9 ways you know a school culture is in trouble

Dennis SparksYou know a school culture is in trouble when…

1. Truly honest conversations are most likely to happen in parking lots…

2. The only honest things people say in meetings are complaints…

3, Leaders don’t show up for meetings as promised, or show up late and/or leave early…

4. Cynicism triumphs over healthy skepticism

5. “Authorities” of all sorts — from the principal to the district office to consultants — are reflexively distrusted and dismissed…

6. “Good enough” could be the school’s mission statement…

7. Being “crazy busy” is a sufficient reason for not doing what you said you would do…

8. After just a few years new teachers begin to sound and act like grizzled veterans who are deeply entrenched in their ways…

9. Educators feel more professionally connected to followers on Twitter they have never personally met than to grade-level, department, or PLC colleagues with whom they share students and common purposes.

What are other signs of a troubled school culture?

5 Responses to “9 ways you know a school culture is in trouble”


  1. 1 Wanda Dean May 29, 2013 at 8:19 am

    An insightful list

  2. 3 Lois E. Easton June 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Hi, Dennis! Another sign is when a lot of people use this frame: I don’t want to be [“negative” or any other comparable word], BUT. . . . It”s a culture of “Yabbut.” When there’s a preponderance of “Yabbuts,” there’s likely to be a problem with culture.

  3. 5 Kent Peterson August 16, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    A great list of issues to consider when looking at whether principals are fostering positive, toxic, or dysfunctional cultures.

    All of these actions you mention communicate negative norms and values–which can become the culture–and with these actions, a toxic culture.

    New superintendents should look at this list before they visit a school that is struggling; they may find a lot of these going on.


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