The Foundation for Organizational Change: School Culture


Photo: KOMUnews

Photo: KOMUnews

“Schools in America are the most difficult organizations to change due to the culture.”
– Dr. Dan Lordy


As the regent’s reform agenda was rolled out educators heard a great deal about the new Common Core State Standards, the evaluation systems and APPR, and even the push to use data to inform instruction. The area that we did not hear as much about was the need to transform school culture. A positive school culture is the foundational element for change, not only from which to begin to address these Regents’ Reform Agenda elements, but also in order to sustain the work.

As I attended the Professional Learning Communities Summit in Phoenix it became apparent that at the heart of any reform, any move for change, is culture. The development of a positive school culture is not on the tips of everyone’s tongue, but is an essential part of all the work.

According to Dr. Anthony Muhammad, there are two forms of change: technical and cultural. Technical change seems to be what many schools focus in on. Technical change is the change in tools or structures in a school such as collaboration time, master schedules, data to be collected, etc.  Although the importance of these changes must not be underestimated, changing the structures does not make up for human deficiencies like poor instruction or unprofessional behavior?  Cultural change incorporates the human behavior within a school. According to Muhammad, culture will “eat structure for breakfast”. If a system is to maintain any reform, we must deal with the mentality of individuals within the organization, the cultural change.  The organization must make decisions on what is best for students and to maximize learning by being student-focused rather than adult-centered.  One question districts can ask is “What technical changes has your district proposed or implemented as an attempt to raise achievement and close the achievement gap? Did the technical change produce the desired boost in achievement? Why or why not?”

The overall goal is to transform school culture to a more healthy culture that supports staff and students alike. The following chart helps to identify the components of a healthy culture and a toxic culture.


Time and time again, as I am in schools, the conversation begins with student data, performance, and/ or instructional practice, but always turns to culture. Culture is the foundation from which everything else can be built upon. “When human beings are at their best, they are thoughtful, ethical, productive, and humane and a quality education can produce all of these attributes.” The culture that is experienced within the walls of our school will send a definite message that directly impacts the achievement of our students (Muhammad). So, as you begin to examine the next reform or initiative, reflect on your culture. Does the school culture demonstrate more characteristics of a healthy culture or that of a toxic culture?

Litzenberger_Phyllis_WEBPhyllis Litzenberger
Network Team Coordinator

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