Module 3

Building Culture, Climate, and Community

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"A powerful culture alters and aligns human behavior" (Rutherford). While these powers are invisible they can make or break a school. In order to be a successful leader in our schools we must be able to see these invisible powers and shape them to create a culture that fosters leading and learning.

Dr. Rutherford gave the example of the Dead Bush Phenomenon. He talked about a bush that was right beside the stairs that went up to the front door of a home. The bush remained there for years because the owners were so comfortable with the environment that they did not notice it was dead. Visitors noticed the dead bush because they were new to the environment. Too many times we are so comfortable with an environment that we do not see a problem. "To improve a school, you must be an insider with the eyes of an outsider" (Lawrence Lezotte, Ph.D.).

We can assess a culture from the inside by doing the following things.

1. Study the physical setting.

2. Ask open-ended questions.

3. Notice how strangers are greeted.

4. Observe how people spend their time.

5. Listen to the stories, anecdotes, or rumors that are going around.


We discussed the elements of culture that must be understood in order to shape or reshape a culture. Heroes, events, rituals, and ceremonies all make up the culture of a school. It takes careful analysis and planning to shape or reshape a culture. Another important aspect of shaping a culture is to look at the cast of characters and knowing how to deal with each different character.

Action Step

In my own classroom I spend weeks building a positive culture. I do this by carefully placing positive "heroes" at each table and give them leadership opportunities from the first weeks of school. I plan special events where students build a family like relationship with one another. I include parents in these events so that trust is not only in the classroom but in the homes that are represented. I am now working on adding new experiences and twists to daily rituals that will continue to allow students opportunities to shine and build confidence. I am working to have the eyes of an outsider in my classroom and to seek the advice and help of those on the outside to find ways to continuously improve the climate and culture of our classroom.

Our school leadership looks at events, rituals, and ceremonies periodically during our school improvement team meetings. In recent years we have added some special events and ceremonies that have helped build a culture where student leadership is the focus. The students and parents have bought into this and students are taking ownership of our school by leading in amazing ways. Students are leading service projects, technology advances, and special school events. We will continue to look at ways to continue to build on and improve the culture of leadership.