Two years ago, a colleague of mine (who serves our schools as a middle school principal in a state in the Western region of the U.S.) wanted to move his building to a block schedule as well as mastery-based grading approach within a year. (I know, WOW!) He created a leadership team, consisting of himself, his assistant principal, and representatives from each subject area and grade level. The leadership team spent a year studying both initiatives, conducting a comprehensive study of how time was used and how mastery-based grading practices were occurring within some classrooms in the school. They also reviewed the research on the use of time and mastery-based grading practices in middle level education, and then, they explored options for their setting. This information and their recommendations were shared with the rest of the staff. The following year, the teachers were energized as the school began implementing both initiatives.
During the summer months prior to implementing both initiatives, the principal and assistant principal decided to surprise the teachers by giving the faculty room a makeover. Their purpose in doing so was to demonstrate value to the teachers as professionals by providing an updated, fashionable, corporate-like space in which they could gather and socialize. They brought in pub tables and comfy sofas, created a kitchen area with shiny new appliances, and painted motivational sayings on the walls. The space looked like it was created by a designer from HGTV! It was interesting to note the teachers' varied reactions as there was a bit of hullabaloo over this change.
The changes this staff experienced affected their school's culture. The status quo had been challenged on so many levels and yet, some changes were met with eagerness and other were met with uncertainty. Hmmmm...
As your summer progresses, plans for the upcoming school year move to the forefront. As the planning unfolds, it is highly probable your system will be anticipating the implementation of some type of change. Those within the organization may embrace this change, while others… not so much! When a school system experiences change, the culture is going to be affected. This is because culture is not a static entity; it’s fluid and is developed by the people within the organization, the information they bring to the organization and the reactions or interactions that occur as a result (Finnan, 2000). The culture then sets the direction for the organization, covertly guiding the behavior of those within the organization. The actions of those within the organization then, shape the culture, creating a self-repeating cycle. To introduce a change, would undeniably interrupt this cycle (Hinde, 2004).
When a school engages in any type transformation or improvement effort, care must be taken to nurture the culture. In the book, Rethinking Educational Change with Heart and Mind (1997) Hargreaves explains as a change is implemented, the organization will need to experience a reculturing, as opposed to a reformation. Reculturing focuses on the shifting of the beliefs of those within the organization. When those within the school’s culture believe in the need for the change, they achieve a sense of shared ownership, which is a characteristic of a healthy culture. (Thus, the reason why the faculty room, not created by those within the organization, was met with controversy.)
Additionally, when teachers possess efficacy or the belief that s/he is able to promote students’ learning (Hoy, 2000), change is implemented with success. When considering a school’s culture, collective efficacy is crucial. Dr. Anthony Muhammad explains that for this to occur, high functioning collaborative teams must focus on and coordinate efforts to agree on the actual desired result, how the team will produce that result, and they must actually work collaboratively to produce the result. (Thus, the reason why the block schedule and mastery-based grading approach was met with acceptance!)
How have you implemented change in your educational organization while nurturing the culture? What type of experiences have you met with in developing collective efficacy? Share your challenges and success in the comments below, and/or come to Learning Forward PA’s Fall Institute in October. Dr. Anthony Muhammad, national expert on school culture will address these points and more! To catch that Early Bird special ($150.00!!) and find out more, click here.
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(Author: F. Miller)