Culture

Successful school leaders create structures, rituals, stories and symbols that foster a culture of innovation and encourage people to learn from failure and success.

Strategies For Success

Agency

Foster teacher and student agency.

Risk-Taking

Encourage risk-taking so that people know it's OK to fail as long as they learn from it.

Collaboration

Create an environment that supports collaboration across teachers and students.

Curiosity

Encourage innovation and inspire curiosity.

Agency

Reflection questions

  • Does the leadership support the ideas of staff and students, providing clear channels for people to propose ideas and innovate in practice?
  • Do your staff feel like they can make changes in their classrooms without seeking permission? How do you know?

Risk-Taking

Reflection questions

  • Does the leadership encourage educators to take risks and learn from mistakes, and does the leadership role model this?
  • If a staff member tried something and was unsuccessful, would they feel confident sharing what they’d learned with their peers? With their leadership team?
  • Does your district reflect on the success and failure of initiatives, ensuring that discussion is open, honest, and free of judgement?

Collaboration

Reflection questions

  • Do staff and students spend the right balance of time (1) working alone and independently versus (2) collaborating with peers and others?
  • If you asked a teacher whether they felt supported by their peers or their leadership, what would they say? Why?

Curiosity

Reflection questions

  • Are your schools vibrant places, which students and staff look forward to attending, and where people care about what happens?
  • Is curiosity encouraged and facilitated? Do processes and structures amplify rather than stifle curiosity and wonder?

Culture

Re-design your schools' culture

Whether you’re leading the team focussed on culture or just considering it as part of your overall transformation, the planning steps and tools below may help.


Culture overview

1

Assemble your Culture team

Culture belongs to, and is controlled by, all members of an organization. It is impossible to change it solely with top down control. You therefore need to begin any work on school culture by pulling together a team from across the organization.

Before you can do this, you first need to learn more about the stakeholders of the organization's culture. This initial stakeholder analysis is critical— it will form the foundation for future team efforts and it’s essential that you give it the attention it deserves.

Once you understand the stakeholders, you should identify which of them will become part of your team. You may also choose to have different subgroups, for example a working group and an advisory group. While teachers are the most obvious stakeholders, students are also crucial.

  • Conduct a stakeholder analysis
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  • reWork: Google’s research on effective teams
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  • 2

    Investigate & Understand

    Members of your team should understand as much as they can before (and during) planning. To be effective they should:

    a) Understand the existing situation in the school / district so they are grounded in reality.

    b) Understand what research says regarding the topic so they make informed decisions.

    c) Understand what other schools and districts are doing so they can be inspired by what is possible.

    Dedicate time to this phase so your plans can be made realistic for your specific situation, and effective due to the tested nature of the actions you take.

  • Conduct a situation analysis
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  • 3

    Set goals

    You want your organization's culture to support the overarching vision and so you must set goals that help you accomplish this.

    To get started, think about what success looks like; picture a time a few years from now. What does the organization's culture look like? Now turn this into 2–5 outcomes or goals. While these are not set in stone, the assumption at this stage should be that if you meet these goals, then you will be supporting the overall vision in the best way possible.

    Keep in mind that at this stage the goals should be actionable, achievable and measurable. You should know when you've met your goals, and they shouldn't be so large that you're unable to do so.

  • reWork: Google’s research on setting goals
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  • Set SMART goals
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  • 4

    Identify actions and solutions

    You should now have a good understanding of where you are (the current situation), and where you want to be (your intended outcomes). In order to move between the two you need to do something— make decisions, take actions, and start new programs.

    These actions may be obvious, in which case you should spend a short period of time brainstorming to make sure you do indeed have the most effective solutions. Alternatively the required actions may be unclear. In this case, a more structured process — for example design thinking — will allow you to identify the best solutions.

  • Learn how to brainstorm effectively
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  • Design thinking toolkit for educators
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  • 5

    Make a plan

    A traditional project plan would include action steps, risk assessments and Gantt charts (see the resources we've provided.) There is still a place for these when trying to affect cultural change, for example you would need to do this if you want to increase teacher agency by changing the evaluation system. However some actions will be less easy to define and plan; you may need tools such as influence maps and a communication strategy rather than a detailed plan.

  • A guide to effective project planning
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  • Project planning template
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  • 6

    Launch & Iterate

    Now you've made your plan, you need to take action. Where actions have been assigned and can be measured, you can track and monitor progress in a traditional way. However for the harder to define actions and changes you hope to see, you will need to be innovative in creating measures to ensure you are making progress.

    Keep in mind that an organization's culture will not be changed overnight. It will take years to see real change. However this does not mean that you should not start that process, just be ready for it to take time, and for the plan and actions to be adjusted as you learn.

  • A guide to effective project implementation
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