© STEFANIE FELIX
Principals who develop collaborative cultures shift from
being the person who sets the goals to being the person who
sets up the conditions that allow others to establish goals.
one another’s journey toward better
instruction. Principals who need to raise
achievement are driving with the brakes
on unless they build cultural norms
that support faculty working together.
Collaborative cultures take the
brakes off and accelerate a faculty’s
capacity to improve instruction. As
Figure 1 suggests, when teachers have
many opportunities to collaborate,
their energy, creative thinking, efficiency, and goodwill increase—and the
cynicism and defensiveness that
hamper change decrease.
Principals can foster a school environment that leads to collaboration
and teacher leadership by sharing
responsibility with teachers as often as
possible and by helping them develop
skills that foster collaborative problem
solving. As we’ve seen in our own practice and our years mentoring principals,
collaborative cultures are guided by two
overarching beliefs: transparency
(meaning as little as possible is done
behind closed doors) and shared decision making.
Information is the lifeblood of any
organization. Principals building a
culture that supports school reform
should pay attention to the ways official
and unofficial information circulate
through their schools. Official information includes published policies, schedules, and so on. Unofficial information
includes rumors and the ways teachers
relate to one another and translate official policy into classroom practice.
In collaborative cultures, official and
unofficial information are similar and
reinforce each other. In top-down
cultures, they are dissimilar and at odds
with each other.
the Scale at Elmwood
During the 1990s, the faculty of
Elmwood Elementary School1 worked
with the principal and assistant superintendent to develop a literacy program
that reflected its deepest beliefs about
the ways young students learn to read
and write. The goal was to help all
students in the school’s diverse population develop sophisticated literacy skills
and learn to love reading and writing.
Elmwood’s test scores rose, and the
accomplishment was celebrated in the
When the principal and assistant
superintendent left, the district adopted
a new literacy curriculum. Although
there were fundamental differences,