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What Makes for A Positive or Negative School Culture?

Ed in the Apple is a blog that I’ve been reading since it first started a few years ago. My understanding is that the blog is associated with someone at the United Federation of Teachers. It’s a very good blog in terms of giving a feel for what’s going on from a teacher’s perspective, and yes, to some degree from a teacher’s union perspective. But, it’s not all dogma, really. It very often takes the long view, bringing a rare historical perspective to the writing. And, it’s pretty hard hitting. While there are certainly any number of blogs that are from individual teachers, there is something quite engaging and instructive coming from people who write from multiple perspectives including that of teachers, union representatives, historians, etc. Another way of putting it might be to say that it often presents a non- institutional perspective coming from someone connected to a teachers union.

I thought the most recent entry was fascinating, and would urge you to read it. This entry looks at school reform through the lens of teacher satisfaction and school culture. It was clearly provoked by a recent report released by Public Agenda that surveyed teachers nationally. The big headline here is:

Two out of five of America’s 4 million K-12 teachers appear
disheartened and disappointed about their jobs, while others express a
variety of reasons for contentment with teaching and their current
school environments, new research by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates shows.

Okay, back to the Ed in the Apple blog. First, I am not offering this to take sides for or against Joel Klein. Instead I am offering this up for what it says about how positive school culture manifests itself in how teachers organize within a school, as well as the statements about how positive school culture translates to a quality education.

These two consecutive paragraphs are particularly interesting:

School culture is the behind-the-scenes context that reflects the values, beliefs, norms, traditions, and rituals that build up over time as people in a school work together.
It influences not only the actions of the school population, but also its motivations and spirit (Peterson, 1999).

One of the ironies is that union activism and collegial school cultures are an inverse function. A highly effective school with a totally collaborative culture has a school secretary as the chapter leader, whose sole role is to post union notices on the bulletin board. Another school that uses lead teachers instead of assistant principals, a school in which teachers design and run the professional development, elects a chapter leader with little actual function. Schools with vibrant active chapters are frequently schools with toxic school cultures.

That last paragraph was a great glimpse into something you won’t come across in run of the mill education policy fare. Why is it important to someone in arts education? Well, it tells you so very much about what’s behind the school culture that you are working with. And for those of us that hope to have a positive influence on that culture, the more we understand, the better off we will be.

So, I hope you will click through to the Ed in the Apple blog titled The Intractable Power of School Cultures: Why Teachers Resist Chancellors and School Culture Determines Quality Education.


  1. Ed in the Apple says

    thanks for your kind words.

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