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Creating a Positive Culture…On Purpose

Maybe you’re a skeptic. No one would hold it against you in this day and age, and maybe all this stuff about “building culture” sounds like some lofty, progressive ideal without any real weight behind it. The research behind the method, though, is decades old, and not only makes a case for cultural change in schools, but validates how crucial cultural change is in schools that want to improve on structural, organizational, and academic levels.

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The Character Education Partnership wrote a position paper arguing for education reform in manner far removed from legislated changes handed down to schools from policy makers. Indeed, they argue that just the opposite is necessary:

“Narrowly focused school interventions have largely failed. We now know that unless a school can develop and sustain a comprehensive, positive school culture—one that unifies faculty, students and parents around a common mission and commitment to quality— improvements in isolated features of a school will never truly turn the school around.”

It’s so obvious, really: schools that don’t fully embrace their unique culture rooted in every individuals core values in order to raise the next generation of children can’t properly educate and raise the next generation of children. If schools don’t fundamentally commit to a quality values based education, test scores will stay low, regardless of who happens to be principal or superintendent.

Sociologists Kytle and Bogotch performed a study with results indicating, “real and sustained change is more readily achieved by first changing the culture of the school, rather than by simply changing the structures of the way the school operates and functions,” (2001). By and large, how bureaucracies of different schools stack up doesn’t affect student learning environments nearly as much as the passion, attitude, and commitment of that bureaucracy.

Educational researcher Lakomski agrees, saying, “It is necessary to change an organization’s culture in order to bring about organizational change,” (2001). Culture is an organization’s way of doing things. If a school does not deliberately create a positive culture, it runs the risk of just the opposite: unintentionally creating a pervasive and negative culture. Culture happens and evolves constantly, and shapes, is created by, and contributed to by those within it. Whether it’s paid the due attention it deserves or not really does make all the difference. It is within an organization’s control, and can become the most powerful force the organization wields; when disregarded, it can be harmful on any number of levels.

As is often the case, change needs to begin from within. And at GCV, we live to do just that.

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