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The B y c hRistopheR R. W agneR School Leader’s Tool f o r A ss e ss i ng A n d i m p r o vi ng s c h oo l c u l t u r e O nce thought of as a soft approach to school improvement efforts, school culture has finally amassed the depth of research necessary to qualify as a mainstay in a school leader’s annual improvement plans. Every school has a culture, and every school can improve its culture. And school culture may be the missing link—a link that has much more to do with the culture of the school than it does with elaborate curriculum alignment projects, scrimmage tests, and the latest buzz- word reform efforts—in the school improvement conundrum (Wag- ner & Hall-O’Phalen, 1998). Several authors and researchers (Levine & LeZotte, 1995; Sizer, 1988; Phillips, 1996; Peterson & Deal, 1998; Frieberg, 1998) agree and refer to school climate, and more specifically to school culture, as an important but often-overlooked component of school improvement. Assessing School Culture School culture consists of “the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors which characterize a school” (Phillips, 1996, p. 1). School culture is the shared experiences both in school and out of school (traditions and celebrations) that create a sense of community, family, and team membership. People in any healthy organization must have agree- ment on how to do things and what is worth doing. Staff stability and common goals permeate the school. Time is set aside for schoolwide recognition of all school stakeholders. Common agreement on cur- ricular and instructional components, as well as order and discipline, are established through consensus. Open and honest communication is encouraged and there is an abundance of humor and trust. Tangible support from leaders at the school and district levels is also present. PREVIEW School culture affects everything that happens in a school, including student achievement. A simple survey allows schools to evaluate three main aspects of school culture: professional collaboration, affiliative collegiality, and self- determination/efficacy. Christopher R. Wagner [email protected] Wagner is a past president of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals and a professor in the Depart- ment of Educational Admin- istration, Leadership and Research at Western Kentucky University. PL December 2006 41
The real question is, As principals, how do we determine the current status of our school’s culture? Although improv- ing school culture is an often-touted goal, there have been few research-based tools to help principals and school improvement teams measure the health of their school’s culture. One of those tools, the School Culture Triage Survey (see figure 1)—de- veloped and refined by Phillips (1996), Phillips and Wagner (2002), and Wagner and Masden-Copas (2002)—has been used by schools across the United States and Canada to quickly and accurately determine the present state ofany school’s culture. Several researchers have used the survey and come to similar conclusions. Phillips (1996) conducted more than 3,100 school culture assessments from 1981 to 2006 and found

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