Does the board have a role in setting the school culture?

Q: When our board reviewed the Charter last year we had quite a discussion relating to the culture of our school and whose role it was to set the culture we wanted. We also found that opinions varied on the success of the culture at the school. Two trustees perceived the culture to be unhealthy whilst the school based trustees and the remaining 3 parent trustees totally disagreed.

A: What is Culture?

Culture is one of those things that are difficult to clearly define but basically, organisational culture is the personality of the organisation. It is made up of the assumptions and values of an organisation and its members.

This culture is ultimately entwined in its members’ behaviour and is in fact the way we do things around here. For some, the importance of defining and implementing an effective, positive culture is shrugged off as being unimportant but when you have experienced the power of a positive and inclusive culture it can be a powerful thing.

It is vital that when updating and reviewing Charters boards place as much emphasis on developing values as they do mission and vision. Decisions that boards make should constantly be tested against the Charter vision, mission and values.

It is interesting to note that John P Kotter in his book “ Leading Change” states, “… successful transformation is 70 to 90 % leadership and 10 to 30% management”

Sometimes a board’s perceptions may differ from the reality that the rest of the school experiences. It is important not to dismiss the perceptions and opinions of others as wrong, or to simply ignore negative comments in the belief that it is simply a few disgruntled parents complaining.

A more in-depth review may be required to find out exactly what the current state is.

In order to build or change this culture there are steps to take:

1. Document your school’s values.

Although the board in the School Charter defines the values it is important that consultation occurs with the school community before these are set. This enables the board to determine important community values and can build a commitment to the school’s values. These written values are important in order for boards to be able to employ people who share the same values and for parents to consider when choosing schools as to the values they can support.

2. Live your school’s values

Board’s must model the school’s values and document the expectations under each. Everyone should know what they are and live by them.

For many schools a Code of Conduct for Principals, and one for Trustees is part of the Charter. Some schools also have a code of conduct for students that set these values down in an easy to understand format. These values need to have real meaning with examples of accepted behaviour provided.

How do your students know what your values are?

3. Hold people accountable for the core values that have been defined.

Make sure that you employ and encourage staff to work within these values and give recognition to students who display your values. It is vital that you stick with the values you have set and take action against those who don’t abide by them. If you don’t, then you may find that people who came to your school because of your values and culture become disillusioned and leave.

How often do the board, staff and students discuss these values and the importance they hold?

Where can these core values be used?

  • Advertise them in school diaries, school prospectives, enrolment packs, staff and trustee handbooks
  • Job descriptions and profiles
  • Employment agreements
  • Planning sessions
  • New staff and students orientation
  • As part of school, staff and board review
  • As part of school assemblies and prize giving
  • Use certificates etc. in recognition for those displaying the school values

Is your school culture left up to chance or have you defined it and worked purposefully towards achieving it?

Have you reviewed it and made changes where necessary?

Does the board model this culture?

Does the staff model this culture?