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The School Culture

Attitudes and Beliefs
Attitudes Toward Change
Cultural Norms
Cultural Norms that Facilitate School Improvement

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" (p. 67).

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 process.

    (p. 98)

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 to change.

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 ways.
  • 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 white peers.
  • 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 (Whitmore, 1988).

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 trade unions.
  • 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 (Cuban, 1990).

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. These include:

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, p. 203)

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.

Cultural Norms

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 membership.
  • 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, excommunication.
  • 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.] (p. 66)

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).

Student culture.
Like other cultures, the school culture consists of a dominant culture and subcultures of various groups. The student culture is one of these subcultures.

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 improvement.

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 of programs.

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, & Firestone, 1984).

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 with collegiality:

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 others.

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, 1991).

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 in school.

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. 31).

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.

  School Context: Bridge or Barrier to Change
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