Transformative Curriculum Chapter 5
Transformative School Culture

What is School Culture?

School culture is the "invisible, taken-for-granted flow of beliefs and assumptions that gives meaning to what people say and do.

Comparing Mainstream and Transformative School Culture

Forms of Teacher Culture
Teacher culture has two dimensions:  content and form.
Content-  The substantive attitudes, values, beliefs, habits, assumptions and ways of doing things that are shared within a particular teacher group or among the wider teacher community.
Form-  the characteristic patterns of relationship and forms of association between members of cultures in how relations between teachers and their colleagues are articulated.
Form can take the shape of:

Individualism-  closing your door and doing your own thing.
Collaboration-  Choosing to share understandings, perspectives, beliefs, and practices and to engage fully in joint problem solving, creative planning, mutual support, and professional development.
Contrived Collegiality-  Imposed, compulsory, implementation-oriented, administratively regulated, and predictable.
Balkanization-  the kinds of collaboration that separate teachers into isulated and competing sub-groups within a school.

Reforming School Culture

Here are some common features:

Interpersonal relations and trust among all participants are essential.
There is extensive deliberation about curriculum, teaching, students, school climate, and assessment.
Inquiry into the conduct and meaning of schooling, teaching, and learning is a way of life.
Collaborative visions, problem solving, and decision making permeate all aspects of professional work.
Shared authority is based on practice, knowledge, expertise, and an ethic of caring.
Participants have the courage to voice what they believe is in the best interest of students, the school, the district, and the state.

A learning organization has several components:

  1. Leadership that fosters continuous expansion of the ability of the participants to shape their future.
  2. The use of creative tension as the stimulus for growth.
  3. People with the ability to be "system thinkers".

By conceiving of school as a community we change the relationships among the people involved in school life from "power over" to "power with."

Defining Core Beliefs

The core beliefs of a transformative school culture should reflect the following ideas:

Open, multidirectional, and honest communication patterns
Collaborative community vision with individuality in expression
Continual dialogue and deliberation
Active inquiry and problem solving in relation to plans and practices
Individual and group reflection and action

The Process of Transforming School Culture

Evolving from a mainstream school culture to a transformative one means that people must change their personal and professional beliefs and actions, creating organizational capacity to sustain dialogue and critical reflection, and develop the ability to understand and engage in the politics of change.

Principles involved in this complex adjustment:

Personal-Professional Belief System
Organization Development
The chief goal is that the school achieve a sustained capacity for solving its own problems
Stage I-  focuses on training the members of the school community to examine how they communicate, express trust and regard toward each other, deal with conflict, collect and analyze data about the school culture, and develop consensus.
Stage II-  focuses on developing the analytic and critical aspects of community life.
Stage III-  integrates interaction skills, analytic and critical assessment processes, and action planning in order to do something about the concerns and problems that have been identified.

The Politics of Transforming School Cultures

Micropolitics involves how people use power to influence or manipulate others and protect themselves.

Power relations-  Every school has its own power bases and relations as well as overt and covert expressions of power.
The politics of building consensus-  Most faculty members, including principals, do not operate according to an explicitly shared set of norms, a common vision, or a collaboratively deliberated cluster of goals.
Nonrational politics-  People frequently react to situations or other people in nonrational ways.
Using politics productively-  You can speak strongly for a position, disagree vehemently with others, attempt to influence others' understandings or feelings, and organize groups to address issues and concerns in caring and ethical ways.

Political Activity in the Community

Political activity is not restricted to school property.  Parents and community members have vested interests.

Transformative schools work to sustain strong participatory democratic principles, an ethic of caring, and an openness to inquiry and deliberation.

The community's right to influence the curriculum-  All want to feel that they are being fully informed about the curriculum and can express concerns or support if they care to.
The importance of encouraging community debate-  Community interest in curricular issues had broadened dramatically.
Recognizing power in the community-  In every community certain people have more power and influence than others do, and their beliefs about education and the future can dominate curricular deliberations and decision making
Working courageously-  Inviting the community to actively participate in transformative curriculum programs and processes requires political courage.

Faculty and the community are the only ones who can really transform the school curriculum.

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Notes taken from:

Henderson, J.G. & Hawthorne, R. D. (2000). Transformative curriculum leadership (2nd). Upper Saddle River: Merrill.