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The School Culture Builder

KellerLeadership 1 Comment

Roland Bath, in his 1976 book, Open Education and the American School, wrote. “It’s not the teachers, or the central office people, or the university people who are really causing schools to be the way they are or changing the way they might be.  It is whoever lives in the Principals’ office.”

Running a school must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. So many Deputy Principals have critically assessed school leaders only to discover how impossible the job is when they eventually make it to the top.  

Principal - Challenging Job. Frustration.
Running a school must be one of the most challenging jobs in the world

Despite that reality, it is what we do when we get to this position that will change the way students enjoy their schooling experience.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a Principal is that you are permanently on the stage.  You are being critically watched all the time by your colleagues, leadership team, parents, students and the community.  You cannot let your guard down, for they will accumulate your shortfalls and manipulate them against you.

So what does a School Culture Builder look like?

According to Elaine K McEwan, a School Culture Builder is a highly effective Principal, who communicates and models a strong and viable vision based on achievement, character, personal responsibility and accountability.

So let’s break this down.

What is school culture?

School culture is the feeling you get when you walk into a school!  Having worked in many schools in Southern Africa, I can honestly say that school culture is tangible.  You can feel it.  

One principal described school culture as

”The way we do things around here!”  

As he walked around the building chatting to me about what he and his team were working on, he greeted the students, chatted to the staff and picked up papers lying on the floor.  The Estate staff smiled at us and the students stepped aside in respect.  But there was always a smile on everyone’s faces.

School Culture Builders focus on the small things –
connection, relationship and making school a “Home”

I tried to catch him on his “school culture’ definition when I asked him how he would describe his school culture.  His response was simply.  “We love learning in a school that is our home!”

The “We” included students, staff, parents, leadership, administrators and estate personnel.  Everyone loved being at the school.

Culture builders know that the small stuff is actually the big stuff.  It is the attitude of the Reception staff who greet a visitor on one hand and meet the needs of students the next minute, while answering the phone and chatting to a parent who is traumatised.  

Culture builders believe in people and are real.  School culture is what makes the school so unique that it is felt when you no longer are a student at the school.  

School culture is powerful.  It develops the core values of the organisation.  School culture becomes the cheerleader for those who support and enhance the culture.  

But a school culture builder builds a culture that people choose and they know that the small things matter.

Gavin Keller
School Culture builders leave behind…..
  • A culture of pride in their school
  • A culture of learning and loving
  • A culture of possibilities
  • A culture of innovation
  • A culture of togetherness
  • A culture of caring

But it is hard and difficult to maintain.  Culture builders soon become the target of those with a different agenda and risk being sucked into battles designed to redirect focus.  Support on this journey is key.

Keep your focus very clearly on your goal and communicate it loud and clear by taking your team with you.


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