Leadership 101: Cultural Change

Every school has a culture whether it be rigid, old-school or collaborative. In Douglas Reeves’ book, Leading Change in your School, culture in the educational setting is defined as simply “the way we do things around here.”

With every new administrative change comes a new vision. Many times that new vision needs a new culture to assist in the re-organization or systematic changes to be made. When implementing change strategies, culture plays a major role in this change. Reeves found that there are four imperatives of cultural change:

1. Leaders must define what will not change. The school’s leader must articulate what will remain the same and value the staff’s efforts of programs past. Who wants a new person to come in and discredit all of the hard work you have done already? No one.

2. Organizational culture will change with leadership actions. Reeves has found that leaders speak most clearly with their actions. The leader who is asking for change cannot transform a staff whose personal actions have remained unchanged and make decisions that they are exempt from.

3. Use the right change tools for your system. Leaders must differentiate culture tools (traditions, rituals); power tools; management tools and leadership tools to meet the changing needs. The leader must find the right combination to foster the change they envision.

4. Change in culture requires relentless personal attention and “scut work” by the leader. In my opinion, this is the most important step in changing a school’s culture. You, as a leader, must be prepared to do whatever it is you ask others to do. There will be times when you must clean the halls, pick up trash, assist with cross walk duty, and substitute if needed. I learned early in my career as an educator that you must walk the walk and that means to not ask someone to do anything that you would not or are not capable of doing yourself.

Reeves, D. (2009). Leading change in your school: How to conquer myths, build commitment, and get results. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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