School Leaders’ Role in School Culture and Climate

6523 words (26 pages) Essay

18th May 2020 Teaching Reference this

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Abstract

Schools are under enormous pressure to improve.  They struggle with student and staff absenteeism, effective classroom management and overall school safety while the demands for them to raise academic achievement have increased (Makiewics and Mitchell, 2014; Turin and Bektas, 2013). Some say school effectiveness can be improved by simply changing the school culture and climate.  This literature reviewed the role that school leaders have upon influencing the school culture and climate.

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Six major search engines- Academic Search Primier, Psychinfo, Psycarticles, ERIC, Child Development and Adolescent studies, and Education Source were used. Those engines yielded 442 articles which were reviewed against five selection criterions. This resulted in 11 articles making the final selections.

The research showed that leaders are influential upon the school’s climate and culture.  Their interactions with all stakeholders can create a positive or negative school climate.  There are several key factors that principals must keep in mind when trying to create a positive school climate. The administrator must be: well trained; involve the key stakeholders in creating a vision, mission and shared objectives; communicate very clearly the need for the change and objectives; develop collaborative and trusting relationships with the teachers; have strong active listening skills and show empathy; and be aware of cronyism as it hinders a positive school climate

Keywords:  School Leadership; Principal; Culture and Climate

Introduction

 Schools are under enormous pressure to improve.  They struggle with student and staff absenteeism, effective classroom management and overall school safety while the demands to raise academic achievement have increased (Turan and Bektas, 2013; Makiewics and Mitchell, 2014). Some say school effectiveness can be improved by simply changing the school culture and climate. What is school climate and culture?   This paper will delve deeper into this concept, and will discuss the leaders’ influence over the school’s culture and climate.  First, we must understand the meaning behind the word culture. 

The most universally accepted definition of culture is given by Linton (1945): The configurations of learned behavior whose components and elements are shared and transmitted by members of a particular society” (p.32).  Essentially, it is groups shared beliefs, values, artifacts and assumptions more than it is a concrete visible part (Sabanci et al, 2016). The concrete visible parts are part of the culture but generally when speaking about culture it is what is felt not what can be seen. Within the culture, the collective of many may have strong shared beliefs. This is referred to as the dominant culture. The culture of the group can be both positive and productive or negative and counterproductive.  When a group is positive and productive they are flexible, risk-taking is rewarded, there is trust, cooperation and feedback is accepted and acted upon. A collective that is negative and counterproductive often fears change, is stagnant and bureaucratic, has victim mentality, fears risk taking, and won’t accept responsibility (Sabanci et al, 2016).   The latter is what prompts administrators, teachers and parents to want to change the school’s culture.

There is no universal definition of school culture and climate. Because the very nature of school is complex. Schools are organizations that are living and learning where meaning is created.  Some practioners and researchers refer to school climate as the atmosphere, tone and feelings of the school (Kumawat, 2017; Freiberg, 1999; Homana, Barber & Torney-Purta, 2006). Is it simply the vibe of the school?

School culture is longstanding traditions and rituals that are held by the teachers, students, parents and administrators (Sabanci et al, 2016). Halpin and Croft (1963) originally defined school climate as the “organizational personality of a school.” This is where the dreams and aspirations of the parents and students are actualized, and the teachers are enthusiastic and collaborative (Freiberg, 1999).  It is a place where administrators, teachers, and students take pride in belonging to. 

 A positive school culture and climate is where all families, students, teachers and administrators are engaged and respected. It is largely understood to be an environment where the whole school community flourishes. A positive school climate fosters trust, cooperation, and input from all of the stakeholders. They are all contributory and work together to develop a shared vision and live out this vision (NSCC, 2007). The effects of positive school climates are clear, “Educators prosper when they feel their efforts are positively affecting students.  Students prosper when qualified teachers and principals invest time and effort into their learning and development” (Price, 2011).

There is a large volume of research that has documented the positive relationships between school climate and culture and overall student wellbeing, both mental and physical, discipline, attendance, and academic achievement (Anderson, 1983, Brookover et al., 1978; Kumawat, 2017; Tharp et al., 2013).  Research by O’Brennan, Bradshaw, and Furlong (2014), showed that school with a positive school culture and climate report fewer behavioral problems.

One of the primary tasks of a principal is to create a trusting atmosphere for all school members- parents, teachers, students, and community (Bryk et al, 2010; Price, 2012).  This atmosphere can be measured directly by the interactions between teachers and the principal, which is the essence of school culture and climate (Hoy and Miskel, 2001; Ozen, 2017). So, is the principal influential in creating a positive school culture and climate?

Method

 

 I searched for climate and culture studies in six major search engines- Academic Search Primier, Psychinfo, Psycarticles, ERIC, Child Development and Adolescent studies, and Education Source.  To get the largest breadth and maximize the number of articles, the following key words were used to describe a leader in a school:  administrator, school leader, principal, Dean and educational leader.  The following key words to describe an educational setting were used: school, academy, learning institution, learning establishment and learning environment.  One descriptor and one educational setting were connected using the connector word, and, to the key words, climate and culture.  This created twenty-five unique key word searches with the combination of the aforementioned words.   These searches resulted in 442 articles.   All of articles were reviewed to see if they met the review criteria.  In order for an article to be selected it had to pass the following criteria gates:

  1. Source of publication: The studies had to be primary research that was

 peer reviewed that were published in journals.  This excluded- chapter books,

technical reports and online news sources.

  1. Methodology: They could be either qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods.
  2. Time range: In order to get the most recent studies, the articles had to be

 published within the last ten years (2009-2019)

  1. The study questions, purpose and/or hypothesis had to meet the

following criteria:

  1. Not use an evidence-based curriculum or framework- Therefore the

studies couldn’t include Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports,

Multi-tiered System of Supports, Interconnected Systems Framework,

or Comprehension School Mental Health, to name a few.

  1. Must address the head of the schools’ role (i.e. principal) in the school

climate and culture change.  Therefore, teacher leader studies were

excluded.

  1. Could use perception of the head of schools’ role by teacher, community member or parent.
  1. Setting- The studies had to be public schools.  They could include any range from Kindergarten to grade 12, but couldn’t include childcare or pre-K.  Therefore,

this excluded private, sectoral or post-secondary schools.

After applying this search criteria to all 442 articles, we found 11 articles which passed all of the selection criteria gates.  There were a variety of reasons articles weren’t selected for review. The most common being: not peer-reviewed, private or secondary schools, and looking at the concept of teachers as leaders in school climate and culture.

 

Results

After reviewing the studies that passed the selection gates requirements, we were better able to understand the research that has gone into understanding the school leaders’ role in culture and climate of their respective schools.  The majority of the studies (n=8) were conducted outside of the United States (US). Of those international studies, three quarters of them (75%, n=6) were conducted in the Middle East (see Table 1).

Analysis of the methodology yielded that slightly more than half of the studies (n=6) used quantitative design. Of those studies, all (n=11) surveyed teachers’ perceptions of the administrators’ role in changing the culture and climate of the school. About one third of the studies (36%, n=4) used qualitative design.  All of the qualitative studies used semi-structured interview processes to get at the perception of the administrators’ role in contributing to the culture and climate of the school.  Only one of the qualitative studies were conducted in the US and two-thirds (n=2) were conducted in the Middle East with remaining study (n=1) conducted in the Netherlands.  The range of the samples size ranged from 11 to 11,690.  The majority (54.5%, n=6) falling in the range of 1-1 to 500.  Although all studies samples consisted of teachers’ perception of administrators’ role within school culture and climate change, only one of the studies reported the setting of the school (Urban, Rural, Suburban) where the teachers and administrators were employed.  This particular study was the largest of all of the studies reviewed, (M=11,690), it was conducted in the US and included all of the settings (Urban, Rural and Suburban) (see Table 1).

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Only a third of the studies (36%, n=4) discussed the individual size of the schools where either the administrator or teachers were employed.  In two of the studies that had enrollment exceeding 800 (M=2,846 and M=2,631) one the studies (M=2,846) was of high school teachers’ perception and the other (M=2,631) studied middle school teachers’ perceptions. Both of these studies were conducted in the US and one of them (M=2,846) used a quantitative methodology and the other (M=2,631) use qualitative methodology. The remaining studies (n=2) with student enrollment below 800 (M=213 and M=469), one (M=213) was conducted in Netherlands using qualitative methodology which comprised of teachers from elementary schools; and, one (M=469) was conducted in the US using qualitative methodology with teachers comprised from both the elementary and middle schools (see Table 1).

About half of the studies (54%, n=6) had both sexes (males or females) as part of their studies and the remaining one half (45%, n=5) didn’t disclose the sex of the participants.  All of the studies that disclosed the sex of the participants (n=6) were conducted in various school settings: elementary (n= 1), middle (n=2), high (n=1), elementary and middle (n=1) and elementary, middle and high (n=1). With two conducted in the US and four were conducted outside of the US (see Table 1).

Eight of the studies identified how many years in education the participants had.  Less than or equal to 10 years (n=1), 11 to 20 years (n=1), equal to or more than 21 years (n=1) or years varied (n=5) and three studies didn’t disclose the amount of prior education experience (see Table 1).

Table 1- Descriptive Characteristics of Selected Studies

Descriptive Factors

All Studies

(n=11)

In US

(n=3)

Outside of the US

(n=8)

Methodology

 

 

 

 

Quantitative

6

2

4

 

Qualitative

4

1

3

 

Mixed methods

1


1

Sample size 

 

 

 

 

 

0-100

1


1

 

101-500

6

2

4

 

501-1000

1


1

 

Over 1001

3

1

2

School type

 

 

 

 

Elementary

1


1

 

Middle/Jr. High

2

1

1

 

High

2

1

1

 

Elementary & Middle

2

1

1

 

Middle & High




 

Elementary, Middle, & High

2


2

 

Undisclosed

2


2

Individual School Enrollment

 

 

 

 

Less than 300

1


1

 

300-800

1

1


 

Over 800

2

2


 

Variety




 

Unknown

7


7

Setting

 

 

 

 

urban




 

rural




 

Suburban




 

All

1

1


 

Unknown

10

2

8

Sex of study participants

 

 

 

 

Male




 

Female




 

Both

6

2

4

 

Unknown

5

1

4

Years of experience in education

 

 

 

 

Less than or equal to 10

1

1


 

11-20

1

1


 

Equal to or more than 21

1


1

 

Unknown

3


3

 

Varied

5

1

4

Place of study

 

 

 

 

In the US

3

3


 

Outside of the US

8


8

 

Discussion

Transforming a school’s culture and climate is complex and often difficult because not everyone will have the same shared core values and beliefs that are needed to support the transformation. Even though school culture is built upon the history and deep values of the collective.  It is the leader at center of this transformation.  They can influence the dynamics in either a positive or negative way (Deal & Peterson, 2009; Sabanci et al., 2016).

In order for there to be positive school culture and climate shift the leader needs to communicate effectively and clearly to the school and the greater community as to the why behind the need for a shift. One of the most important parts of the communication needs to stay focused on shared vision setting that is based upon the desired values of the collective. This type of planning will create and sustain a school’s culture that is based upon mutual trust (Dean, 1999; Sabanci et al., 2016; Sisman, 2004). Thus, transforming individual goals into shared goals. When leaders are able to create an environment that is inclusive of teachers to develop a shared vision and objective, it creates positive school culture and climate (Moolenaar et al, 2010).

A study by Turan and Bektas (2013) found that there is a positive correlation between school’s culture and the leadership practices. The leadership practices of guidance, creating a vison, encouraging the staff and encouraging the audience account for 28% of the influence of school climate change. There was also a positive correlation between primary school teachers’ perceptions of school culture and the leadership practices. This means that teachers perceive the school leader as role model.

 Another study (Ozen, 2018) found that when the principal wasn’t able to build a vision, foster relationships with staff and be at the center of change management due to competing responsibilities such as bureaucracy and paperwork, it was negatively correlated with teachers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the principal. This study also found that leaders whom are appreciated and followed by their employees, have the power to develop their organizations.  Therefore, school culture is impacted by the leaders both negatively and positively.

 The studies that focused on building a vision and developing a shared agenda didn’t state the amount of training and coaching or years of experience the principal had in their particular role.  However, one study did address training for principals and the relationship to school climate and culture change.  Ali (2017) found that principals that didn’t take the time to develop relationships with their staff and failed to develop a shared school mission and short-term objectives had schools with poor climate. These schools were also not given proper administrator training.  In these schools, the teachers acted in a more individualistic in nature than collective.

 Collaborative approaches are crucial when setting the tone of the school and making necessary changes.  This allows the stakeholders to have a sense of ownership in the in the necessary changes to create a positive school climate and culture.  When teachers are empowered in the school culture and climate change process the result is positive interactions between the teacher and students and principal and teacher (Edgerson et al., 2006; McCarley et al, 2014). They are able to act in ways that benefit the entire school needs and not merely their own (McCarley et al, 2014).  One study (Rhodes et al, 2009) looked at teacher empowerment and school climate and culture.  They found that when teachers are engaged in addressing the areas within the school that need change and are included in setting the goals and objectives then there is improvement in the school climate.  This study also found that there was an increase in the quality of interactions between the all student-teacher and teacher principal relationships. 

The results of  creating a positive school climate by engaging teachers in the change are also backed by the research conducted by Mccarley et al (2014). They found that more inclusive the leader was with decision making the more engaged the staff were which promoted positive school climate and the more directive the principal (not promoting inclusive decision making) the more negative the school climate. 

Through the review of the literature, a large part of the creation of a positive school culture and climate is dependent on the relationship between the principal and staff. At the center of this relationship is trust.  The presence of a high level of factors such as work discipline, compatibility and personal values are some of the reasons teachers trust principals.  This trusting relationship ultimately leads to the creation of a positive school climate and culture (Canli and Demirtras, 2018).

One study (Price, 2011) found that another contributing factor to trust development amongst teachers and principals was a shared understanding of expectations. This study found that when the teachers had a clear understanding of expectation they also had positive relationships with their principals. The development of a positive relationship occurred by the increased proximal contact with the teacher and principal. The more positive interactions the more trusting the relationship which positively influenced the school climate.

Principals are able to develop a better relationship with their teachers when they are empathetic, reflective with their listening and have high rates of positive communication. When principals work on developing this type of positive relationship with their teachers, it shifts the power dynamic of the relationship, which fosters a positive climate (Sabanci et al, 2016).   

The finding of a positive relationship between the principal and teachers influencing school climate was also backed by Silva et a (2017), they found that when the principal showed support and encouragement to teachers they had a high interest in collaborative practices and this high interest in collaboration supported a positive school climate.

There is a negative side to developing positive relationships with staff when boundaries aren’t properly set. Ozen (2018) found that teachers who had positive relationships with the principal were also favored. These favored teachers were given more materials and supplies than other teachers that didn’t have a favorable relationship with the principal.  The favored teachers also had greater amounts of communications with the principal; however, the communication was more informal and relaxed. When this happened, it created cronyism resulting in more disgruntled employees which had a negative impact on the overall school climate.

All but one of the of the studies that I reviewed spoke to the relationship between the principal leader and the teachers when it came to creating a positive school culture and climate. A study by Kumat (2017) found that both parents and teachers struggled to have appropriate interactions with each other and these interactions negatively impacted school climate.  The study found that parent-teacher engagement training is necessary to foster a positive relationship with both teachers and parents.

Conclusion

 The purpose of the literature review was to delve into the research on the school leader’s role in school culture and climate.  The research showed that leaders are influential over the school’s climate and culture.  Their interactions with all stakeholders can create a positive or negative school climate.  There are several key factors that principals must keep in mind when trying to create a positive school climate. The administrator must:

  1. be well trained;
  2. involve the key stakeholders when creating a vision, mission and shared objectives;
  3. communicate very clearly the need for change and the objectives;
  4. develop collaborative and trusting relationships with the teachers;
  5. have strong active listening skills and to show empathy; and,
  6. be aware of cronyism as it hinders school climate

The limitations of this review are that the studies didn’t identify the competency needed to be a principal and how the principal and stakeholders are evaluated in achieving the competencies. Better insight would be gained if the principal’s knowledge, skills and abilities with their role. 

Although, a number of the studies reviewed suggested that all stakeholders are essential in creating a positive school culture and climate, very few included the interactions of the principal and parents, principal and community members and principal and district administration.  This could be an area for future study.

Appendix

Studies Identified for the Review

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