Climate and culture within a school is often underrated as a cause of failure among our schools. Indeed most leaders — and students of education leadership — spend far more time focused on instructional related matters, educational leadership issues, personnel issues, bus schedules and even lunch duty. While these are all important aspects of running a school, many leaders spend little time truly understanding and actively managing school culture.
There are countless resources and studies that one can review for approaches to school culture. There are equally countless books on leadership that school leaders can leverage to understand how to address the management challenges associated with addressing culture issues. Our intent here however it simply to share some of the recurring themes we see in schools. While I am sharing three of the recurring themes that we have heard from teachers related to school culture, these will differ significantly school to school.
1. No one is listening to me
In many professions and in many organizations, employees often feel as though they have no say in how the organization is operated. And typically this is true by design. Leaders are often so busy that they not only do not seek input, they subconsciously avoid it. Let us face it: it takes time to be collaborative. This issue is exacerbated in schools where organization leverage ratios (the ratio between supervisors and subordinates or administrators to faculty) are over 1:25. Organizational theory suggests that and leverage ratio of 1:6 or 1:8 is optimal.
2. I feel overworked
The demands placed upon educators today is extreme. No Child Left Behind has imposed accountability for results with scant incremental budgetary resources. School leaders have worked diligently to test various instructional initiatives, implement new teaching methods and refine assessment processes. Teachers have felt the pressure as districts and school initiatives grasp at these initiatives often taxing teachers time inside and outside of the classroom.
3. I am not supported with discipline issues
Another of the most consistent themes I hear from teachers in schools with rifts between administration and faculty are related to discipline. Teachers may feel that administrators are more likely to “take sides” with the student or parent on discipline issues. Meanwhile, the situation may seem far different that through the eyes of the administrators. Often times the truth lies in the middle. Teachers do not like to feel unsupported. Administrators often want to reserve judgment until they have heard all sides to a story. However, reserving judgment leaves teachers with the feeling that although they feel they have already passes judgment, the administrators don’t trust that the teacher has made a fair decision. This disconnect between administrators and faculty creates a nebulous understanding for teachers of their role as it relates to discipline and often leads to inconsistent (and progressively less effective) delivery of discipline.
Any of these three issues may be present in a given school. The reasons and the background are often complex and unique to the situation at a particular schools. However there are many themes associated with these issues that any school leader can learn from. Solutions to these types of culture problems should address the specific reasons for the culture and climate gap.