5 Reasons Culture Trumps Strategy

The idea that “culture eats strategy for lunch”, is a quote most often attributed to Peter Drucker and has spurred plenty of conversation about the importance of culture in any organization. Within the educational context, it’s quite simple. A commitment to a culture of continuous improvement determines the success of student learning.

Schools that embrace this commitment have the following attributes:

1. Everyone shares collective responsibility for the success of all students served by the school, particularly the newest teachers.

2. Leaders are models and advocates for learning. They show the learning community their commitment to life long learning every day.

3. Data drives improvement and decision making at every level.

4. Professional learning is grounded in evidence; aligned to individual, team, and system goals; driven by protocols, and personalized.

5. Educators have immediate access to classroom-based support virtually and on site at all times.


Creating a healthy school culture is a vital part of the work that educators must do if students are going to achieve at high levels. Teachers matter, and what they DO matters most.

How has the importance of school culture played out in your world?

School Culture: It Matters!

In today’s world of constant accountability and transparency, a measure of school success might equate to AYP status, test scores, student attendance/behavior reports, and graduation rate. These numbers are only a small part of the entire picture. A school is so much more than a number.

The culture that happens in a school is a very powerful structure. One definition of school culture submitted by Phillips (1993) states that it is the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors which characterize a school. Culture influences everything that happens within a school!

When adults in the school community are preoccupied with adult issues, student learning will always suffer. Without a culture that supports and recognizes the importance of learning goals, change and continuous improvement will not happen. On the flip-side, healthy and sound school cultures correlate dramatically with increased student achievement, motivation AND teacher productivity and satisfaction.

One of my PLN partners currently works in a culturally toxic high school. Frustrated faculty come to staff meetings ready to attack any new ideas, criticize those teachers that are making a difference with students and make fun of any staff that are willing to volunteer to attend a conference or workshop. Negative staff have effectively “frozen” this school in time, impairing any attempts at collegial improvement.

Other symptoms of a negative of toxic culture include:

  • lacking a clear sense of purpose.
  • blaming students for a lack of progress.
  • discouraging collaboration.
  • active hostile relations among staff.
  • celebrate successes.
  • emphasize accomplishment, collaboration and continuous improvement.
  • foster a commitment to staff and student learning.
  • cultivate a sense of personal responsibility for student learning and success.
  • prioritize professional development.
  • create time for staff reflection and sharing of professional practice.
Which of the above describes your school culture?