Developing a Culture Focused on Student Learning

“The chief responsibility of leadership is the creation of culture.
Edward Schein


Culture can be described as a pattern of basic assumptions invented or developed by a group, as it learns to cope with its problems, which have worked well enough to be taught to new members as the correct way to approach those problems (Adapted from Schein).

Question: How do I impact our culture at Keeler School?

According to Irma Tyler-Wood, there are 3 areas that are central to the creation of a Culture of Innovation.

  1. Relationship (purposeful, collaborative, common good)
  2. Communication (generous, clear, consistent, honest, open, direct)
  3. Trust (assumptions are checked, is expected, creative tension, hospitable space)

My experience seems to be very different that many of the stories I am hearing today. The staff at Keeler was reasonable open (as a whole) to new ideas and growth, but the trust portion was not highly developed as Keeler has had a great deal of turnover in its administrators over the course of the past 10 years or so. Many of our teachers were around the 5 years of experience mark that I believe is often a major turning point in educational practice. This is the point where educators often have developed the abilities and capacities to be able to start truly questioning their practices, and the staff at Keeler was ready to do that, as long as they knew that they would be supported in the work.

I have great pride in the work our staff has done in the past year and a half, and we are all demonstrating growth and achievement, excitement and eagerness. They are happy and enjoying their work.


I have been noticing small bits that the culture had not changed as much as I thought, and that there is still some leeriness in trust and relationship. Compared to 18 months ago, it has changed immensely, but the history of the culture is still there. It is still a work in progress, and I guess it always will be, won’t it?

How have I worked to impact our school culture?

  • Focus on learning and students
  • Show respect for teachers’ time and passion
  • Show trust in the professional judgment of an amazing group of educators
  • Students know me by name and see me in the classrooms
  • Parents feel more comfortable in coming to me with issues. They wave to me when I am outside!
  • Try to show integrity and character
  • Admit that I do not know everything… (Shocking, I know!)

Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means perfect, and I have made LOTS of mistakes, but I am also transparent about that and willing to admit it (Crazy, I know!)

The Integrated Model of Leadership shared by Tyler-Wood uses two continuums to examine leadership. First, there is the area between Outer Work (results) and Inner Work (exploration and reflection). The second continuum is between Technical Skills (clear problem with pretty clear solution) and Adaptive Skills (problem and solution is very muddy).

Our (Keeler Staff as a whole) big work is in the Inner Work and the Adaptive Skills. There is no lovely little binder on something as complex as learning that we can flip through to solve our issues. Remember, it is not mechanics where we just look at the manual to figure it out…

According to Tyler-Wood, Leadership is the main predictor of what the Climate is in an organization. As the principal, this scares me, but yet as I look at how I have been impacting culture (both intentionally and unintentionally) much of the past year and a half has been work in affecting our school culture (for staff, students and parents).

I think that our school culture has come a hugely long way and is very positive and supportive, but the lesson learned today is that it is not something I can dispense with or ignore.

Work hard, learn tons!


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