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Elements of Cultural Leadership
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There are some outstanding resources for superintendents interested in developing their knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to lead the development of a high performing, student-centered culture that embraces a philosophy of continuous improvement. We have researched many resources and are providing this annotated bibliography of the best for new, experienced, and aspiring superintendents who want to enhance their effectiveness in Cultural Leadership.
Barth, R.S. (2002, May). The culture builder. Educational Leadership, 59(8), 6-11.
This article examines how school leaders can change toxic school cultures. Explaining that a school’s culture is immediately evident to any visitor, Barth defines the concept of “school culture.” A priority for school leaders should be the development of a school culture that encourages students and adult learning.
Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
This book highlights the importance of leading the organization’s culture to a more transformational and adaptive culture, one that is critical in today’s fast-paced environments. To lead these organizations, transformational leaders who can blend the leadership strategies for long-term success and superior performance are needed.
Bridges, W. (2003). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
Cultural leadership in a fast-changing society requires leaders skilled in navigating transitions and change effectively. Bridges shares a clear understanding of what change does to employees and what employees in transition can do to an organization. Additionally, he shows leaders and managers how to minimize the distress and disruptions caused by change. Organizations that have successfully institutionalized the practice of continuous improvement are constantly being changed to increase productivity, maximize efficiency, and reduce costs. Little transitions are going on all the time. Change is inevitable in today’s organizations, and this book provides a roadmap on how to successfully navigate the transitions that are certain to occur.
City, E.A., Elmore, R.F., Fiarman, S.E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Instructional Rounds is a systematic way of looking at the professional practices of teachers within a school centered on a Theory of Action and Problem of Practice. Much like medical rounds are conducted in a hospital to examine symptoms and diagnose illness, instructional rounds look at the instructional core to determine the next level of work for a school to improve. “Rounds is a four-step process: identifying a problem of practice,observing, debriefing, and focusing on the next level of work” (p. 6). Instructional rounds build a collaborative learning culture and contribute to a culture of high expectations.
Collins, J. C. (2005). Good to great. New York, NY: Harper Business.
Collins, J. C. (2005). Good to great and the social sector. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins.
Collins shares his findings about great companies and organizations. He highlights a framework of greatness, first by defining great and calibrating success. He emphasizes the importance of Level 5 Leaders, “getting the right people on bus,” the Hedgehog Concept, A Culture of Discipline, and the Flywheel Concept. Noteworthy is the work centered on the relentless culture of discipline which includes disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. The culture of discipline is a principle of greatness. He discusses the importance of building the culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility within a framework. Fill that culture with self-disciplined people. Adhere with great consistency to the hedgehog concept that blends what we are passionate about, what we’re best at, and what drives our economic engine at a convergence point. These principles will lead an organization to greatness. He emphasizes that leaders are best when executive and legislative leadership is blended according to the situation. Level five leaders are those who make sure the right decisions happen and get things done in a diffuse power structure found in contemporary organizations.
Cotton. K. (2003). Principals and student achievement: What the research says. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
High performing principals exhibit 26 behaviors that affect student achievement positively. The fifth category of seven categories is School Culture. High-performing principals recognize student and staff achievement. They support risk taking, teacher autonomy, and collaboration. These principals share leadership and decision making while empowering staff. They nurture a positive and supportive school climate and are visible and accessible. They are self-confident, responsible, and persevering in difficult situations. They honor rituals, ceremonies, and other symbolic actions, professional development opportunities, and resources.
Covey, S. R. (2008). The leader in me. New York, NY: Free Press.
This book shares the story of how the seven principles of personal effectiveness can be learned by students and can transform a school community to a principle-centered, high performing culture. By integrating these principles in the curriculum and school culture, students, staff, and parents are also transformed to a principle-centered framework of decision-making and responding to the world. With these timeless principles guiding the culture, the levels of achievement can increase to amazing heights.
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Free Press.
Covey teaches a principle-centered approach to personal and professional effectiveness. It is centered on 7 habits or principles that will help anyone find more success and satisfaction in all aspects of life. The powerful principles help people shift from a circumstantial framework for responding to the world to a principle-centered framework. The seven habits are timeless concepts that have been proven to improve personal effectiveness and relationships with others. Leaders who practice and teach these concepts can dramatically improve the culture of an organization and its overall success.
Deal, T. E. and Peterson, K. D. (1999). Shaping school culture: The heart of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Deal and Peterson share the elements of culture to help leaders better understand the unwritten rules, traditions, norms, and expectations that determine how people act, how they interact, and how they feel about their work. In addition to shaping the way people think, act, and feel, culture shapes the beliefs and behavior of the people in the organization and has a profound impact on the performance of the school. In cultural leadership, the importance of vision, mission, values, beliefs, assumptions, and norms in shaping culture are important fundamentals for leaders to understand. The authors also explain how important culture building develops from the rituals, ceremonies, symbols, artifacts, and stories that are shared and passed on through the school. Leaders can use these powerful culture shaping strategies to develop the culture toward an “ethos of excellence” (Loc. 872 of 1573) which results in a high performing, student-centered culture.
DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & DuFour, R. (2005). On common ground. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
This is an edited book and contains chapters by leading experts in the field of school improvement. The central theme of the book focuses on the power of professional learning communities that transform a school and lead to continuous improvement and new levels of learning achievement among students. PLC can be a powerful cultural leadership strategy to build the common vision, mission, goals, and shared language needed in any high performance, student-centered culture that is based on continuous improvement.
Eaker, R., & Keating, J. (2009). Deeply embedded, fully committed. JSD: The Learning Forward Journal. 30(5), 50-55.
This article highlights the critical role district leadership has in school improvement efforts. Of particular importance for district leaders is the development of the adults who will serve the students. Because student learning is profoundly impacted by the quality of the adults who work with them, effective district leadership is needed to develop the professional staff working with and around the students. Consequently, the use of professional learning communities has become an essential strategy to develop an effective culture in the schools to ensure high levels of learning for all students and adults. The power of professional learning communities comes from the job-embedded nature of the professional development. The most effective professional development occurs in a social and collaborative setting. It is ongoing and occurs regularly in the context of the classroom with a focus on results. Understood and practiced in these ways, professional learning communities provide an effective cultural leadership strategy that helps foster a high performance, student-centered culture that embraces a philosophy of continuous improvement.
Fullan, M. (2001, May). The change leader. Educational Leadership, 59(8), 16-20.
This article describes the skills leaders must possess in order to enhance their school culture. Leadership is critical at every level of the change process. An organization will not grow depending on the actions of the top leader alone.
Glasser, W. (1992). The quality school: Managing students without coercion. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Dr. Glasser makes a strong case that coercive management in schools is the root of the problem in learning achievement in schools because it results in the students and staff becoming adversaries. He promotes leadership and management practices that bring people together and produces quality outcomes. The fundamentals of quality are reflected in the discussions, modeling, facilitating, teaching, and empowerment the leader provides to make the environment non-coercive and non-adversarial. When the culture is healthy and centered on these fundamentals of quality, high learning achievement is attainable and likely.
Herndon, B.C. (2007). An analysis of the relationships between servant leadership, school culture, and student achievement. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database.(UMI No. 3322701). Retrieved from
This quantitative study analyzed the relationships among the factors of servant leadership, school culture, and student achievement in Missouri elementary schools. Survey data was used to determine (a) if any relationships exist between principal servant leadership factors and school culture factors; (b) if any relationships exist between principal servant leadership factors and student achievement; and (c) if any relationships exist between the combination of the factors of principal servant leadership and school culture on student achievement. Two survey instruments were used, the Servant Leadership Assessment Instrument and the School Culture Survey. Findings of the study suggested that principal servant leadership behaviors have a significant influence on the factors of school culture. The combination of principal servant leadership and school culture has a significant influence on student achievement. The study reported that free and reduced lunch status of students significantly influenced student achievement more so than the factors of servant leadership or the factors of school culture.
Hinde, E.R. (2004). School culture and change: An examination of the effects of school culture on the process of change. Essays in Education. Retrieved from
This journal article defines culture as it applies to schools and examines the effects of school culture on teachers and schools in general. This study concluded that culture influences all aspects of schools, including such things as how the staff dresses (Peterson & Deal, 1998), what staff talk about in the teachers’ lounge (Kottler, 1997), how teachers decorate their classrooms, their emphasis on certain aspects of the curriculum, and teachers’ willingness to change (Hargreaves, 1997b). In this article, the author cited Donahoe (1997) who stated, “If culture changes, everything changes” (p. 245).” Hinde goes on to state that school culture is not static. It’s a stream of “norms, values, beliefs, traditions, and rituals built up over time” (Peterson & Deal, 1998). Culture directs the activities of school personnel and students. It is a self-repeating cycle shaped by the interactions of the personnel. The actions of the personnel become directed by culture. Introducing change interrupts this cycle. Like air, no one notices school culture unless it becomes foul. Culture can be a positive influence on learning, or it can seriously inhibit learning outcomes and other functions in a school. This article also discusses the culture of change and what must occur for change to occur successfully. It also points out the factors that can inhibit change. The author stresses that mandated change is unlikely to be effective. Hinde quotes Fullan (1997): “Mandates alter some things, but they don’t affect what matters. When complex change is involved, people do not and cannot change by being told to do so” (p. 38).
Resources cited in this annotation:
Fullan, M. (1997). The challenge of school change. Illinois: Skylight Training and Publishing.
Hargreaves, A. (1997). Introduction. In A. Hargreaves (Ed.), Rethinking educational change with heart and mind: 1997 ASCD yearbook, (p. 245). Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Kottler, J. (1997). What’s really said in the teachers’ lounge: Provocative ideas about cultures and classrooms. California: Corwin Press.
Peterson, K. and Deal T. (1998). How leaders influence the culture of schools. Educational Leadership 56(1), 28-30.
Hoy, W. (1990) Organizational climate and culture: A conceptual analysis of the school workplace. Journal of educational and psychological consultation, 1(2) 149-168. Retrieved from
In this article, Hoy differentiates culture and climate. He defines organizational climate of a school as the set of internal characteristics that distinguishes one school from another and influences the behavior of its members. Organizational culture is a system of shared orientations that hold the unit together and give it a distinctive identity. He emphasizes using stories, icons, and rituals to build culture.
Jones, L. (2009). The importance of school culture for instructional leadership. The National Council of Professors of Educational Administration. Retrieved from
An important aspect of school improvement is dependent on leaders and the quality of their instructional leadership. A variable related to school improvement and to the roles, skills, traits, and perspectives of the leader is the school culture. An important goal of any educational leader is to develop and maintain a strong, effective culture. Jones makes a case for linking the importance of instructional leadership and the culture to school improvement. Central to this argument is the importance placed on the relationships leaders develop and maintain with the staff. Positive relationships between the leaders and the staff are critical components in developing and fostering a positive school culture, which in turn will result in better teacher performances and improved student outcomes.
Kotter, J. P. (1996) Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
In this book, John Kotter describes eight stages needed to create major change. These include (1) establishing a sense of urgency, (2) forming a guiding coalition, (3) development of a vision and strategy, and (4) the communication plan that empowers broad-based action and short-term wins that propel the organization to consolidating gains and producing more change, and ultimately anchoring the new approaches in the culture. Kotter builds a vision for organizations wanting to make substantive and lasting change.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Academic administrator’s guide to exemplary leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This book describes how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done. It highlights the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, isolation into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It emphasizes the relational aspects of the culture and climate that allow people to turn challenges into successes. Leaders can accomplish this by modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart.
Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2006). A leader’s legacy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
The authors demonstrate that leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. It requires a resonant connection with others over matters of the heart. Trust is critical as it is the social glue that binds human relationships together. Leaders have to learn to be flexible with style but firm on standards. Leadership is personal and to be the best you must reveal your humanity. Because people commit to causes, not plans, leaders must turn their followers into leaders, realizing the journey ahead requires many guides among the group. Being forward-looking is critical as its second only to honesty in the most admired qualities of leaders. Leaders must avoid being hostage to the present by being forward-looking for the exciting possibilities of the future. These leadership fundamentals are critical in culture building.
Lee, R. J. & King, S. N. (2001). Discovering the leader in you. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This book addresses leadership as a deliberate personal decision. It also discusses how organizations have changed, which has led to a dispersal of authority and expertise, and a decentralization of power. Old patterns of command and control are replaced by or intermixed with relationships in which no one controls and no one commands. As a result, leadership is about influence rather than authority. Leaders today must be very clear about their values and those of the people they aspire to lead. Many organizations are held together by a common belief in certain important values, which shape the culture and the leadership approach of those who aspire to lead.
MacNeil, A. J., Prater, D. L., & Busch, S. (2009). The effects of school culture and climate on student
Achievement, International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 12(1), 73-84.
Using the Organizational Health Inventory to quantify school climate, the researchers found that higher achieving schools had healthier climates than lower achieving schools. In particular, goal focus and adaptation accounted for the largest variance between higher and lower achieving schools. Research has shown that one of the most important actions an educational leader can take is to promote a strong vision for the organization (Leithwood et. al. 2004). When the leader supports clear goals that are embraced by the staff, then the organization health score is higher, which reflects the leader’s influence on the climate. Additionally, when the leader provides structures in the organization that help it tolerate stress, maintain stability, and effectively cope with the demands of the environment, the leader has improved the organization’s ability to adapt. These findings indicate that efforts by the leader to develop the climate through increasing goal focus and adaptability will enhance student learning. Since climate is a manifestation of the prevailing culture, an effective leader will shape the culture to foster a climate that is goal focused and adaptable, which is crucial in developing a high performing culture that embraces continuous improvement.
Resource cited in this annotation:
Leithwood, K., Louis, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How leadership influences student learning. New York: The Wallace Foundation.
Marzano, R.J., Water, T., & McNulty, B.A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
This meta-analysis of research quantifies the relationship between school leadership and student achievement. Included is a five-step plan for effective school leadership. It includes suggestions for distribution of leadership responsibilities throughout the organization improving school culture and increasing student achievement.
Muhammad, A. (2009). Transforming school culture: How to overcome staff division. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
In this book Anthony Muhammad explains the urgency for improving school culture and how it impacts students. He describes four types of educators: Believer, Tweener, Survivor, and Fundamentalist, and the organizational goal of each type. He gives practical examples and tips on how to manage each of these four types of teachers within every school.
Ohlson, M. (2009). Examining instructional leadership: A study of school culture and teacher quality characteristics influencing student outcomes. Florida Journal of Educational Administration & Policy, 2(2), 102-124.
This research is a statistical modeling study of the relationship between school leadership, school culture, teacher quality and the influence these variables have upon student outcomes. Data was gathered during the start of the 2007 school year from twenty-three public elementary schools in Florida. There were two concepts that Ohlson explored in this study. First, he wanted to examine the influence of teacher input characteristics and teacher perceptions of school culture on student absences. Second, Ohlson wanted to examine the influence of teacher input characteristics and teacher perceptions of school culture on out-of-school suspensions. The analysis of data revealed that there was a decrease in excessive school absences in relation to an increase in a “Unity of Purpose.” When school leaders and teachers embrace a common mission and vision for teaching and learning, students are less likely to be absent. This increase in attendance will increase the likelihood of student achievement. Collaborative leadership was found to impact out-of-school suspensions. The data suggested that an increase in a culture that demonstrates collaborative leadership will decrease the number of out-of-school suspensions.
Schlechty, P.C. (2001). Shaking up the school house: How to support and sustain educational innovation. In Schlechty, P.C. (Ed.) Empowered leaders: Questions of style and substance. (pp. 176-207). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This chapter discusses how strong leaders who know where they are going and are committed to getting there are necessary for change to be implemented effectively in schools. For change to be effective, the school leader must be aware of the culture of the school. “It is therefore absolutely essential that the person who occupies the top-level position in the organization undergoing change be very clear about the need for change as well as about the direction the change will take the organization“ (p. 177). The leader’s character is also very important. The leader must possess integrity, persistence, constancy of purpose, self-awareness, and ego strength. “Systems that do not honor and encourage leaders who have integrity and who are willing to persist when the going is toughest get what they deserve. It is however, the children who suffer” (p. 185).
Stolp, S., & Smith, S. C. (1995). Transforming school culture: stories, symbols, values, and the leader’s role. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.
This book is a comprehensive guide for helping educational leaders recognize and change a school’s culture. The authors begin with a framework for understanding and differentiating culture and climate. They establish a research basis for the impact of school culture on academic achievement, motivation, school improvement, and leadership effectiveness. They describe Schein’s (1984) three levels of organizational culture as (1) tangible artifacts, (2) values and beliefs, and (3) underlying assumptions. These levels of organizational culture are dynamic and fluid in most cases according to the local conditions in the organization. It is important for an effective leader to understand these elements of culture and to constantly stay attuned to the cultural dynamic present in the organization. The authors share several strategies for identifying and measuring school culture. Finally, they describe three perspectives for transforming the culture: (1) a systems view, (2) shared vision, and (3) the role of the leader as learner, motivator, and role model.
Resource cited in this annotation:
Schein, E. H. (1984). Coming to a new awareness of corporate culture. Sloan Management Review, 25, 3-16.
Wagner, R. G. & Harter, J. K. (2006). 12: The elements of great managing. New York: Gallup.
This book highlights twelve elements of work-life that increase employee engagement and provide an unwritten contract between employee and employer. Evidence is clear that the creation and maintenance of high employee engagement is one of the most crucial imperatives of any successful organization. Blending these twelve elements of work-life into an organizational culture will enhance employee engagement and effectiveness. In school organizations, engaged and empowered teachers are more effective at inspiring students to be more engaged and empowered, thus increasing student learning achievement.
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