Most principals have an instinctive awareness that organizational culture is a key element of school success. They might say their school has a “good culture” when teachers are expressing a shared vision and students are succeeding — or that they need to “work on school culture” when several teachers resign or student discipline rates rise.
But like many organizational leaders, principals may get stymied when they actually try to describe the elements that create a positive culture. It’s tricky to define, and parsing its components can be challenging. Amid the push for tangible outcomes like higher test scores and graduation rates, it can be tempting to think that school culture is just too vague or “soft” to prioritize.
That would be a mistake, according to Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, an expert in education leadership and management. As she explains, researchers who have studied culture have tracked and demonstrated a strong and significant correlation between organizational culture and an organization’s performance. Once principals understand what constitutes culture — once they learn to see it not as a hazy mass of intangibles, but as something that can be pinpointed and designed — they can start to execute a cultural vision.
“A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between people in the organization. In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions, so that knowledge about the organization’s distinctive character — and what it takes to thrive in it — is widely spread.“