Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Building an Intentional School Culture

F., C, & Fulton, D. (2007). Building an intentional school culture: excellence in academics and character. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Pr.

Summary:  This book is the result of the authors' "work in improving school culture for more than sixty schools across the county."  The book is broken down into five sections, each with anecdotes/sample schools as well as usable resources:  

  1. Building an Intentional School Culture: Excellence in Academics and Character: explains the importance of school culture, defines the basics of what school culture is, describes a sample school, and provides a sample School Culture Survey.
  2. The School Touchstone: a touchstone is the heart/soul of a school--the point that all decisions center around.  This chapter gives samples for distilling a school's touchstone, how the touchstone can be utilized to define and build the culture of a school, and resources to promote and evaluate a touchstone.
  3. The Four Mind-Set Model: the four mind-set model can be applied to teachers, students, parents and leadership; it is comprised of the mind-sets of integration, interdependence, independence, and dependence.  These four mind-sets help us understand how individuals and groups perceive their involvement in defining, building, defying, or resisting a school's culture.  After defining and discussing each mind-set, the authors provide several resources such as rubrics and models that can be used to evaluate the mind-sets of different members of a school community.
  4. Introduction to the Eight Gateways:  the eight gateways are the ways that school culture is impacted: through Leadership; Teaching, Learning, and Assessment; Relationships; Problem Solving; Expectations, Trust, and Accountability; Voice; Physical Environment; Markers, Rituals, and Transitions.  Each of these is defined and described so the impact of each can be understood and modified to improve school culture.  Resources such a surveys and reflection tools are included.
  5. Applying the Four Tools: the final chapter looks at ways to apply the Touchstone, the Four Mind-Sets, the Eight Gateways, and the practices of other industries/cultures to affect the culture of a school.  This chapter includes a two-year breakdown of goals for a school culture overhaul as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

Evaluation:  This book is full of resources to immediately apply the ideas presented.  It also references a significant list of resources and draws on years of actual experience working with schools of all sorts.  Therefore, the material was down to earth and usually both defined and described using a sample school scenario to show the work "in the real world."  Although the authors are biased towards their system, they justify how the system was developed and why they have seen it work successfully.  The book feels like a tool rather than just a source of theory.

Reflection:  This book clarified for me some of the complexities faced when trying to impact school culture which is such an amorphous and living phenomenon.  I am working to develop a mentor training and support program and this book helped me think about ways I need to address  leadership, voice, and "Expectations, Trust, and Accountability" in particular.  The mentoring program will affect the staff and thus affect the students so I want to be careful about how I approach it.  I also found the four mind-sets useful in considering how to work with specific staff members and how the mentoring program may impact the overall culture of our school.  I used the provided sample surveys to build a school culture survey and will probably use some of the other tools with my staff as well.  This book is a great resource of resources!

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