2. 43February 2014 | Principal Leadership 43February 2014 | Principal Leadership
he Common Core State Standards. New teacher evaluation methods. Budget
reductions. Those and other concerns dominate the educational landscape, and school
leaders can easily lose focus and be conflicted about the business of teaching and
learning. With reduced funding and more initiatives coming, how do educators keep
the main thing the main thing?
Culture and Accountability
It is difficult to address student learning without also addressing culture. The cultures
of the school and the school district ultimately have an impact on how well any reform
initiatives will be implemented and received at the school level. According to Ful-
lan (2007), school culture can be defined as the guiding beliefs and values evident in
the way a school operates. School culture can be used to encompass all the attitudes,
expected behaviors, and values that affect how the school operates.
The development of a positive and high-performing school culture is essential to
the success of a school and is witnessed by the greater school community. As Schlechty
School systems must create a culture that places value on managing by results,
rather than on managing by programs. It is essential that leaders work to
establish a culture where results are carefully assessed and actions taken based
on these assessments. (p. 38)
Transforming a school is one of the most challenging yet important tasks a school
leader has because of the multiple, sophisticated layers that are involved. A mistake I
made early in my first principalship was assuming that I had to do most of the heavy
lifting myself. I worked more diligently on establishing change for the overall school
than within individual groups. For myself and other new principals I knew, it was also a
struggle to determine what to tackle first. As I gained experience, I found that the most
effective change occurs one person, group, or department at a time and that the most
A positive school culture is possibly the most
important element in making a school successful. So
how can school leaders build a positive culture when
facing endless initiatives and limited budgets?
3. 44 Principal Leadership | February 2014
effective way for change to take root is to foster in
others the same urgency and recognition of the need
Building a Positive Culture
Although many initiatives are still taking place to
transform the culture of Shiloh High School in
Snellville, GA, I found the following to be the most
Celebrate success. A very noticeable change
in school culture came when we began to publicly
acknowledge students and teachers for accomplish-
ments on an ongoing basis. Having academic pep ral-
lies and ceremonies to honor student success has been
very well received by the greater school community.
Model expectations. As the school leader, I must
consistently model appropriate behavior, dress, and
communication for my students and staff members.
I have created forums to ask for feedback from par-
ents, teachers, and students and used those data to
make decisions regarding school initiatives. I also use
faculty and leadership meetings to model effective
teaching and grouping strategies.
Increase parent and community involvement.
Shiloh builds stakeholder involvement by following
a mentoring program for male and female students
who need interventions for behavior and academic
deficiency, holding community nights to com-
municate the status of school initiatives, creating
unique ways to have parent-teacher conferences, and
developing business and university partnerships. All
these components are critical to school culture and
preparation for college and career readiness.
Develop a shared vision. Effectively communi-
cating the needs of the school and answering questions
from teachers and stakeholders builds trust. Creating
and communicating a shared vision for the staff, par-
ents, and students in the school has also helped them
understand the importance of enhancing our culture. The shared
vision for Shiloh is predicated on pride, commitment, and excel-
lence. Each teacher has a poster in his or her classroom reflecting
this, and posters are displayed around the school to remind faculty
members, parents, and students of our vision.
Combating Issues Though Teamwork
There are certain barriers that some schools must overcome in
the journey to school improvement and in working with teachers.
I find that teachers do not necessarily want to hear what leaders
want or need them to do; they want and need to hear what leaders
are going to do to support them. Recruiting, retaining, and devel-
oping the skills of teachers enhances morale and builds a positive
culture. I know that I, as the principal, must energize, motivate,
and inspire teachers so that they can do the same for students. I
also am the lead learner and must lead my staff members in under-
standing all initiatives and undertaking professional learning.
Creating prescriptive collaborative planning times and effective
teacher teams are two of the most powerful methods of instruc-
tional planning that I have witnessed. All Shiloh teachers serve on
collaborative teams that are based on the courses they teach, and
the teams have common planning times.
Carroll (2009) said, “Quality teaching is not an individual
accomplishment, it is the result of a collaborative culture that em-
powers teachers to team up to improve student learning beyond
what any one of them can do alone” (p. 10). I contend that a les-
son cannot be executed and differentiated without a clear, concise,
and intentional lesson plan. When teachers have opportunities to
work collaboratively to plan common formative assessments and
subsequently plan rich units on the basis of student progress on
assessments, students make gains in achievement and the achieve-
ment gaps between groups begin to close. Planning and collabora-
tion are now elements of teacher evaluation.
Technology gives teachers a means not only to collaborate more
frequently but also to give and receive feedback and monitor plans
and assessments. Technology is a major initiative of the school
professional development plan for teachers as well as the primary
way to enhance student engagement in daily lessons. The following
are ways Shiloh has increased the technology available to teachers
Shiloh High School
68% Black, 13% Hispanic, 12% White, 2%
Asian, 5% multiracial; 70% free and reduced-
1 principal, 5 assistant principals, 1 associate
4. 45February 2014 | Principal Leadership
Eric Parker is the principal of Shiloh High School in Snellville, GA.
n Enhanced the school website and teacher webpages with
resources and information for students and parents
n Purchased instructional devices to provide for improved class-
room engagement and hands-on opportunities for students
n Created individual student e-mail accounts to provide a means
to increase communication among students and student groups
n Created a school app to post current information and send
instant messages to users
n Recruited a technology team from local experts to support
teachers and provide ongoing professional development
throughout the school day
n Purchased online support programs that are available to
students in various classes to provide additional practice away
n Provided ongoing professional development to the clerical staff
on various technology programs to ensure proficiency.
So that professional learning sessions will be well received, they
are designed to model effective collaboration and planning and are
also led by proficient teachers. Establishing teacher leaders for this
or any initiative and building teacher leader capacity are also pow-
erful practices. I have worked to develop teacher leaders for these
purposes as well as working with and identifying leaders with
aspirations of leadership outside of the classroom. Teacher leaders
are initially identified through their interest in school leadership
positions as noted through an invitation for a conversation with
me followed by the application process for the district leadership
I have created and lead a local school leadership development
academy that mirrors the district program. The academy has been
a beneficial means of building the capacity, raising the awareness,
and increasing the potential of our building leaders. The school’s
leadership academy is comprised of teachers who are interested in
school leadership positions and mirrors strands from the district’s
leadership development program. Teachers meet frequently as
a team with me and review current research and analyze school
leadership modules in an effort to strengthen their individual
knowledge and skills while building capacity.
Another method of increasing engagement has been the
creation of committees so that every teacher is involved in an
initiative for school improvement. Following the theory that
effective school change happens from the bottom
up, it is imperative to involve all staff members in
Student leadership is another resource in the
development of a high performance school culture.
Building capacity within this group of stakehold-
ers is proven to be beneficial and helpful with the
successful implementation of school initiatives.
Identifying and creating opportunities for students
to participate in professional development, parent
workshops, and forums and discussions of school
improvement are rewarding. Student leaders may
be found among student athletes, aspiring teachers,
and popular students. I have met with our student
government leaders during lunch, and the student
leadership team leads various advisement lessons for
student groups during the school day.
Consensus among school leadership team mem-
bers and administrators is an important component
of effectively communicating the school vision. If
dissension exists among school leaders, the school
culture is automatically jeopardized. School leaders
must not only understand and agree on the shared
vision for the school, but they must also be able to
accurately and effectively articulate it to the entire
school community. Having systems of accountability
for school administrators and ensuring that com-
munication exists within all leadership groups and
teams are guaranteed ways to have the same mes-
sage shared to all. PL
n Carroll, T. (2009). The next generation of learning
teams. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(2), 8–13.
n Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
n Schlechty, P. (2005). Creating the capacity to support
innovations. Louisville, KY: Schlechty Center of Leadership
in School Reform.
TIPS TO BUILD A COLLABORATIVE SCHOOL CULTURE
Relationships. Emphasize, build, and model positive
relationships with all members of the school.
Leadership. Build leader capacity at all levels: teacher
leadership, student leadership, and aspiring principal
Collaboration. Create mechanisms for all school teams to
model effective collaboration in planning lessons, units, and
assessments as well as the use of data.
Vision. Communicate a shared vision and create a method
to share the vision with teachers, parents, and students at
the school to show how all must work together to create a
successful school culture.