To evaluate a school’s culture, one must first understand the essence or the way of being of the institution. Why do we do the things we do? What do our habits say about who we are and what we value? What practices have become entrenched in our school? In what ways have we become robot-like in the way we do school?
Gruenert and Whitaker (2015) ask these types of essential cultural questions in their recent book, “School Culture Rewired.” In the introduction, they state, “The fact is, the whole purpose of a school culture is to get members to adopt predictable behaviors and a common mental model. Culture is both a survival mechanism and a framework for solving problems. If every member of a group agrees to fulfill a certain role within the group, then the group has a better chance of surviving” (p.4).
An interesting perspective on school culture, eh? Here is another – Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, described culture as “collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one organization from another.” The title of his book is “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind”. When you put this quote with the title…it makes sense.
If culture is the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it has been given to us and make something else (Crouch) or the programming of the mind for survival and problem-solving (Gruenert & Whitaker, Hofstede), it is critically important that we examine our way of being as Christian schools. We need to ask the essential cultural questions as well as the day-to-day ones like, why did we decide to take off of school for a state basketball tournament? Why did we choose these textbooks for science? How did we respond to the gay couple who wanted to enroll their child at our school? Why did we hire that teacher or administrator?
Gruenert & Whitaker would refer to how we respond to these questions as leverage points for creating culture. They list a host of leverage points in their book – the start of the year, changes in calendar, test scores, new personnel, first time events, etc. These are all opportunities to create school culture. As Christian school leaders, we need to recognize and embrace such leverage points as we seek to create the culture that takes the world as it has been given to us and make something for God’s glory and honor (Crouch).
Allow me to focus on one of these leverage points in closing, the leverage point of changing personnel. March can be a tough month as well as an exciting one for most Christian schools. Some schools are growing and adding staff while others are implementing reduction-in-force policies as enrollment declines. Teachers and administrators are in the midst of reflecting on whether they continue to be a good cultural and professional fit. Changes are happening and the teacher and administrator domino effect is in full swing. It is an important month to recognize this leverage point in creating school culture. Dig deeply, school boards and administrators, into the psyche of your school to discover why certain actions or attitudes are embedded. Leverage the personnel opportunities to ensure these are the actions and attitudes that fulfill the mission and vision of your school.
Crouch, A. (2008). Culture Making: Rediscovering our creative calling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Gruenert, S., & Whitaker, T. (2015). School culture rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Hofstede, G., & Hofstede, G. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (Rev. and expanded 2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.