We often hear education reformers and advocates talk about building “intentional school culture.” But I had yet to come across a book that directly addresses HOW to build and maintain school culture until I picked up Anthony Muhammad’s Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division (2018 2nd edition). Every school leader has encountered staff division. This is the guidebook you need.
Muhammad introduces four types of staff members: the believers, the tweeners, the survivors, and the fundamentalists. As you can probably guess, those four fall on a spectrum of willing to embrace change (believers) to completely opposed (fundamentalists). Muhammad presents the rationale behind each group and suggests tactics for dealing with these interest groups.
Believers have high levels of intrinsic motivation, personal connections to the school and community, high levels of flexibility with students, application of positive student pressure, willingness to contront opposing viewpoints, and varied levels of pedagogical skills (44). Muhammad has an understandably positive view: “Believers display the qualities and value the paradigms that untie staff members and make a positive school culture” (55). These educators need to be on your team!
Tweeners are struggling with their craft. Usually in their first years (years 2-4), they are positive on the outside but struggling to put master the demands of teaching. Attrition is a risk and Muhammad points to PLCs as a solution to the problems of this group.
Survivors are veteran teachers usually in high-needs schools. They are unprepared and have not received the training and support to be successful. Under stress, this group of teachers is resistant to changes that involve more work.
“A Fundamentalist is an experienced educator who believes that there is one pure and undisputable way to practice: the traditional model of schooling” (77). These educators are not only opposed to change, they often use what Muhammad calls the “Three Ds”: defamation, disruption, and distraction. I’ve been there! This is a difficult group to work with and Muhammad offers a method for confronting this group:
- Clearly state the reason for change
- Connection the change proposal to the school’s foundational purpose
- Support the proposal with anecdotal and empirical evidence
Ultimately, the book is a guidebook for bringing about change within a building. It’s not designed to help you identify the areas of change or even suggests the solutions to your problems. Instead, it’s a method for implementing what you’ve already identified as essential to your school culture.