From good to great – the importance of culture and leadership


I have read a lot of articles and books about the impact of leadership dimensions on student outcomes, Vivian Robinson, and Michael Fullan. This time I read The Principal of Change “People Shape Culture” and Jim Collins from “Good to Great“. After almost 12 years at my school, we might now be looking at some change since our principal is retiring and we will have a new principal next fall. I know many teachers are curious about what the county has in mind for us as we move forward to what I predict will be some exciting years. Any way you look at it, be conservative hoping for little change, or like me expecting and wanting change, we all know there will be a  change.  In our curriculum, the government’s new initiatives regarding the use of technology in class and hopefully in the choices the students will have regarding how they learn and what they learn. Either way, to be prepared we need a school that embraces change, and a principal who can steer us in the right direction, not rocking the boat. George has some great points here:

As I have connected with many educators around the world, they have often confided in me how different their school or organization has become because of that one person in that one new position.  Sometimes it is a superintendent, principal, curriculum director, or a myriad of other administrative roles.  Once in a while, that person makes it better, but more often than should be acceptable, one person in a short time can change the trajectory of a culture negatively.3

You see, “culture” is made up of people, and people shape the culture, not necessarily the other way around.

The scary reality is that it is often easier for a new person to do damage than to make something incredible.  It is why when you hire someone, it is not about just thinking of their qualifications, but looking at where they fit and how they will build on what has been done, while also leaving positive fingerprints on the organization as they move forward.

As I said earlier, people make the culture, whereas culture doesn’t necessarily shape people.  I know people who have had their career rejuvenated by a fantastic leader (I am one of those people), and unfortunately, I know people in the opposite position. One person can make the most significant difference on the whole.  Find the best person for where you have been and where you need to go.

I also read Jim Collins explain the change process and how successful companies reach their goals. We recently won the prize for most innovated school in Norway and that was based on a long-term commitment to working with technology to help our students in their learning. I think the long-term perspective works well with the findings from Jim Collins shared here. I’m hoping we can continue this work in the next 11 years to come.

Companies that make the change from good to great have no name for their transformation—and absolutely no program. They neither rant nor rave about a crisis—and they don’t manufacture one where none exists. They don’t “motivate” people—their people are self-motivated. There’s no evidence of a connection between money and change mastery. And fear doesn’t drive change—but it does perpetuate mediocrity. Nor can acquisitions provide a stimulus for greatness: Two mediocrities never make one great company. Technology is certainly important—but it comes into play only after change has already begun. And as for the final myth, dramatic results do not come from dramatic process—not if you want them to last, anyway. A serious revolution, one that feels like a revolution to those going through it, is highly unlikely to bring about a sustainable leap from being good to being great.

You might argue that a company has no relevance to our school, but the message from Jim Collins is clear. You can make a pocket of excellence in virtually any position or place, as long as you are dedicated. Listen to the audio here.

I can sum up the importance of establishing a culture in school by this finding from Kerri-Lyn Sankey; Understanding How Principals Shape Collaborative School Culture.

Collaborative school culture holds great promise in promoting and achieving whole school improvement and increased student learning. Collaborative culture, however, is about so much more than school improvement and increased student learning; it is about people working together within an organization and the benefits they take away from collaborating with others. Strong school leaders call upon their colleagues for support and encourage teachers to do the same. In this way, collaboration increases learning and certainty, builds professional relationships, and establishes trust. Certainty, relationships, and trust are the true outcomes of collaboration that ultimately result in improved schools and student learning.

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