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Shaping School Culture: Pitfalls, Paradoxes, & Promises.

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Non Fiction

By Patricia A. Alford

Shaping School Culture: Pitfalls, Paradoxes, & Promises (2009)
Thoughts and Responses

As I begin to critique this book, my inner most thoughts and responses are effective educators are committed to being lifelong learners. Although Deal and Peterson’s work may be potentially a good resource for school leaders, it does not mean it will be widely received. Oftentimes, leaders refuse to admit there is a need for professional growth or organizational improvement. This is one reason people make the statement, “this is the way we have always done things.” Consequently, some individuals fail to advance, because they are unwilling to change or seek the necessary tools and strategies to do so.

There are two major themes in Shaping School Culture. The first theme is school leaders must understand how the entire learning community impacts school culture. This concept is paramount, because teachers, principals, parents and community members determine the school culture. If a leader is unwilling to embrace underlying norms, values, beliefs, traditions, and customs, he or she will not be successful. As a result, this will negatively impact the learning community.

The second theme is school culture drives the direction of the establishment and influences every aspect of the organization. Many times, if school culture is positive, the principal can influence the learning community to embrace the school vision. Also, teacher morale is high, the learning team is enthusiastic, and the majority of employees feels as though they are part of a caring environment. In contrast, if school culture is negative, the leader is unable to achieve the desired vision. This is because people do not feel connected to the vision or leader.

Much like schools, culture impacts other organizations. Specifically, if the culture is positive, production rates increase, attendance rates rise, and employee morale is high. In contrast, if culture is negative, production rate declines, absenteeism increases, and the working environment is toxic.

Every school is different; therefore there is no specific instruction manual that is applicable to all schools leaders because each one is unique. However, the authors,’ Deal and Peterson purpose in publishing Shaping School Culture was to provide a useful toolbox for district administrators, principals, and educators to use as a potential road map to foster a positive school culture. As per the book’s content, the authors achieved their purpose.

The subject of the book: Shaping School Culture is appropriate because the content consist of the authors’ explicit discussion on the potential impact culture has on a school. In fact, Deal and Peterson may have chosen this particular subject because they desired to be transparent and explain the benefits of a positive school culture and the disadvantage of a toxic culture. The title is appropriate. In this case, you can judge the book by its cover.

In my opinion, the book is well-written and the authors took me on a journey where I was required to think critically and reflect on how the content applied to leaders. Reflecting on Deal and Peterson’s discussions, I am reminded of the importance of a positive school culture. An administrator has many roles, one of which is fostering and maintaining a positive culture. The benefits of a positive culture are priceless because there is a relationship between school culture, teacher satisfaction, and student academic success.

Moreover, a positive school culture is contagious and spreads throughout the learning community. If an administrator is unable to foster a positive school culture, a negative school culture will fester. Much like a positive culture, a negative culture is also contagious. In a negative school culture, there is educator burnout, high teacher turnover, and low student academic achievement.
Reaction to overall success of the book

Shaping School Culture was a great success and become a popular resource for many educational leaders. The authors’ targeted audience is educational leaders, but the book also applies to colleges, universities, religious organizations, and businesses. Deal and Peterson used appropriate methodology (unbiased and research-based) when they wrote the book. The authors used case studies and strategies for effectively conveying the necessity of creating positive school cultures. Specifically, many leaders view the book as a possible solution to a potential issue. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book! Shaping School Culture was thought provoking; it caused me to reflect on the importance of a positive school culture.

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