Improving schools by building a healthy faculty culture


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The single greatest determinant of student learning is the faculty. Teachers are far more important than the curriculum, facilities, administration or any other aspect of a school's operations. Investment in teachers yields a high rate of return, improves teaching and learning, and helps to improve schools.

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Improving schools by building a healthy faculty culture

  1. 1. Improving Schools by Building a Healthy Faculty CultureThe single greatest determinant of student learning is the faculty. Teachers are far moreimportant than the curriculum, facilities, administration or any other aspect of a schoolsoperations. Investment in teachers yields a high rate of return, improves teaching and learning,and helps to improve schools.Central to determining teacher effectiveness is faculty culture. A healthy faculty culture isessential for students to learn and teachers to teach at the highest levels of their abilities. On theflip side, an unhealthy culture is a disease that permeates the life of the school community andsaps energy for learning.We know that school culture and the nature of relationships among adults in schools is asignificant determinant of students academic and social progress. While subject-area knowledgeand teaching skills are necessary, a schools faculty culture, more than any other factor,determines the level of student learning. Yet, faculties are typically characterized bydepartmentalization, turf wars and isolation. As Roland Barth states so well, "All too often, theadult relationships are (in that wonderful phrase from preschool education) parallel play. Forhours at a time, two- and three-year-olds in a sandbox can be so engrossed in themselves, in theirown work and project and tools, that they are oblivious to anybody else in the sandbox. This isthought to be a stage of development through which two- and three-year-olds soon pass on theirway to far more sophisticated forms of human interaction. But Id say that parallel playcharacterizes most of what I see going on in schools. The self-contained classroom is parallelplay. The English department that doesnt interact with the math department is parallel play. Oneschool doing one thing, the school a mile down the road doing something different, oblivious toeach other, is parallel play. Parallel play is endemic. Its as if we have a case of professionalarrested development." Unfortunately, Barth is correct. Fortunately, schools that invest indeveloping and maintaining a healthy faculty culture significantly improve student learning,create a dynamic and engaging learning community and establish a competitive edge in themarketplace.Although schools must ultimately define healthy faculty culture for themselves, traits such ascollegiality, trust, validation, creativity, recognition, innovation and humility contribute tocreating and sustaining a healthy faculty culture. Conversely, cynicism, suspicion, defensiveness,poor communication and isolation are examples of traits that create an unhealthy culture. Aculture characterized by enthusiastic commitment to learning and personal growth, collaboration,and unremitting devotion to each and every students success is essential for student learning tothrive. We need to elevate learning at all levels above all other concerns, activities and goals, andvalue dearly experimentation, new ideas, adventure and discovery. Teachers must teach teachers,observe each other, give constructive feedback, and collaborate across disciplines. Learning is atits best in a school culture, created by adults and students, which values leaning above all else. Infact, research clearly demonstrates that student learning correlates directly to adult learning.Assessing, analyzing and improving faculty culture is all about learning together as a faculty andstaff.
  2. 2. School improvement and the process of defining and building a healthy faculty culture involveboth administrators and teachers. The first step is to assess the existing culture. Severalassessment tools are available. The Faculty Culture Profile is one good example. The second stepis to analyze the information and develop an action plan to address the issues and improvefaculty culture. Total faculty involvement and strong leadership from the schools head and otheradministrators are essential. The analysis of the results of the assessment will likely surface somedifficult issues. Dealing with these issues openly, honestly and respectfully is critical to schoolimprovement and to building a healthy faculty culture. The process of addressing the problemsmust be forward looking and solution oriented.J Daniel Hollinger, PhD, is President and Principal Consultant at Hollinger International, aninternational education management consulting firm serving international, private and charterschools. Dr. Hollinger serves as a school consultant to help start schools, improve education andstrengthen leadership. Hollinger Internationals school improvement services include qualityreview, school improvement planning, and leadership coaching throughout the improvementprocess. We help schools evaluate and improve curricula, design and implement InternationalBaccalaureate Programmes, and improve education through inquiry-based teaching and learning.Recognizing that teachers are a schools greatest asset, we provide teacher training, assess andimprove faculty culture, and help build highly effective and collaborative faculty andmanagement teams. Our school improvement services also include board training, strategicplanning, faculty evaluation and compensation systems, executive coaching, executive and mid-level searches, branding and marketing, and change management. For more information, visit usat Source: