In preparation for our upcoming conversation with school change expert Anthony Muhammad about the actions that school leaders can take to overcome staff division, I’ve taken some time to review his new book Transforming School Culture, which you can download in its entirety here after logging in to Solution Tree’s website. (free registration required)
Here are my thoughts:
One of the lessons that I think I’ve learned the hard way is that I’m just plain horrible with people. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t figure ’em out!
And it’s ain’t for lack of trying, that’s for sure! I mean, I’ve read nearly everything written in the last few years about relationships.
I’ve been Covey-ed—-questing to understand the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—and Grenny-ed in order to master Crucial Conversations and Confrontations. I’ve had my Cheese Moved, embraced my Five Dysfunctions, and studied the Making of the Camel all in a futile attempt to move from Good to Great.
Unfortunately for me, being good with people in this profession is a game changer, isn’t it?
Those who learn to understand the inner workings of the teacher’s mind are far more likely to lead successful schools than muddling misfits like me who face seemingly insurmountable conflicts at every turn.
Which is why I’m completely jazzed to have had the opportunity to learn from Anthony Muhammad—a nationally recognized middle and high school principal who uses his new book Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division to introduce readers to the kinds of teachers practicing on every hallway in America.
According to Muhammad, every building has four different types of teachers working in concert—or conflict—with one another. They are:
The Believers: “Believers are educators who believe in the core values that make up a healthy school culture. They believe that all of their students are capable of learning and that [educators] have a direct impact on student success.”
The Tweeners: “Tweeners are educators who are new to the school culture. Their experience can be likened to a ‘honeymoon period’ in which they spend time trying to learn the norms and expectations of the school’s culture.”
The Survivors: “[Survivors] are the small group of teachers who are ‘burned out’—so overwhelmed by the demands of the profession that they suffer from depression and merely survive from day to day.”
The Fundamentalists: “Fundamentalists are staff members who are not only opposed to change, but organize to resist and thwart any change initiative. They can wield tremendous political power and are a major obstacle in implementing meaningful school reform.”
(Muhammad, p. 29)
Muhammad goes on in Transforming Schools to introduce each teacher type in greater detail.
Readers learn that Believers are passionate and progressive, but oddly passive when it comes to challenging colleagues to improve. While they are essential to the successful implementation of any change effort, Believers (including apparently accomplished fellas like me) need structured opportunities to learn the skills of agency and influence.
Tweeners are caught in the middle of philosophical battles fought between Believers and Fundamentalists—at once inspired by the new ideas but susceptible to cynicism. As Anthony writes, transforming school cultures is simply impossible in buildings where Tweeners aren’t carefully nurtured:
The future of our schools is in jeopardy if we cannot create a system that protects and grooms our Tweeners into the type of educators who will achieve longevity in the field and adopt the types of philosophies and practices that increase student learning.”(Muhammad, p. 53)
Finally, Muhammad argues that Fundamentalists are the most complex group in any building because they resist change for a range of reasons. Some simply need more information before buying in to decisions while others suffer from an underlying lack of trust in leadership. Many suffer a crippling sense of emotional insult developed in response to our nation’s new insistence on “accountability for results.”
Regardless of reason, Fundamentalists pose the largest barrier to change for any school. As Anthony explains:
“[Fundamentalists] are the vanguards of tradition and the protectors of the status quo. They are relentless in their attempts to discourage change and protect a system that has allowed them to function and thrive, and they organize to protect this traditional way of practice…They view change itself as an enemy; therefore, anyone who challenges the system is a threat to the system and a threat to the Fundamentalists.”(Muhammad, p. 61)
Successfully transforming schools, then, depends on leaders who understand the mix of educators working within their buildings and then providing the kinds of supports necessary for moving each group forward in harmony.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it.
Of course it’s not. Change in any human organization is a complex process that can take years to successfully orchestrate.
But change starts with awareness of current realities—-and Muhammad’s book provides a much needed language for understanding the range of practitioners working in our classrooms.
As such, it is a valuable read for anyone struggling to transform the culture of their schools and communities.
Remember, you can access a full copy of Transforming School Culture here and then interact with Anthony from May 13-16th in a Voicethread presentation found here on the Radical. Spread the word. This is another conversation that is too important for anyone interested in the success of schools to overlook.
Muhammad, A (2009). Transforming school culture: How to overcome staff division. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.