.
Cuban (1988) states that most reforms fail because of flawed implementation.
Teachers and administrators see minimal gains and much loss in changes
that are proposed by those unfamiliar with the classroom as a work
place. "Magic bullet" type programs, isolated from the rest of the
school and intended to spread change throughout the school at once,
tend to be irrelevant, at best (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990).
"At their worst, they actually inhibit change. By promoting skepticism
and cynicism, [these types] of programmatic change can inoculate
[schools] against the real thing" (p. 72).
The difficulty associated with facilitating change in people's
values, attitudes, and behavior is "grossly underplayed and often
ignored" (Waugh & Punch, 1987, p. 244). The result is the likelihood
that innovations will not be well received by teachers due to conflict
with the firmly entrenched traditions (Waugh & Punch, 1987). Purkey
and Smith (1983) propose that change in schools means changing attitudes,
norms, beliefs, and values associated with the school culture. In
order to change attitudes it is important to identify beliefs and
feelings. "If the belief system of individuals within a culture
is altered, the likelihood of behavioral change is enhanced" (Welch,
1989, p. 538).
The internally held mental models of school and the beliefs of
teachers regarding schooling, students, and change impact the behavior
of teachers toward students, especially those at risk, as well as
toward school improvement. This is particularly important because,
as defined at the beginning of this paper, it is the interplay between
the characteristics of the student and the context of school that
defines a student as at risk. Identifying and confronting beliefs
that prohibit students from achieving their potential are vital
components of school improvement efforts.
Resolving fears and anxiety created by change is a major task
for those leading school improvement. Taking time to ensure that
the reasons for the change, the practicality of this program for
the specific problem being addressed, and the philosophical basis
for the effort are well understood by everyone involved will enhance
the likelihood of lasting implementation.
Just as the attitudes and beliefs of persons both inside and outside
the school building may facilitate or impede change, the norms,
or informal rules that govern behavior exert influence on change
efforts. These norms are developed over time and are influenced
by the attitudes and beliefs of those inside and outside the school.
In turn, the norms define expectations regarding how things are
to be done. This exerts an influence on beliefs and attitudes and
the relationships of persons.
Internalization of the culture.
Because of the impact of cultural norms on school improvement, the
extent to which individual staff members internalize that culture
affects improvement efforts as well. Schein (1985) explains that
"every organization is concerned about the degree to which people
at all levels 'fit' into it" (p. 42). Those new to the organization
must learn the culture or suffer consequences, such as the feeling
of alienation. If, on the other hand, the employee is "oversocialized",
"the result is total conformity, leading to the inability on the
part of the organization to be innovative" (Schein, 1985, p. 42).
Schein (1985) delineates the elements that affect the degree to
which culture is internalized.
- Common language and conceptual categories.
If members cannot communicate with and understand each other,
a group is impossible by definition.
- Group boundaries and criteria for inclusion and exclusion.
One of the most important areas of culture is the shared consensus
on who is in and who is out and by what criteria one determines
- Power and status.
Every organization must work out its pecking order, its criteria
and rules for how one gets, maintains, and loses power; consensus
in this area is crucial to help members manage feelings of aggression.
- Intimacy, friendship, and love.
Every organization must work out its rules of the game for peer
relationships, for relationships between the sexes, and for the
manner in which openness and intimacy are to be handled in the
context of managing the organization's tasks.
- Rewards and punishments.
Every group must know what its heroic and sinful behaviors are;
what gets rewarded with property, status, and power; and what
gets punished in the form of withdrawal of the rewards and, ultimately,
- Ideology and "religion."
Every organization [must reach consensus on how to manage the
unmanageable and explain the unexplainable. Stories and myths
about what was done in the past provide explanations and norms
for managing situations that defy scientific decision making.]
Pollack, Chrispeels, and Watson (1987), in their study of ten schools
engaged in school improvement efforts, emphasize that internalization
of change is important because it "leads to transformations and
changes in users' practices and the consequent institutionalizing
of change at a school site" (p. 15). Most teachers rely on the memories
of their own teachers' actions, teacher-training programs, and the
process of socialization to cope with problems (Davis, 1988). They
become, according to Davis, reasonably comfortable with the standard
operating procedures of the school's culture. When change occurs,
such as the introduction of a new program, discomfort occurs. A
"time honored practice in many schools" is to simply forget to implement
new programs in order to insulate against the "anxiety-producing
situation" that change presents and that those involved wish to
avoid if at all possible (Davis, 1988, p. 6).
Like other cultures, the school culture consists of a dominant culture
and subcultures of various groups. The student culture is one of
Attention must be paid to the peer culture of students, especially
in secondary schools…The extent to which the student culture values
academic success or willingly complies with school rules, will affect
their achievement. Since student peer culture influences student
performance, school staff members must [know] whether the dominant
peer culture adds to or detracts from the school's mission (Patterson,
Purkey, & Parker, 1986, p. 101).
Staff members need to examine the dominant student culture and
look for ways to help students internalize elements of the school
culture that will make students supportive of the school's mission
(Patterson, Purkey, & Parker, 1986). Wehlage (1983), in his study
of successful programs for at-risk students, notes the existence
of a peer culture that supports the rules and goals of the program.
The programs he studied were perceived by students as having a family
atmosphere that provided acceptance and constructive criticism.
Students believed that the rules and goals were in their interest.
One barrier to internalization of the school culture is turnover
among staff. The instability of teachers in urban schools presents
a problem for program continuity (Conklin & Olson, 1988; Pink, 1990).
Similarly, the departure of a respected teacher who strongly advocates
a project may dampen enthusiasm for it among the remaining teachers
(Corbett, Dawson, & Firestone, 1984). Whether due to the loss of
teachers who serve as leaders of the project, the loss of those
who are trained in project implementation, or the loss of teachers
who serve as a support mechanism, turnover gets in the way of lasting
Corbett, Dawson, and Firestone (1984), in their study of fourteen
schools implementing change, note that "the consequences of turnover
on change projects can be considerable, especially if a principal
who supports a project leaves and is replaced by another whose priorities
are different" (p. 7). This may be more true for "high-powered,
charismatic principals who 'radically transform' the school in four
or five years," according to Fullan (1992), because "so much depends
on his or her personal strength and presence" (p. 19). Fullan admits
that no follow-up studies have been done on schools with this type
of principal, but suggests that most of these schools decline after
the leader leaves. "Too much store is placed in the leader as solution
compared to the leader as enabler of solutions" (p. 19).
Cultural Norms that Facilitate School Improvement
Researchers have found particular cultural norms that can facilitate
school improvement. Norms such as introspection, collegiality, and
a shared sense of purpose or vision combine to create a culture
that supports innovation (Staessens, 1991). In her study of nine
primary schools in Belgium, Staessens found that a school culture
with these norms was instrumental in the school's ability to sustain
school improvement. Saphier and King (1985) list from their experience
twelve norms of school culture that support significant, continuous,
and widespread improvements in instruction. These include norms
that encourage: high expectations; experimentation; use of the knowledge
bases; involvement in decision making; protection of what's important;
collegiality; trust and confidence; tangible support; appreciation
and recognition; caring, celebration, and humor; traditions; and
honest, open communication. The degree to which these norms are
strong makes a difference in the ability of school improvement activities
to have a lasting, or even any, effect. Other writers confirm the
need for cultural norms that support change efforts.
Norms of continuous critical inquiry.
Saphier and King (1985) note that good schools have a wide-spread
belief that any school has areas of strength and weakness. This
belief creates an openness to dealing with imperfections, suggesting
that the school has high expectations for itself and its ability
to improve. Barth (1991) believes, based on his experience, that
the most important change to bring to schools is a cultural norm
of continuous adaptability, experimentation, and invention. If everyone
in the culture is reluctant to express ideas they perceive are counter
to group norms, a barrier to change is created (Sarason, 1982).
Druian and Butler (1987) reviewed the literature on effective
schools and practices that work for at-risk students. They found
that successful programs do not suppress criticism but instead provide
a positive and constructive atmosphere in which criticism can occur.
A barrier to a norm of continuous improvement is the silencing of
criticism by schools, which contributes to resistance to change
and the dropout problem, according to Fine (1991). A "hidden curriculum"
identified by Howe (1987) in his experiences as a researcher was
found to underlie the structure of the school and to emphasize conformity.
Norms of continuous improvement.
Similar to the introspective attitude associated with a norm of
critical inquiry, a norm of continuous improvement suggests that
when problems surface, the information, resources and training will
be provided to address the problems. Use of the knowledge base supposes
an expectation for staff development to occur as a cultural norm
that facilitates change. Cardelle-Elawar (1990) studied mathematics
teachers who had shown deficiency in mathematical skills and pedagogy.
Her study points out that a school can make significant gains, in
spite of faculty weaknesses, through sound staff development. Schools,
however, commonly fail to have a norm regarding the need for in-service
work during implementation (Fullan, 1991).
Patterson, Purkey and Parker (1986) note that "numerous research
studies (e.g. Berman & McLaughlin, 1978 and Fullan & Pomfret, 1977)
converge on the theme that access to information, resources, and
support by those ultimately responsible for using a specific innovation
is critical to successful implementation" (p. 30). Information must
be clear regarding the school improvement effort. "Unclear and unspecified
changes can cause great anxiety and frustration to those sincerely
trying to implement them" (Fullan, 1991, p. 70). A limited knowledge
base and lack of technical support from specialists are cited by
Wiggins (1991) as two factors that contribute to teachers' reluctance
to adopt new programs. This is significant, since Rosenholtz and
Simpson (1990) found in their study of teacher commitment that learning
opportunities for teachers was one predictor of teacher commitment,
an important element of sustained change efforts.
Change requires a real understanding on the part of teachers and
other people in schools about how to implement the change (Clune,
1991). Pink (1990) found that an inadequate theory about school
change, a lack of awareness of the limitations of teachers and administrators,
and a lack of technical assistance for program conceptualization,
implementation and evaluation were barriers to effective implementation
A widely shared vision.
A norm of protecting what is important evolves from a shared vision
of what things are important. Numerous researchers have found that
sharing a common vision increases the likelihood that school improvement
efforts will succeed (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990; Deal, 1985;
Carlson, 1987; Miles & Louis, 1990; Norris & Reigeluth, 1991; Schlechty
& Cole, 1991). A shared vision among students, faculty, parents,
and the external community is a feature of schools in which all
students are most likely to succeed academically. If this shared
sense of purpose exists, members of the school community are able
to spell out what constitutes good performance in a relatively precise
and consistent way. Without a shared vision, students, teachers,
administrators, and parents do not know what is expected of them
(Smey-Richman, 1991). A shared vision helps point out what is important
to develop and protect in the school.
A shared vision is one to which many people are truly committed,
because it reflects their own personal vision. A vision that is
not consistent with values by which people live continuously will
fail to inspire and often will foster cynicism (Senge, 1990). Miles
(1987, cited in Fullan, 1991) stresses that vision involves two
dimensions: "The first is what the school could look like; [this
vision] provides the direction and driving power for change, and
the criteria for steering and choosing…The second [dimension] is
a vision of the change process: What will be the general game plan
or strategy for getting there?" (p. 82). Both dimensions of the
vision are both sharable and shared.
In addition, Berman and McLaughlin (1975) found, in their often
cited study of school change efforts, that when the goals of a change
project are close to district priorities, the likelihood that change
will result is higher. The closer the change objectives are to a
district's vision, the better the chance that changes will be continued.
When change objectives fall below a district's top three or four
priorities, problems arise, according to Corbett, Dawson, and Firestone's
(1984) study of school context and change.
A norm of involvement in making decisions.
Many researchers have found that participation in decision making
by those affected directly or indirectly by the school improvement
effort is essential to successful implementation and institutionalization
(Everson, Scollay, Fabert, & Garcia, 1986; Pollack, Chrispeels,
& Watson, 1987; Raelin, 1989; Sarason, 1982; Wehlage, Rutter, Smith,
Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989). A cultural norm supporting the involvement
of teachers in decisions or plans that will affect them heightens
the possibility that changes will be appropriate in a particular
setting. Involvement makes it more likely that responsibility will
be assumed and not be attributed to others (Sarason, 1982).
By providing the opportunity for participants to discuss and plan
changes, leaders help to assure a higher quality innovation along
with greater commitment to and ownership of the innovation. Teachers
want their students to be successful, in part, because they want
their own ideas and efforts to be successful (Wehlage, Rutter, Smith,
Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989). Participation in decision making helps
people acquire the knowledge and skills needed to change their behavior
and contribute to successful implementation (Corbett, Dawson, &
On the other hand, educators who are denied serious involvement
in policy settings and decision making cannot be fully effective
with students (Giroux, 1988 cited in Fine, 1991). Giroux's data
suggests that educators who feel that they can influence institutional
policy and practice also feel that "these adolescents" can be helped.
Educators who feel that they can not influence either policy or
practice consider their students to be "beyond help" (Fine, 1991).
The informal rules that govern behavior in schools appear to play
a significant role in the institutionalization of school improvement
efforts. Those norms that facilitate change must be widely internalized
in order to encourage movement toward the goal of changing the school.
Not only teachers, but students as well need to internalize the
norms of the school improvement culture.
Norms that encourage introspection and critical inquiry about
the strengths and weaknesses of the school are needed. These norms
encourage criticism in order to highlight areas that need improvement.
When criticism is silenced, change efforts are hindered. An expectation
that information, resources and training will be provided to address
problem areas creates the norm of continuous improvement needed for
lasting change. A clear vision of the school when the change is
successfully implemented and how implementation will occur needs
to be developed among all those in the school. This shared vision
provides support for the change effort and relieves anxieties. Participation
in decision making by all those involved is another aspect of the
school improvement culture.
Change is a threat to a culture.
The introduction of planned change challenges the status quo and
forces staff members to compare their current cultural content with
the innovation (Rossman, Corbett, & Firestone, 1988; Sarason, 1982).
Cultural change is also anxiety producing because the assumptions
that stabilize the world must be given up (Schein, 1985). When the
existing norms of the school are those that encourage introspection,
improvement, and involvement, change is encouraged. Encouraging
the development of these norms is an important aspect of leadership
for change. Change is a threat to a culture.
Just as the attitudes and beliefs of persons both inside and outside
the school affect change and the norms of the school, relationships
between persons and groups of persons are part of the school culture
that can either facilitate or impede change. The relationships teachers
have with each other, their students, and the community affect change.
In like manner, the relationships between students and their peers,
teachers, and the school as a whole can help or hinder school improvement
efforts. This section examines these relationships. Relationships
between the principal and others is examined later in this paper.
Teacher relationships with teachers. The ways in which the physical
surroundings in schools contribute to isolation of teachers was
discussed earlier in this paper. Developing collaborative work cultures
helps reduce the professional isolation of teachers, allows the
sharing of successful practices and provides support. Collaboration
raises morale, enthusiasm, and the teachers' sense of efficacy and
makes teachers more receptive to new ideas (Fullan, 1991; Simpson,
1990; Smith & Scott, 1990).
Collegiality, which according to Barth (1990), is frequently confused
with congeniality, is difficult to establish in schools. Little
(1981) describes collegiality as a norm exhibited through four specific
behaviors: Adults in schools who have a collegial relationship talk
about practice. They also observe each other engaged in the practice
of teaching and administration. Colleagues engage together in work
on curriculum by planning, designing, researching, and evaluating
it. Finally, collegiality is exhibited when adults teach each other
what they know about teaching, learning, and leading.
Barth (1990) suggests that a number of outcomes may be associated
Decisions tend to be better. Implementation of decisions is better.
There is a higher level of morale and trust among adults. Adult
learning in energized and more likely to be sustained. There is
even some evidence that motivation of students and their achievement
rises, and evidence that when adults share and cooperate, students
tend to do the same.…The relationships among adults in schools
allow, energize, and sustain all other attempts at school improvement.
Unless adults talk with one another, observe one another, and
help one another, very little will change. (p. 31)
Collegial relationships facilitate change because change involves
learning to do something new, and interaction is the primary basis
for social learning. New meanings, new behaviors, new skills, and
new beliefs depend significantly on whether teachers are working
as isolated individuals (Goodlad, 1984; Sarason, 1982) or are exchanging
ideas, support, and positive feelings about their work (Fullan,
1991). Deal and Kennedy (1982) reinforce the idea that those interested
in change must be aware that peer group consensus will be the major
influence on acceptance or willingness to change. People will change
more readily as a result of a desire to have personal ties with
As the antithesis of collegiality, faculty factions undermine
efforts to successfully implement change by sidetracking, stalling,
or stopping the change process (Corbett, Dawson, & Firestone, 1984).
The need for collegiality bears consideration by those who would
initiate change. Schlechty and Cole (1991) note that the ways in
which changes are introduced may breed rivalry among teachers. Thus
an important leadership responsibility of leaders who work within
the cultural perspective is supporting collegial interactions between
teachers (Sergiovanni & Corbally, 1986).
Student relationships with teachers. The body of literature addressing
students as players in school improvement is noticeably thin. As
Fullan (1991) points out, students are typically seen only as the
potential beneficiaries of change rather than as participants in
the process of change. This traditional view of students is reflected
in the observations of Fine (1991). The principal of the high school
in Fine's study seemed to believe that merely telling students what
to do, without their involvement, would compel their compliance.
Due to their findings regarding the close relationship between teachers
and student attitudes, Firestone and Rosenblum (1988) agree that
the role of high school students in school improvement activities
needs to be evaluated. Students are rarely informed regarding plans
in spite of the fact that the plans cannot be carried out successfully
when students are not committed to cooperate with the plan, and
do not know what to do or how to do it. (Fullan, 1991)
Fullan (1991) explains how students can exercise negative power
to reject what is being imposed. High school students often negotiate
a "live and let live" relationship with teachers that allows some
students to be left alone as long as they do not disrupt classroom
life. This presents a barrier to change by protecting the status
quo. Effective change in schools involves as much cognitive and
behavioral change on the part of students as for anyone else (Fullan,
Firestone and Rosenblum (1988) found in their study of ten urban
high schools that teacher and student commitment are mutually reinforcing.
When teachers demonstrate respect, high expectations, and support
for students, students respond to them in positive ways. In the
same way, teachers' commitment is influenced by the response they
get from students.
Wilson and Corcoran (1988, cited in Fullan, 1991), in a study
of 571 effective secondary schools, showed how school context creates
"conditions of teaching" that influence "learning environments"
for students (p. 176). "Teacher expectations influence student behavior,
and expectations vary for different types of students" (Fullan,
1991, p. 177). Some teachers blame students for difficult classroom
situations. These beliefs are reflected in actions such as displaying
an "attitude" to students, abrupt responses to students, and less
detailed explanations (Firestone & Rosenblum, 1988). Students' commitment
to the school is reduced, Firestone and Rosenblum found, when they
recognize that they are not respected. According to Fullan (1991),
"at-risk students are more likely to find themselves in such situations"
(p. 175). Bryk and Thum (1989) found, in their study of the High
School and Beyond data base, that absenteeism is less prevalent
in schools where teachers are interested in, and interact with,
students and where there is an emphasis on academics "within an
environment that is safe and orderly" (p. 377).
Student peer relationships. At-risk youth share with all students
the need for group membership, the need for positive relationships
with adults, the need to acquire skills and knowledge, and the need
to develop a sense of competence (Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko,
& Fernandez, 1989). "Minority students in non-urban schools may
develop their self-esteem and perceive their [ability to control
situations] in ways that work against their acceptance of school
values and participation in important school activities" (Houston,
1991,p. 65). These students feel confident in their ability to achieve
goals established by peers who share the same culture. According
to Houston (1991), this is contrasted with a perception among minority
students that the school's values have little worth and the students
have little ability to control or have an impact on positive outcomes
Development of a feeling of belonging to a group is actively sought
by all students (Purkey & Smith,1983; Cuban, 1989). According to
Deal (1985), a well documented result of peer relationships is the
effect of subcultural membership on educational outcomes. Student
leaders, or heroes, significantly affect the scholastic tone of
a school -- and subsequently, student behavior and performance (Deal,
1985). Taylor (1989) found that gang subcultures that engage in
drug trafficking for enormous profits cause education to have limited
appeal to many students.
School, teacher and student -- A community of caring. Teachers
and students need to believe they are being treated with decency
and fairness by those at other levels (Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Firestone
& Wilson, 1991). When many of their personal and professional needs
are satisfactorily met through their work environment, teachers
are able to transmit to students a sense of interest and caring
for their academic endeavors and their personal lives. In schools
with a strong community sense, teachers feel less isolated, have
more social support, and are more likely to find help from colleagues
with work-related problems. Teachers can also establish and find
value in attachment to students and communicate to them their belief
in the importance of academic work (Bryk & Driscoll, 1988).
A school context that forms a sense of community is necessary
to promote the cognitive and emotional growth of students (Purkey
& Asby, 1988; Smey-Richman, 1991). This context is noncompetitive
and emphasizes a personal and caring relationship with teachers
who are empathetic to students. Druian and Butler's (1987) study
found that a family atmosphere in a school will reduce the likelihood
that students reject the school. Successful school programs have
in common "a model of community, an extended family where achievement
is important and so is caring for one another" (Wehlage, 1988, p.
Care should be taken, however, to avoid the negative effects of
what Miller, Leinhardt and Zigmond (1988) describe as accommodation.
They define accommodation as a concern for student needs that is
reflected in the administrative processes that govern the school.
Allowing students to "buy back" unexcused absences by attending
an afterschool program in order to pass a course or simplifying
curriculum so that students will have less difficulty are cited
as examples of accommodation. Negative side effects that may occur
from accommodation are students' expectations that accommodations
will always be made, a lack of active student engagement with the
content of instruction and increased student boredom and apathy
(Miller, Leinhardt, & Zigmond, 1988).
Parent, community and school relationships. The lack of strong
school/community partnerships inhibits high performance. Schools
where parents and teachers are supportive of each other and have
close relationships acquire a more community atmosphere (Bryk &
Driscoll, 1988). Parents need to be involved as co-teachers in their
children's education. To isolate the school from the broader community
overlooks this need for a sense of mutual purpose and partnership
(Pallas, et al., 1987).
Collegial relationships in the school facilitate change. These
relationships assist in learning the new practices of the school
improvement effort and reduce isolation. If teachers choose not
to participate in collegial relationships, or decision making, school
improvement initiatives will not enjoy sustained implementation.
The creation and nurturance of a school culture that encourages
and supports these types of cooperative relationships falls on those
who lead the school improvement effort.
The relationships between students and teachers and students and
their peers can facilitate or impede change. When teachers are interested
in students and demonstrate respect for them, a community of caring
is nurtured. This community sense reduces isolation and alienation
discussed in earlier sections as a factor that impedes change. When
many students feel this sense of community, their need for positive
relationships with adults and group membership may be satisfied
in ways that mesh the student culture with the school culture in
positive ways. A connection with the broader community outside the
school is also needed to support the school improvement culture.