Organizations including schools have placed a large amount of energy into researching, defining, and teaching leadership. There are certainly some common threads in effective leadership, but practitioners know that every school is unique. The harsh reality is that what works extremely well in one context may fail miserably in another. Effective leadership must be paired with a deep understanding of the organization including its history, current reality, and vision for the future. Edgar Schein (2004) states that “once we learn to see the world through cultural lenses, all kinds of things begin to make sense that initially were mysterious, frustrating, or seemingly stupid.”
Edgar Schein (2004) defines culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems”. A school leader’s ability to understand and influence this pattern of shared assumptions is integral to his/her success.
There is a growing body of research demonstrating the impact of culture on the performance of organizations. A meta-analysis of research on leadership and student achievement by Waters, Marzano, and McNulty (2004) found a correlation between components of school culture and student performance. Further, John Hattie (2012) found that factors such as class size have an effect size of 0.21 while other factors, related to culture, such as teacher-student relationships had a much higher effect size of 0.72 on achievement. In fact, Hattie found that the number one influence on achievement from his massive meta-analysis study was the student’s expectation of their own performance. He goes on to explain that finding out the learner’s expectations and pushing them to exceed them builds self-confidence. A winning school culture goes beyond building relationships with students to helping them experience and expect success.
Great schools exist because of great people. Increased accountability coupled with shifting expectations has made hiring and retaining quality educators extremely challenging. It has never been more important for district school leaders to retain and develop talent. The answer is bigger than leadership alone. In Good to Great, Jim Collins names establishing a culture of discipline as one of the steps companies leveraged to move from good to great. Collins goes on to say that great leaders “channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves”.
At RockWater Consulting we aim to assist leaders in understanding their schools and building a strategy to build a winning culture that will continue long after they depart.