Culture is critical;The director's chair;Management amp; Finance;Update

12th November 1999 at 00:00
Everything these days needs to be measured. Whether it is the amount of time spent in literacy or numeracy hours or the GCSE scores, there is a number to go with it. No doubt, this is important as it provides sharpness and a focus on what has been done and how effective it is.

Yet, talk to anyone in a school and they will tell you that the culture of the place is critical. But what is this thing you cannot touch, feel or measure.

The best definition of culture in an organisation is "the way we do things around here". It is probably inaccurate to talk about one culture in an organisation. It has more to do with "mini-cultures", thousands of little dramas played out each day that tell you how things are done around here.

But this is no airy-fairy concept. Building the right sort of a culture in a school is one of the key tasks of leadership. Of course, it should not be the exclusive preserve of the headteacher. Rather, all those in a position of influence have a key role in promoting a positive culture. That only means that every adult has a role to play.

The headteacher is critical in creating a positive culture. Much has been made of the need to create a high performance culture or a "Don't dare fail" culture. Yes, this is necessary. But why is it that some schools achieve high standards in both pupil and teacher performance and others do not? Well, perhaps some of the people-focused work in developing the culture is missing.

Here are some of the questions to address if people are to say with pride, "This is the way we do things around here" * Do all of your actions as headteacher support your rhetoric? So, for example, if you have an aspiration that the school will provide regular feedback to pupils, do you do likewise for teachers?

* Are you always mindful of the basic courtesies that make people feel valued and treated properly? So, are you around in the morning to say "Good morning" to staff and pupils or is it always straight to business with no time for anything else?

* Do you have presence in the school? Or, are you the headteacher that leads the school by memorandum, never getting out of your seat to walk and talk and meet the staff and children ?

* Do you go the person in the school who has the solution or do you always go through the management chain of command? If the youngest teacher in the school has the answer, go and get it from them yourself. You will make the most amazing impact and will have another person who will influence the way you do things around here.

* Do you always show appreciation of your colleagues' work? Writing a little note to someone to say "Thank you" may take all of one minute of your time but has a disproportionate impact.

* Does your school have a sense of purpose and some key values that can easily and frequently be communicated? Repeating these will allow them to seep into the bloodstream of the school.

* Do you stick with it? Every school in Christendom has experienced yet another bright idea of the head, starting with a bang and ending with a fizzle. There is no rocket science in managing an organisation. Do a few things continuously and well and it won't be long before everyone knows how things are done around here.

The more you do all of these little things as a headteacher, the more likely everyone else in the school is to do them. In a very real sense, you will lead by example and if everyone in the school does something, well it will be obvious that this is the way we do things around here.

* David Bell is director of education and libraries with Newcastle City Council.

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