Is Your School The Little Shop Of Horrors?

The culture of an organisation is all the beliefs, feelings, behaviours, and symbols that are characteristic of an organisation.

More specifically, organisational culture is defined as shared philosophies, ideologies, beliefs, feelings, assumptions, expectations, attitudes, norms, and values. An organisational culture is
usually made up of sub-cultures and even of counter-cultures that confront each other in order to define a reality.

A strong organisational culture including a sharing of values and goals, dynamism, commitment and participation, contributes to the achievement of students.

Carl Steinhoff and Robert Owens (1989) developed four distinctive culture phenotypes that characterise the cultures which may exist in organisations. These were developed after they studied the culture of schools using survey methodology.

Steinhoff and Owens identified 6 interlocking dimensions the defined the culture of the school as follows:

i) the history of the school

ii) the values and beliefs

iii) myths and stories that explain the school

iv) cultural norms

v) traditions, rituals and ceremonies characteristic of the school

vi) the heroes and heroines of the school

From this, they developed the Organisational Culture Assessment Inventory (OCAI) and the 4 culture phenotypes:

1. Family Culture

A school with a family culture is friendly, cooperative and protective. This school can be described using metaphors such as family, home, or team. The Head in this school can be described as a parent), nurturer, friend, sibling, or coach. Staff members are alternatively submissive and rebellious.

In this type of school, “concern for each other is important as well as having a commitment to students above and beyond the call of duty.” Everyone should be willing to be a part of the family and pull their own weight. The most important element is high regard and concern for each other, and total staff commitment to students and their culture is common.

2. Machine Culture

This school can be described using the metaphor of the machine. Metaphors for the school include well-oiled machines, political machines, beehives of activity, or rusty machines. Their focus is on protection and not warmth. The Head is a workaholic.

The school as machine then is viewed purely in instrumental terms. The driving force appears to come from the structure of the organisation itself, and educators are described in terms of their varying ability to provide maintenance inputs and accomplish goals.

3. Cabaret Culture

This is a dog and pony show. Metaphors such as a circus, a Broadway show, a banquet, or a well-choreographed ballet performed by well-appreciated artists describe this ‘all show and no go’ school. Efforts are focused on getting reactions from the audience rather than on developing authentic relationships between colleagues.

The Head is seen as a master of ceremonies, a tightrope walker, and a ring master. Teachers in these schools experience many of the same group-binding social activities as do their colleagues in the family culture school. There is great pride in the artistic and intellectual quality of one’s teaching, which is carried out under the watchful eye of the maestro. At the cabaret the show must go on!

4. The Little Shop of Horrors Culture

This snake-pit school can be described as an unpredictable, poisonous, tension-filled nightmare having the characteristics of a war zone or revolution. Teachers report their schools as closed boxes or prisons. The Head is a self-cleansing statue ready to offer up a sacrifice if it will maintain his/her position.

Staff in this school are seen as individuals whose main function is to keep things smoothed over. Others have a Napoleon complex that promotes dominance and control or Jekyll-Hyde personalities that promote a walking-on-eggs style of adaptive behaviour. Teachers in this school lead isolated lives and are often alone; there is little social activity. They are expected to conform and to smile when appropriate. Verbal abuse among staff is common. This culture is cold, hostile, paranoid and unforgiving.

Almost every teacher can identify their school in one of these descriptors to some degree – which culture do you work in?

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