LFR’s Quotation of the Week: Leaders Change Culture by First Changing Themselves

(Photo: Dennis Sparks)

Probably the most important—and the most difficult—job of an instructional leader is to change the prevailing culture of a school. . . .  A school’s culture has far more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse than the president of the country, the state department of education, the superintendent, the school board, or even the principal, teachers, and parents can ever have.

—Roland Barth

In my previous essay I described a number of cultural shifts that I believe are essential for schools to successfully adopt and sustain the use of new practices. I noted that it is essential that leaders be intentional in co-creating high-performance cultures with their school communities and that they begin by first thoroughly examining and possibly changing their own beliefs, understandings, words, and behaviors.

The next step is for leaders to work with others in the school community to draft a vision for the new culture (for instance, “we will establish a culture of strong interpersonal relationships and high trust”) and to establish group agreements to create new cultural norms (for instance, “we will not say things outside of meetings we do not say in the meetings, and we will talk directly to people and not about them when they are not present”).

The processes of establishing a shared vision and creating group agreements will usually in themselves strengthen relationships and promote trust within the school community. In turn, improved relationships will enable the school community to function more effectively as a team, to become more internally accountable for the success of all students, and to engage in experimentation and risk-taking for the purpose of improving teaching and learning.

Cultural work never ends. If left unattended, some aspects of school culture will revert to their previous forms. In addition, sustaining a high-performance culture requires that the school community socialize new community members into “how things are done around here” to acclimate them to the school’s values, norms, and traditions, which may be quite different from those in other settings.

Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”:

Leaders co-create cultures with school communities.

Develop a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this week’s posts. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”

5 Responses to “LFR’s Quotation of the Week: Leaders Change Culture by First Changing Themselves”


  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott January 28, 2010 at 6:20 am

    My six words:

    Focus on culture; take first steps.

    Mike

  2. 2 Chris January 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Community acknowledges culture before changing culture.

  3. 3 Cowpernicus January 31, 2010 at 8:49 am

    1. Grow Trust to Cultivate, Create culture.
    2. Build a Positive culture of Learning.

    Thanks Dennis for your book and inspiration. NSDC Academy 2011 is working diligently to grow trust, culitvate a learning culture and increase student achievement.


  1. 1 Leadership for “reculturing schools” « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on February 16, 2010 at 4:01 am
  2. 2 Look for solutions close at hand « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on April 16, 2010 at 4:12 am

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