Culture will exist whether it is created intentionally or not. That’s just the way of it with people. If enough of us gather in any one place often enough we’ll begin to establish group behavioral norms. These norms will communicate what and who we value, both implicitly and explicitly.

Culture may be created through a deliberate exercise of power. When done intentionally, the individual or group who aim to shape the culture of a place use diplomacy, force, or a combination of the two to accomplish their goals.

Diplomacy works when the collaborating individuals or groups share common goals. These goals may hinge upon group survival, economic growth, religious freedom, or a shared desire for positive educational outcomes. Diplomacy is nearly always the preferred means of creating culture since all individuals involved have a vested interest in creating an environment where positive outcomes are possible for all.  Diplomacy also ensures that all perspectives have an opportunity to, at the very least, be considered.

Force is used to create a culture when one group, usually composed of outsiders, enters into a space they deem desirable for some reason, and they view the existing culture as inferior. Force is then used to impose the culture of the outsiders on to the culture of native people. In order for this strategy to work, the culture of native people must be destroyed and replaced with the culture of the outsiders. European settlers in North America did this time and again to the people of the First Nations on the North American continent. If the native culture is not destroyed, it will push back against the culture of the outsider and create chaos in the spaces that both cultures attempt to occupy.

A combination of diplomacy and force may be used when, after initially agreeing on collective goals, outcomes, and values, a subset of a larger collective decides that the direction of the collective no longer suits the needs of everyone involved. The more powerful of the groups must then be willing to use both force and diplomacy to retain the strength of the collective and to maintain cultural dominance. The weaker of the groups must also be willing to engage in diplomacy or else diplomacy will be completely abandoned as a strategy while the larger collective defaults to a use of force.

I am reflecting on culture in this way because educators rarely live in the communities they (we) serve, particularly if they (we) work in inner city or urban schools. We are often the outsiders. We come to a place that isn’t necessarily ours, no matter our personal background, and we bring our own ideas about culture with us. We decide what is good, proper, and worth preserving. We decide who matters and who does not with our rituals, routines, rules, dress codes. discipline policies, curriculum, media collection policies, school teams, clubs, assemblies, guest speakers, bulletin boards, social media posts, and a whole host of other intentional and unintentional acts of sharing and codifying. And I have to ask myself, are we being diplomatic, forceful, or a combination of the two when we exercise our power to create or shape school culture? Do we bother to act on the information that our parents and students bring to us about what is truly important or do we adopt an imperialist “I know better than you” attitude toward creating and shaping culture? Do we actively seek that information out from our parents and students? Hell, do we really even listen to our teachers?

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I have to admit that I/We (school leaders) often do not. We decide what matters because deciding is easier than taking the time to listen or to actively seek out information that may run counter to what we already believe. Doing that might force us to confront our privilege as well educated middle class folks, many of whom make their salaries (no matter how meager ) off the backs of poor families.

I’m not sure where to go from here with this piece. But in terms of the work, I think that listening and actively seeking out perspectives other than my own…and acting on that information is a start.

As always, thank you for reading…Until next time.


Shaping School Culture

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