The deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs

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Schein (1985:6) saw culture as "the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization …". According to Schein (1985) leaders have the power to change and transform an organizational culture. What leaders mainly should do is to take account the 'internal conditions' of a school which are determined by the school's norms, learning systems and style and leadership arrangements in order to improve the organization (Hopkins and Jackson 2003).

In light with the important role of culture in school, this essay starts by giving an analytical examination of the organizational culture through Hofstede's four dimensions, Hargreaves' first typology model and Louise Stoll and Dean Fink model. After that an exploration of the Cypriot school culture is attempted based on the previous literature review in order to define Cypriot cultural system. Finally, we conclude that culture has room for improvement and from a barrier to become the factor which seeks and promotes changes and innovations for the school effectiveness and improvement in the Cypriot schools. The highly centralized character of schools in Cyprus influences the mentality of the people which are focused in what was intended by the government, something that suggested changing.

A. Introduction

It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore culture when we are talking about school effectiveness and improvement especially when great deals of studies explain the impact of culture on school process (Angelides and Ainscow 2000). School is an organization where pupils, teachers, principals and leaders cooperate in order for an organization to be successful. Managing culture in organizations is very important because culture affects the way people think and react. In order for changes to be effective in an organization they should firstly be based on the culture. Reflecting on Schein (1985:2), "Culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin" because leaders have the ability to create, manage and to destroy culture, where is needed.

This essay has been divided into five parts. The first part deals with a general introduction and a rationale. Then it defines the Organizational Culture (OC) and highlights the importance of this studying. After that, this essay gives an analytical examination of the OC through Hofstede's four dimensions, Hargreaves' first typology and Louise Stoll and Dean Fink model. In the fourth part an exploration of the OC in Cyprus is attempted based on the previous literature review. Finally, we conclude that what is needed to be improved in the Cypriot educational system is the culture which influences the mentality of the people.


My reasons for exploring the school cultural arose from teaching in the Greek school in Salford. Comparing this recent experience with my previous experience in a Cypriot private school as a teacher, and the 12 years as a student in a public school I have noticed that every school has its own culture even if it is in the same country. In order to change school's environment we have to change first the culture which according to Deal and Kennedy (1983:14 cited in Stoll 1999 p.33) is "the way we do things around here". The old habits of doing things, and staffs' believes and assumptions should change and people should be released from this 'glue' that holds them together (Stoll, 1999:34).

B. Understanding Organizational Culture

Morgan (1997:120) argues that culture can be referred as a system of "knowledge, ideology, values, laws and day-to-day ritual of a society". According to Hoecklin (1995) these values and meanings are shared, as a result culture is a 'collective phenomenon'. More specifically, organizational culture is determined by the people who are working on it and this culture changes every time when people change (Stoll and Fink 1995). While a variety of similar definitions (Nias et al. 1989 cited in Whitaker 1993, p.92, Fullan and Hargreaves 1992, Hopkins et al. 1994; Law and Clover 2000; Bennett 2001; McMahon 2001; Gilmore 2009; Kythreotis et al. 2010) of the term of organizational culture have been suggested, this essay will use the definition with the most acceptance which suggested by Schein (1985). Schein (1985:6) saw culture as "the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shares by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously, and that define in a basic "taken-for-granted" fashion an organization's view of it and its environment".

The importance of studying Organizational Culture

Following Hargreaves (1995) and Prosser (1999:7) by exploring culture we have the opportunity to understand school life and to find out the 'character' of the school. According to Stoll (1999) school's cultures vary. As a consequence leaders should be aware enough to deal with each situation differently and operate each case appropriately because there is no single 'best way' to lead a school.

Furthermore, organizational culture is interesting because of the range and complexity of the concept. Consequently, the necessity of examining the culture of each organization individually is required. Leaders should take account the 'internal conditions' of a school which are determined by the school's norms, learning systems and style and leadership arrangements in order to improve the organization (Hopkins and Jackson 2003). In addition, we agree with Stoll and Fink (1995) that schools' culture changes are a significant factor for schools changes and innovation.

C. Understanding of Organizational Culture

Hofstede's dimensions

Through the pioneer work of Hofstede (1984:65-231; 1991, 2001, 2005) we have the opportunity to read about the value differences between national cultures which according to Francesco and Gold (1998:126) "provides basic assumptions that legitimate and guide behavior". Hofstede investigates extensively the different ways of thinking and acting in 116 000 of multinational employees and shows the differences across four dimensions.

'Power Distance', which is the first dimension, has to do with the distance between the more powerful and the less powerful members in an organization (Hofstede 2001). Following Hofstede (2005) in schools with power distance cultures, teachers and especially older teachers are treated with respect and the whole educational process is teacher centered. Children should obey to the school rules and in the class can speak only when teacher allows it. This is a strict system where students should obey the rules, something that makes their communications with their teachers harder, as unfamiliar relations between them exist. On the other hand, in small power distance situations, teachers treat students equal and the educational process is student centered and is based on the development of the sense of independence to students Hofstede (2005). This system is focusing in the pupils and giving them the opportunity and the freedom to take responsibility for their education.

The second dimension is called 'Uncertainty avoidance' and it shows how comfortable society is with uncertainty and ambiguity (Hoecklin 1995).  Students who come from a strong uncertainty avoidance (SUA) country require their teachers to have answers for everything. As Hofstede (2005) point out, when the meaning of a phrase is not obvious in a prose, from German students this is scientific in contrast with something easy enough for them to understand. On the other hand, students from low uncertainty avoidance countries respect teachers who use simple vocabulary and who explains everything difficult to them, and also accept them if they do not have answer for something. In this situation relations between student and teachers are closer and more human based and good discussions are more desirable that the correct answers that students from SUA countries seek.

The third dimension is called 'Individualism and Collectivism'. Reflecting on Hofstede (1991) in high individualism countries people tend to see themselves as autonomous individuals and independent. In high collectivism society's people have strong links between them and employees have greater emotional dependence of members of their company. Specifically, in the school where pupils come from a collectivist environment it is not easy or logical to speak up individually in the teacher's questions. They have learned to work in groups in contrast with students from high individualism societies. Pupils in these cases refuse to speak in larger groups of people, especially if there are strangers in it. In this case according to Hofstede (2005) it will be good for students to share their ideas with other students who are sitting next to them and then a spokesperson share their ideas in the class which from individual became group answer.

'Masculinity and Femininity' is the fourth dimension. In countries with high masculinity score (like Japan and German) the assertiveness is high and too much attention is given in earnings, recognition, advancement and challenge (Hoecklin 1995). Whereas the lower masculinity score (like in Sweden), assertiveness is low and people place more emphasis on relationships, cooperation, employment security, compassion and the general quality of life Hofstede (2001). In feminine cultures teachers give more motives and incentives to weaker students and encourage them to participate in order to improve their abilities. Teachers tend to be friendly and also try to enhance their students' social skills because social adaptation plays a significant role for them. On the other side, failing in a masculine culture is a disaster and causes shame, and student may ask to resit an exam in order to have the desired result. They always try to make their self visible and stand out from other students. For teachers, reputation and students' performance are the main element Hofstede (2005).

Hargreaves' first typology of school cultures

Hargreaves's in his paper in 1995 is analysing two models in order to examine and explore their relevance to school effectiveness and improvement. In this essay we will examine only the first one which is consisted of four school culture's models "according to whether the social control and social cohesion dimensions are high or low" (Hargreaves 1999:50). On the one hand, teachers have to obey in the social control that school require and also to maintain social cohesion that are supportive (Law and Glover 2000).

In 'Formal' schools the social control is high in contrast with the cohesion which is low. In these cases there is too much pressure to the students for high grades and teachers have too high expectations for them. Tests are frequent and they have a lot of homework. However, social cohesion between teacher and students is weak and staff is strict, cold and distant from students (Hargreaves 1995). In these traditional schools staff is more conservative. Relations between students and teachers are not feasible and the only thing that matters is the school grades and the academic education than a balancing between social life and relations and good performance and attainment in school.

In the second model 'Welfarist' there is high social cohesion and low social control. Too much emphasis is placed on students' development and the whole education process is student-centred. Furthermore the relations between staff are democratic and there is low work pressure to the students because for them social adjustment is much more important. This model it seems to keep the students happy without pressure. However, in their later life that will not be so good because some kind of direction is necessary to drive children to their later academic education and life Hargreaves (1995).

In the third model 'Hothouse' both social cohesion and control are high. In these cultures, teachers and pupils are becoming frequently anxious in front of any possibility of failure. Teachers are enthusiastic and they have high expectations of work and personal development and team spirit are concepts significant for them. According to Hargreaves (1995) these high expectations from the students make them feel oppressed but on the other hand this culture is not tyrannical.

The last school culture model is the 'Survivalist' where the social control and cohesion are low in both cases. Based on Hargreaves (1995, 1999) these kind of schools can also be referred to as 'failing schools' because students under-achieve and teachers on the other side allow students to not do any homework and also the control in this school is almost absent. Additionally, teachers have no support from their principals and they are planning each lesson as much as they can.

Finally, as Hargreaves (1995) concludes, we agree that real schools are somewhere between these four models of school cultures. The ideal school culture is this with a balance between social control and social cohesion. Principals should have high expectations from their colleagues and also teachers from their students.

Louise Stoll and Dean Fink model

Regarding a great amount of scholars (Rosenholtz 1991, Fullan and Hargreaves 1992, Hargreaves 1995), several typologies which describe types of school culture have been created in order to help educators find wich type best relates with their school and analyze its implications for school improvement (Stoll and Fink 1995). Stoll and Fink (1995) examined schools' culture based on two dimensions, the effectiveness-ineffectiveness and the improving-declining.

In the first model 'Moving school' are included schools which are effective in value added. People collaborate in order to respond in changes and are governed by the norms of improving schools (Stoll 1999). They have 'the will and the skill' and are aware enough about where they are going (Louis and Miles 1990 cited in Stoll and Fink 1995:86). These schools seem more ideal and could be a good model for schools to follow. However these schools do not always reflect the reality.

On the surface, 'Cruising schools' looks like effective schools. However their performance is determined in terms of attainment rather than achievement. These students are not prepared for the changing world, they use to avoiding any kind of commitment, are reactive and norms like conformity, blame and denial are very common in these schools (Stoll 1999). As a result leaders should change these norms by inspiring and creating visions in order to improve and make then effective.

'Struggling schools' are ineffective schools which have the will to change and improve. In these schools, people are afraid of taking risks and responsibilities that is the reason they are referred as 'failing schools' (Stoll and Fink 1995). The positive thing is that although the lack of skills, these schools with collaboration are willing to bring effectiveness.

The 'Sinking schools' are failing schools because of the reluctance and unwillingness of the staff to bring any kind of change. In most cases are isolated and norms like blame and loss of faith are very frequent (Stoll 1999). The indifference of parents is crucial factor for their failure and also the discharge of liability from teachers are factors which make difficult any effort for change.

Lastly, 'Strolling schools' most relate in reality. Are neither effective nor effective (Stoll 1999). They are trying to bring improvement in their schools but on the other hand their effort is inadequate to cope with this pace of change (Stoll and Fink 1995).

D. Exploring Organizational culture in the Cypriot school

Description of the Cypriot context

After 1960 Cyprus became an independent state and five years later decided that all the school responsibilities transferred to the Ministry of Education. The public education is divided in three phases. The pre-primary, primary and the secondary which is divided in Gymnasium for students 12-15 years old and then continues with the Eniaio Lykeio with pupils between 15-18 years old (Pashiardis 2004). In the Cypriot education system the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus has the whole responsibilities of the decision making, the preparation of the curricula, textbook, transfers, promotions and payment belongs to the Ministry (Pashiardis 2004).

Based on the previous analysis of the organizational culture we will try to explore the culture that governing Cypriot schools. Starting with the four dimensions of Hofstede (2005) Cyprus' school culture seems to be closer with the countries with high Power Distance. Students respect their teachers and obey in all the rules in order to avoid any kind of punishment. In addition, in the classroom there is strict order of what suppose to do and what not to. Students unfortunately do not have chances to be more independent because they are framed in the schools' rules. Regarding Uncertainty Avoidance, schools have features from both of high and low categories. Students are expecting their teachers to have all the answers for them and know everything and looking for deep and hidden meanings to everything. Whatever complicated is scientific. However there is respect and understanding in teachers who try to explain difficult concepts.

Regarding Individualism and Collectivism, in Cyprus students do not like to work in groups and find it difficult and they do not feel comfortable to share their ideas. That means that the culture is high Individualism. Following the last dimension, on the one hand the culture can be seen as Feminine because teachers give motives to weaker students and encourage them to continue trying, but on the other hand any kind of failure is disaster for the students and the most important thing for them is the good grades and the attainment.

Based on the Hargreaves' model (1999) which has to do with the social control and social cohesion we conclude that Formal and Hothouse models are closer with the Cypriot reality. As it highlighted in the previous section when a school's culture is Formal the social control is high and these schools are more traditional and centralized to the social system, something that is significant obvious in the Cypriot schools (Kasoulides et al. 2006). Furthermore, in Hothouse culture the social control is high as well and there s too much anxiety in front of a possible failure.

The second model that we examined in this paper has to do with the contrast between Effectiveness and Improvement in a school. Moving schools could be a good example of a model school for Cypriot principals to follow. However, the closer to the Cypriot reality is the Cruising schools. Teachers and students place too much emphasis on the grades and the final exams which are at the age of 18 because a good grade in these exams will provide them with the opportunity to continue their academic studies in the University of Cyprus which is difficult to get in to but the attendance there is free. Moreover, Cypriot school culture has some common features with the Struggling schools. Principals and teachers are afraid of taking risks or to try new teaching or leading methods. Resistance and uncertainty are very frequent phenomena in Cypriot context. As Kasoulides et al. (2006) highlight, we agree that some of the changes which took place are because of what European Educational Committee sets and are forced to follow and not because they really want to follow it.

Factors which influence Cypriot schools' improvement

Apart from the school culture which is described analytically in the previous section, two more barriers which related with culture influence the improvement of Cypriot schools. The system is completely 'Centralized' and 'Conservative' because of the limited role that the local schools have and the continuing need to follow what the government sets (Michaelidou and Pashiardis 2009; Kasoulides et al. 2006:5). Pashiardis (2004) explain this by examining the schools' authority in money, personnel management and power. Firstly, whatever a school needs should have a written authorization from the government in order to have the appropriate approval to continue with. The second element is the non existence of personnel management in the schools and are only responsible for the recruitment and the promotions of the teachers is the Ministry of Education. The last factor has to do with the concentration of the whole power to the centre (Ministry) and not to the principals of the schools (Pashiardis 2004).

Additionally, another factor that determines the culture of Cypriot schools as more traditional, strict and goal oriented is the seniority within the system (Michaelidou and Pashiardis 2009; Pashiardis 2004; Kasoulides et al. 2006). The main criteria for a teacher to promote are the age and seniority (Michaelidou and Pashiardis 2009). Based on Kasoulides et al. (2006:7) research, the average years in Cypriot principals are 30,8 in contrast with the English headteachers who have about 21,2 years of teaching career in schools. As a result the Cypriot schools are leading by Principals and Deputy Principals whose ideas in most cases are attached in an old way of teaching and leading an organization which is not effective.

E. Conclusion

Following Rosenholtz (1991) school's culture affects the commitment of the teachers and also the students' attainment. Consequently, this educational change should focus not only "on students' achievement but also to the school's ability to cope with change" (Hopkins et al. 1994). Organization culture and school effectiveness are two concepts which are inseparable. As Barth (1990:13 cited in Durrant and Holden 2006:13) correctly pointed out "what needs to be improved about schools is their culture, the quality of interpersonal relationships, and the nature and quality of learning experiences".

This change can be achieved by modifying peoples' believes and assumptions, attitudes and values then innovations and improvement can be succeeded in a school, and the main reason for changing culture are the leaders (Durrant and Holden 2006; Dalin et al. 1993; Schein 1985). An effective leadership team can support school improvement and this should be started firstly by strengthening the capacity and creating the conditions which are needed in a school in order to be prepared to accept and sustain this change (Harris 2003). In addition according to Hargreaves (1999:48) leaders should be able each time to diagnose the current situation in order to identify the culture of the school and choose the appropriate method for change. Furthermore, Barth (2001 cited in Harris 2003:1) highlight, that also teachers should take responsibilities in the leading part of a school and not only leaders. Fullan (1991) supports that classroom and school effectiveness depends not only on the quality of the teachers individually but also to a group which stimulate the accomplishments. As a result teachers' training, or as Hopkins et al. (1994:60) call it 'teacher development' and awareness about their responsibilities and their role in a school changing process are necessary (Day et al. 2000).

Ben Levin (2010:303) presents three main elements that will support the process of change in education. The first one is the 'ability and willingness of practitioners', the support from the policy-makers and some more research in order to identify the role of leaders in supporting a changing school. In Cyprus more authority should be given to the principals of the schools because they are most suited to dealing with the specific needs of their schools, the curriculum and the policies which should meet the needs of the school. Moreover, additional research will support evidence which have to do with the understanding of human behavior and psychology which are the dominant factors which leaders should take account if they want to have successful change and benefit their school by making their work more effective and satisfying (Levin 2010).

To conclude, reflecting on Hopkins et al. (1994) it is important to realize that if we want to make changes in a school environment and we want these changes to be successful, then conditions which can sustain the teaching-learning process are necessary. Following Law and Glover (2000:147) school effectiveness consists of "a good school ethos, high teacher expectations, teachers as positive role models, pupils given responsibility and shared staff-pupil activities", factors which are inextricably linked with the culture of the organization. As a consequence, leaders, teachers and policymakers should be aware enough about different cultures and adapt any time the appropriate strategy in order to bring successful changes and improvement to the school environment.