Educational Leadership in Modern School Cultures

The discussion on Educational Leadership draws from the writers training, education and experiences as a teacher and public servant. It highlights education leaders’ role in maintaining the school culture. It focuses on the school culture as the KEY to the success of a school.

Education leader’s role as guardian and steward of school cultures impacts on students’ attitudes. It is perhaps, good to stress the phrase ‘maintaining a school culture’ – not creating or establishing a new one!

The Introductory post gives details of the 4 articles in this segment of School Culture and Educational Leadership and Roles of school leaders.

What is the school culture?

A school, as an organisation, functions within a culture, also called school atmosphere. (Note: This paper uses the phrase school culture). School culture refers to the norms and values of the school.

Some studies refer to school culture as the values that govern the behaviours of the school board, headteachers, staff members, students and parents.

All stakeholders in a school setting live within the means of a school’s culture. It is important to ensure the school values (ethos and codes of conduct) remain healthy and functional.

For one to understand this series on school cultures and educational leadership styles, they must first appreciate the fact that school cultures are intrinsic, permanent, historical and the backbone of any school.

As mentioned earlier, Education leader’s role is not to re-engineer the school culture. The principals and headteachers only emphasise the importance of the culture (norm, values, principles and virtues) that generations of students have passed through. Hence, they maintain the school’s established norms and values, re-enforce it.

Educational Leadership takes schools principals to task

Where there is a breakdown in the culture of the schools, principals are best placed to fix it. In hindsight, a school’s culture can deteriorate at different levels, such as:

  • Board of Management level where decisions are made to benefit board members rather than the whole school.
  • Principal level where a sour working relationship exists among the principal, deputies and teachers.
  • Teachers level where the teachers put their wants and needs above students.
  • Parents/Community level where there is a lack of a positive relationship between the community and school.
  • Students level where students’ group culture takes over school culture.

The point driven through in the Introductory article (and this article) is that these levels make up a school. The later is the important subject of this discussion.

School culture seeks strong Educational Leadership

It is believed that breakdown in school culture can give rise to school fights and other bad students behaviours in the schools. So, in the event when the school culture breaks down, principals must first ask ‘What went wrong?!’ Followed by why the culture deteriorates, who is involved and how it started at the first place.

Principals prompt actions are key to stopping the negative students’ behaviours from thriving in city schools. In the case of continuous secondary school fights, an understanding of the question and school culture is a powerful medium for addressing the problem.

What is Student culture?

When students’ fights are rampant, there is an indication of a *new* culture (student culture) co-existing with the school culture. Ominously, the unpopular students’ culture takes hold because it had gone undetected for so long.

Hence, it impedes on the schools’ norms and values.

In cases where the negative student culture (students’ way of doing things) creeps into the school systems, it must be addressed promptly. When left unchecked, it can damage the school culture.

Student culture vs student behaviour

Mentioned earlier, the students’ culture is contrary to the school’s culture. It can take a stronghold on students and become the dominant culture. And, makes it harder for the school boards, principals, teachers and parents to deal with.

The breakdown in school culture observed in some city secondary schools in the country is the result of the inability of principals to maintain school cultures. This calls into action strong educational leaderships in schools.

The list gives three examples of how students bad behaviours can be detected before they become a problem:

  • Pay close attention to student’s bad attitude,
  • Identify students groups, and
  • Address students bad behaviours immediately.

In the context of this writing, it can be said that student culture thrives when the school managements fail to maintain the school culture.

The bad behaviours become dominant and take over the cultures of schools. The reputation of the school drops and the bad students’ culture takes over. This has often resulted in contrary behaviours such as school fights, students drinking, tattoos and generational practices.

Any signs of a contrary behaviour displayed by a group of students must raise alarm bells. And, immediate actions must be taken by the school principals.

Students drinking and generation names

In a recent observation, students were seen to get drunk in groups. Boys and girls from some city schools mingled together, in school uniforms. The fact that these students were in pairs and getting drunk in the bush indicated that there is no RESPECT for the uniforms they are wearing.

As mentioned earlier, where the school culture is strong, there is certainly respect for the school uniform. In contrary, where principals fail to effectively nurture a good school culture, students tend to practise bad behaviours.

The second observation is the passing of generational names from one student to another. Usually, this practice is usually ritualised in the form of tattoos or punching of the chest called ‘skelim boros’.

Identified above, the two bad behaviours are obvious indications of a culture existing parallel to the norms and values of the school. Knowing these signs of students’ bad behaviours is key to solving the problem of school fights in PNG city Schools.

School culture in perspective

Importantly, the school culture needs maintaining, not re-engineering. To put it in perspective, school culture is all the following:

  • Code of conduct.
  • The way of doing things.
  • Fundamentals of a school.
  • Permanent, intrinsic and timeless.
  • Invisible norms and ethics of the school.
  • Moulds and shapes students’ attitudes and behaviours.
  • Historical values passed on from the pioneers of the school.
  • The physical values: Vision, mission, objectives, motto, school song and chant, school rules and uniforms.

The students must learn the ways of the school (the school culture) at orientation. And, practised daily, weekly, monthly, termly and yearly. Principals and teachers are the powerful forces to make sure school culture remains dominant above other negative forces that students are faced with.

Students culture in perspective

What is sad is the fact that (in problem schools where the school culture breaks-down) students are absorbed into students’ groups where the cultures are completely opposite to values of the schools.

Instead of practising good values mentioned above, the bad groups in schools promote rebellion and disobedience. Unfortunately, younger students are absorbed into bad practices.

This is a grave concern. It becomes a distracting force for practising good character and personality. Furthermore, the distracting force affects the generation of students and the impact on their academic achievements.

Distracting force – bad behaviour

The city schools in Lae and Port Moresby have a situation where negative students’ culture exists parallel to schools’ culture. The local education officials and staff must not let bad students’ culture takes over schools’ dominant culture.

The schools that have a problem with students behaving contrary to school expectations need to put the following positions under the spotlight:

  • principal,
  • school boards,
  • PEBs,
  • PEAs,
  • District Administrators,
  • Provincial Administrators, and
  • Governors.

The challenge is to take the problem of bad students’ behaviour seriously and address it at the appropriate levels.

Impacts of negative student culture

The impacts of negative student’s culture are many. The 4 impacts given in this article have a direct bearing on every student’s future – in the workplace, at home or village and later in life.

1. Rebellion

Students who have been exposed to a negative student culture for a long time are likely to do things against the school’s prescribed norm. Mentioned earlier, secondary school fights in the city schools is a clear indication of the students challenging the school values.

This rebellion is a build-up of negative behaviours such as group drinking, sex, alcohol, skelim boros, etc. It is often hard to correct student’s behaviour when bad behaviours take control of them.

2. High Drop Out

There is a high rate of students failing their examinations from the city schools where there is a breakdown in school culture. This is a concern for parents; those running the schools; and people at the helm of the Education System in Port Moresby and Lae schools.

3. Substandard Secondary Schools

The standard of a school is linked to students’ performance. In fact, it has been a disgrace for the city schools where the students’ performances are dismal.

The schools with the problem of school fights need to consider what they can do to re-establish the schools’ culture. Bring back ‘the better days’ when their students used to go to universities in numbers.

4. Social problems

A generational gap appears where the school population passing out is half-educated, bad-mannered and ignorant. This can lead to other social problems in the local towns and cities where the students reside.

Educational leadership 1: Re-enforce school culture

Upholding the values of the school and reinforcing the school culture is a priority for any school. Students who enter secondary school identify themselves among their peers.

The trend is that the students from the same primary feeder schools will join their seniors who are already in the secondary schools. Understandably, the ‘peer effect’ CAN quickly change students’ behaviours as they leave primary schools and enter secondary schools in the cities.

Perhaps, it is important to facilitate a way to mould the behaviour throughout a school year. This can be done by upholding the values of the school and reinforcing the school culture. Both the new students and old students must pass among themselves the good values of the schools.

School principals (who are the bearers of educational leadership qualities) must facilitate the exchange of values among the students.

Educational leadership 2: Maintain positive school culture

Ideally, positive school culture is mutually beneficial to students and schools. The positive cultures are fundamental (basic) building blocks. When done right, it can mould a child into a better person.

The writer calls it ‘the rite of passage’. Every student has to go through it, vital for moulding students’ behaviours. The five benefits where the school is positive are given below (not exhaustive).

1. Respectful citizens: Students practice good morals and values. They become caring and loving citizens.
2. Literate Generation: Every student gets the opportunity to learn to read and write well.
3. Good results: Improve school performances in examinations. Many students are likely to enter tertiary institutions.
4. Productive citizens: Students are ready to continue to pursue further studies, find work or return home.

Summary – Educational leadership and school cultures

The role of education leader is to mould students into good citizens of the country. The main idea in this discussion (Education Leader Role: Maintain School Culture Shaping Students Behaviours) is that maintaining school culture must be the priority of every school principal.

The important education leader role is to vigilant when students’ behaviours (or actions) are contrary to school norms. School leaders must be very wary when a group of students and their behaviours are against the school culture.

Principals and headteachers must take immediate actions aimed at correcting student behaviour. Any student (or student group) behaviour that is contrary to school culture must not be ignored. Educational Leadership roles call for principals and schools leaders to take the bull by the horn, and lead from the front.

Introduction to the series on School Culture and Educational Leadership is available here.

In Part 2, the writer discusses the roles of provincial education leaders with an emphasis on school culture. The 6000-word concept paper on School Leadership and Secondary School Culture is available in PDF for download on request.

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Recommended reading: Content summary of the series Leadership in School and School Culture

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