Partnership for Whole School Change


9. Our school transformation components help your K-12 school become a 21st century school by  changing what your K-12 school is and improving what your K-12 school does.

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The global marketplace has made a new world, and that world has changed our nation’s students.  K-12 Schools that have not changed to become a part of this new world are having difficulty with students who have trouble relating to their school. What these students are experiencing in their schools does not connect with who they are. When students are in a caring authentic relationship with their school, they love learning and like to do it often. At all academic levels, our nation's schools teach students to learn, but most do not love school or learning, and when they graduate they do not want to return to a school-like environment. This does not bode well in our current globalized world where constant schooling and reeducation is the norm.

To get students who are socialized by the new world they live in to relate to school, their school has to reflect the new world the global marketplace has established. But most of our nation's schools are still harboring cultural patterns formed during the age of enlightenment and the industrial revolution. Rather than change these outdated patterns, K-12 schools overlay these patterns with new academic strategies, social and emotional learning lessons, and other curricula. This leaves these outdated patterns to continue preparing our students for a world that no longer exists, The PWSC's school transformation components enables a school to cease this practice, and make the deep school changes our citizens will need to survive in today's world. 

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10. To have a sustainable school transformation process, the  collaboration between the school and the PWSC needs to be equitable, and the collaboration should last until either the school or the PWSC decides to end it.

The collaboration begins with discussions between school community members and PWSC coaches. If both sides are willing, a simple partnership agreement is forged with the promise that the partnership will last until the school, the PWSC, or both parties formally end it. Then our school coaches and artist/educators take the initiative to become a recognized part of the school community. The part- nership is strengthen as school and PWSC staff members work with each other to form authentic caring relationships. The school community learns about the PWSC school transformation framework and 35 transformational tools, and the PWSC coaches and artist/educators learn about the school and its existing culture. These efforts give rise to the unfolding of the school's transformation process that in turn gives birth to a new school cultural. The time it takes to gather the resources to do this process and then carry it out cannot be easily predicted, so this collaboration cannot be boxed in with an arbitrary time limit. However, past experience indicates that it takes a three to four years to establish, launch, and implement a school's transformation process, and this time-frame depends on the existing school culture, the school members' level of commitment, and the resources available for the transformation process. 

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11. If school change is to last, it cannot be imposed on the school from outside the school.

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Our school transformation process works from the premise that sustainable school change has to come from within a school community.  The reason for this is that the authority and power of external mandates and imported techniques from the state, the superintendent, and the school committee are psychologically limited by a powerful "outsiders" stigma.  Those outside the school community may be able to stimulate or initiate a school change process or establish peripheral changes. But, outsiders cannot actually make changes in a school's culture that are sustainable or get school community members to buy into a process that changes their deeply held habits and beliefs.  The results outsiders usually obtain who try to impose deep cultural changes from outside the school community is an illusion that the change they seek has taken place — an illusion often perpetrated by school community members.  Sustainable school change has the best chance of being realized when a school's community owns the plans and strategies that are making the change.

Cultural anthropology offers a fundamental reason why this is so.  Humans are culture-making beings.  Over time, each school member shares experiences with others and a bank of stories and conscious and unconscious thoughts and feeling that everyday experiences within a school environment elicits.  These experiences socialize school members to be the community and produce the culture they have. Schools are like all communities.  They define who is out and who is in, and they promote insider solidarity against outsiders.  Any changes coming from outsiders that rise above the insiders' comfort zones are always suspect and are likely to be ignored or resisted, making fundamental school change functionally impossible. Using threats, force, and attempts to strip away school members' power base only increases the sophistication of their resistance.  PWSC personnel know how to work with this powerful insiders' sense of solidarity, and they know how it can facilitate school change if it is understood and respected.

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12. Though sustainable school change can only come from within  a school community, its members will need the objective perspective that only outsiders possess.

Though creating and sustaining change in a school's culture needs to come from within the school, schools still need outside change agents.  These agents need to be knowledgeable people who are respectful of, but not overly emotionally committed to, the school's existing culture.  Like members of any institution, school members can become so habituated to their culture patterns that they may be unaware of them.  They may be unaware of the reason they adhere to them, or they may justify them with myths and taboos that hide the fact that the cultural patterns may be a waste of time or worst, a destructive activity. 

Another challenge that an outsider's perspective can help school insiders deal with is realizing their capacity to both regulate and sanction themselvesIn all institutions, this ability is exceedingly rare, but it is the highest level of social engagement possible.  Its presence is a clear indication that the school culture has been transformed in a positive way.  Failure of an institution to step up and regulate or sanction itself undermines the potential of students — our nation's future and causes enormous pain and suffering in under resourced communities. Every institution needs people with enough of an outsider's perspective that they are able to help school members see what needs to be done and help them do it.

The PWSC's school change coaches not only provide an outsiders perspective, but they are skilled at becoming part of the school community by working with school members and avoiding doing things to school members (Alfi Kohn).  These coaches help school members do what only they can do — transform their school culture. Our school change coaches and artists/educators play this role successfully, because they know that it cannot be played without the establishment of authentic and caring relationships.  All of the PWSC's 35 transformational services, strategies, and programs help school members develop these essential school relationships

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13. To prepare our schools for the 21st century, the 19th century factory system's cultural patterns have to be removed from our schools.

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Charles Smith wrote an article titled, “Is Our Education System Based on a Factory Metaphor?” In it he said that if you doubt that the factory system and our schools share many of the same cultural patterns, examine the pictures to your right. Now imagine each of them with scores of adolescent students milling about and a flagpole flying the American flag. Suddenly, these images bare a striking resemblance to two large city high schools. Actually, they are pictures of two abandoned factories. 

This web page's premise is that the patterns and behaviors that make up the operation of both the school and the factory are as similar as the shape and look of their physical plants.

Since 1970, the Cooperative Artists Insti- tute (CAI), our parent organization, has worked in hundreds of high, middle, and low achieving schools. In each school, our artist/educators have detected cultural patterns that are relics of the 19th century factory system.  In its time, the factory system's overwhelming economic success gave its devotees the inspiration and the means to replicate its systems in key institutions around the globe.  Schools, like many institutions, both embraced and fought against this trend, but over time, those who championed the factory system's economic benefits and top down control overcame their opposition.  

Cultural anthropology and economic geography are two of many social sciences that tell us that any new highly valued system or process that produces great power and wealth will tend to be replicated in other parts of the society.  But, over time these systems, and the human behaviors and habits that operate them, can become obsolete and a drag on the society (Timur Kuran). As valuable and scarce resources are poured into the obsolete system, the drag on the society can actually cause its decline (Anantdeep Singh). In our schools, this obsolete factory system with its ringing bells, compartmentalized subjects, separate learning stations, inefficient student groupings, and reliance on standardization is fostering our nation's academic decline (Sir Ken Robinson).  Why our schools do not stop this decline is because their members have become habituated to the operation and maintenance of the factory system's cultural patterns.

To understand the effect of the classic 19th century factory system on our nation's schools, one has to understand the cultural patterns driving the factory system. The factory system is about increasing production while lowering its cost.  This is done by controlling the raw materials, the producers, the managers, and the means used to produce the product.  What people feel about what they are doing or producing or the emotional impact of the productive process on them is not this system's focus.  In the factory system, the raw materials needed to make the product, the people that produce the product, and the managers who oversee the producers are made as passive and manipulable as possible (David Hounshell)When this system is in our schools, only small elite groups (i.e., the education esta- blishments) who design and oversee the various school systems are free to play an active role in how the schools are run (Louis Hunter).

A key signature of the factory system is its tendency towards a top down approach to everything (Louis Hunter)If it is a factory, it is reflected in the desire of those at the top to control the production process.  If it is a school it is reflected in the desire of those at the top to control the learning process. This top down hierarchical approach makes students and workers passive and this is not healthy for them. Both workers and students need to be part of an institutional culture that promotes active engagement in the world through learning, working, and living life.  

When school staff talk about their students' cognitive attributes, test scores, and achievements (the product) and hardly ever talk about how students feel about what they are learning, this is the factory system in the school culture.  It boosts the status of our students’ cognition and lowers the status of our students’ feelings. Another cultural pattern our schools share with the factory system is an inability to work effectively and successfully with outside people and institutions. Schools can be surrounded by the best institutional resources but have such an insular school culture that no outsiders can help them change. This is a huge problem for our nation's schools, because they cannot change without outside help and skills.

Today, the factory system's top down approach and the passivity it creates are the most pervasive and destructive cultural patterns holding down our nation's schools, and they are prevalent in our "best" and "worse" schools.  These cultural patterns cannot realize the best efforts of students who embody the age of more engagement, leadership, democracy, digital communication, rapid innovation, and multicultural understanding.  To prepare our students for this global economy, the impact and legacy of the factory system on our schools must be acknowledged and understood and removed from our schools. 

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14. Every school is a community and every community has a culture.

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Our developer's school transformation process is unique in that we adhere to a concept of culture that is based on the foundational concepts and findings of cultural anthropologyWe adhere to this concept of culture, because this science has established valid and reliable concepts that improve educators' understanding of themselves, each student, and the social dynamics that make up the classroom and school community. These dynamics include the teaching and learning of academic knowledge and social/emotional skills. Cultural anthropology's concept of culture has stood the test of time. Some of this science's findings have proven to be universal for all humans, and this knowledge is needed by our schools that house many cultures. 

The way the concept of culture is used by most K-12 schools and school systems is not informed by cultural anthropology or any other scientific practice. Their usage lacks any adherence to culture's historical classical European roots or today's modern scientific usage. Most schools and school systems use culture to convey whatever its members want it to convey. The majority of schools and school system use the term to communicate their school staffs' educational methods and strategies designed to improve school climate, address multicultural challenges, overcome bullying, and other school issues or programs. Having no basis for the term culture frees educators to define school culture in ways that best helps them communicate or market their educational strategies and methods to the general public.

Many cultural anthropologists define culture as a unique configuration of learned behaviors and thoughts that signify the total way of life of a community, an organization, or a group (Marvin Harris). When two or more soldiers who are strangers come under fire and jump into a fox hole, within seconds they begin to create a culture. To be human is to be a culture making being.

This trait reflects on one of cultural anthropology's foundational findings, that there is no such thing as a human community or organization that lacks a culture. “It’s the culture stupid,” signifies culture's core importance when people are attempting to accomplish anything where an understanding of a community or an individual person is required. The use of this expression often signals that the people involved in a critical situation are finally serious enough to get to the root of challenge they face.

Understanding culture is key for understanding and working with schools. For instance, shared expectations is just one of culture's many powerful cultural patterns. When a school's community shares similar expectations, it is one of the most formidable forces on earth.  It is by far the greatest determiner of the quality and efficacy of teaching and learning. Shared expectations determine the kind of behaviors school members overtly and covertly transfer to each other. When these shared expectations are at cross purposes, they are often the root cause of our students' failure. It is culture, more than any other factor, that determines a school community's success or failure.  

When schools undertake their school transformation process, they have to embrace a concept of school culture that helps their school members:

  • learn to conceptualize their school as a whole while being able to appreciate its many parts;
  • detect, think about, talk about, and do something about shared expectations, emotional response from others, long term security, and other patterns that can undermine or uphold teaching and learning based on the way these patterns are organized within a school;
  • discover the many boundaries within and around their school culture. The external boundaries shield that its members from contradictory and competitive cultural patterns that emanate from outside their school's cultural milieu. The internal boundaries that keep classrooms separated or may uphold the racial and class inequality in the school; and 
  • realize what it means that their school culture is created by humans for humans.

Culture's physical and psychological boundaries establish a physical and psychological space that enable school members to carry out their school's culturally patterned activities. This is good if school members are focusing on lessons, practices, and assessments that enhance all the students' social status, economic power, and overall well-being. However, these physical and cultural boundaries can be destructive if a school's culture fosters dysfunctional practices, and the school's cultural barriers prevent outside help from getting in to save our victimized children.

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15Our Developers Definition of SCHOOL CULTURE

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A SCHOOL CULTURE is a CONFIGURATION of LEARNED BEHAVIORS and RESULTS OF BEHAVIOR whose component elements are SHARED and TRANSMITTED by the members of a school community.

The definition above[1] describes a school community’s culture in one sentence, making it much easier to understand. Schools that utilize this definition will, over time, make it possible for their members to conceptualize, both physically and psychologically, their school communities at both a conscious and an unconscious level. This gives each member an increased capacity to see, as the saying goes, both the forest and the individual trees. The result is an increased ability of the entire school community to work more effectively togetherTo enhance the definition’s viability and avoid confusion, each of the seven underlined terms and phrases are defined below. To learn more, visit the following links:

SCHOOL'S CULTURE is the total way of life in a school community. It is a compilation and interaction of all the school communities' conscious and unconscious cultural patterns. Since there are no uncultured communities, social subsystems, institutions, or humans, all schools cannot exist without having a culture. The school's members are both socialized by it as they add new cultural patterns to their school culture. Both the environment the school is in and the tools the schools uses also stimulates the addition and the elimination of cultural patterns to the school's overall cultural configuration. 

No two cultures are identical. Each culture, whether it makes up a society or a school, has a UNIQUE CONFIGURATION (Ralph Linton) or grouping of cultural patterns (e.g., behaviors, thoughts, feelings, etc.) that constitute an organized whole. This is why no two schools, workplaces, or sports teams are the same. Even two schools that serve people from the same socioeconomic class, race, and religion will be as unique as a fingerprint.

The learning process plays the dominant role in modifying and shaping all cultural patterns, so culture is essentially a product of LEARNED BEHAVIOR (Ralph Linton). 

The way others behave towards us, especially if the behavior triggers strong emotions, is long lasting, or happens consistently during formative childhood years causes a type of learning Ralph Linton calls the RESULTS OF BEHAVIOR (Ralph Linton)This learning is deeply internalized within us and becomes our value and attitude structure. It formulates the unconscious premise upon which much of our reasoning and decision-making are based. 

And lastly, for a culture to exist, more than one person must SHARE the behavioral pattern, attitude, or knowledge, and people must be able to TRANSMIT these culture patterns to others (Ralph Linton).

For educators, learned behavior is a familiar topic. However, the RESULTS OF BEHAVIOR, an important but lesser known aspect of learned behavior, is not as familiar to educators.  It describes a person or group's psychological and cognitive state that is the result of the nurturing or destructive treatment received from the institutions and the people who are these institution's conscious and unconscious agents

The RESULTS OF BEHAVIOR also includes the effect on people's psychs brought on by the quality of the human-made objects and structures in their lives. Personal experience tells us that contact or lack of contact with human-made objects and technologies/tools have a considerable effect on a person's personality (Ralph Linton)So, the quality of or lack of a school plant, its teaching materials, and its facilities will effect a student's emerging personality and academic development. This helps explain why communities that have high quality school plants, equipment, and instruction materials tend to have students that perform better academically.

The learning that comes from the results of behavior is often so deep  and resistant to change that it is repeatedly mistaken for hereditary differences among individuals and groups. This is true whether the learning from the results of behavior is positive and enhances the student's self-esteem or destructive and undermines the student's self-esteem. The results of behavior, when destructively or oppressively applied, are an ongoing challenge for our schools, especially when a school is consciously or unconsciously upholding these practices. If our schools do not address these patterns, they will undermine our nation's long-term efforts to succeed in the global marketplace. 

Other definitions of school culture are too vaguely defined or are usually far too narrower. For example, the Massachusetts Model System For Educator Evaluation's definition of school culture focuses on the professional growth of school staff. This is not unusual; states, school districts, and schools often restrict the concept of school culture to teaching manners, ethics, promoting tolerance, dampening down school conflicts, and other school issues. If a school culture's definition is based on cultural anthropology, these activities would not be considered a culture; they would be seen as just one of the cultural patterns that make up a school's culture. Our definition's connection to cultural anthropology gives it a perspective that is broad enough to include any K-12 school. Our developers' definition of school culture encompasses: 

  • all the school members and the way they formally and informally group themselves;
  • the shared thoughts and feelings of its school members and the ways they are structured, triggered, reinforced, or suppressed;
  • the school member's relationships, both formal and informal, that are both inside and the school and outside of the school if they influence the school's culture;
  • functional and dysfunctional practices, and the methods and ideologies used to explain and justify these practices;
  • the school's plans, strategies, curricula, equipment, rules and requirements, governance, and hierarchical and/or egalitarian organizational structures; and
  • the efficacy of the school building's physical structure and the academic, curricula, and other school technology that are both material and psychological.

School members who use the Partnership For Whole School Change's (PWSC) definition gain the capacity to conceptualize their school as a whole while working on all its many parts. By maintaining this overview, our definition of school culture gives educators a conceptual framework that is clearer, more accurate, and science-based when appreciating or changing their school's culture.


[1] The original version of this definition was authored by Ralph Linton, a noted cultural anthropologist to define culture in his book titled: The Cultural Back-ground of Personality. The PWSC's founder, J. Curtis Jones, reworked Linton's definition to give school communities a conceptual framework for changing school culture that has a scientific bases.

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16.  To revolutionize teaching and learning, school cultures need to be transformed into intentional school cultures.

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Culture is the key to school change, because it determines how the many forms of motivation (peer pressure, values, attitudes, the need for positive responses from others, etc.) are organized and experienced in a school.  But culture can be functional or dysfunctional.  For instance, it determines if school members will or will not be motivated to look within themselves and their school and work for productive and sustainable school change.  It determines if teaching and learning goals will or will not be realized, or if authentic and caring relationships will or will not be the norm.

If school communities are to have the capacity to pursue transformational goals and discover and remove their dysfunctional cultural patterns, they must have school cultures that are intentional.  Without intentional school cultures, school members' will lack the conscious intent to make the cutting edge changes in teaching and learning our students need.  They will lack the intent required to work effectively with new students, parents, and staff members who are constantly entering their school with differing abilities and cultural patterns. They will not display the sound assessment, planning, and decision-making abilities a school community needs to face and benefit from global change. Without an intentional school culture, the school will repeatedly demonstrate its inability to take action that affirms change or makes it possible. In today's global marketplace, intentional school cultures are required for our nation and our students' survival.

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17. There needs to be resources and attention given to creating a school framework that helps the school community develop valid and reliable evaluations that can assess the school transformation process.

The PWSC works with school partners to obtain resources to implement an evaluation strategy. The strategy is overseen by the Evaluation Team that is made up of school staff, PWSC's School Change Coach, and parents, and it is overseen by an independent evaluator(s). The Evaluation Team is guided by an evaluation contract that is signed by all the school's major players (school staff, parents, PWSC's School Change Coach, independent evaluator, etc). To assess the school's transformation process, three types of evaluation instruments are required. The Evaluation Team provides these three assessment tools by:

  • working with the school’s Research and Survey Team to develop and conduct a context evaluation to better understand the situation within which the transformation process is happening (e.g., the characteristics of the school community, the school system, state educational agencies, the political atmosphere, the needs and the assets available, etc.);
  • working with the school’s Implementation Team to conduct an implementation evaluation to know how the transformation process was implemented and answer what happened and why. We learn whether or not the school change coach, artist/-educators, teachers, or school administration implemented the transformational tools and activities. If they implemented them, were they implemented effectively and compassionately. We also want to assess the quality of the school's implementation; and
  • developing and implementing an outcome evaluation to give the school community data on the short and long-term results of the school transformation process. The instruments need to reveal and measure the changes in the school's members and in teaching, learning, and academic and social skills achievement caused by the school transformation process.
    The instruments in the PWSC's evaluation strategy embraces Cognitive Affective Coupling. It gives equal attention to both the students' cognitive and emotional development. This means that the evaluation instruments are designed to give equal attention to assessing the students' cognitive and emotional learning.
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