Exploring school culture

by Jane Turner and Carolyn Crang


In this paper Jane Turner and Carolyn Crang (1996) describe an interactive seminar that was held for education professionals and parents on the topic of school culture. The seminar was hosted by the Center for Leadership and Learning at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Although the references are Canadian there is much in the article that is likely to be of interest to New Zealand school leaders. Of particular interest is the responses of the parents who were involved.

The purpose of the seminar was to examine the meaning of school culture as a concept, to explore different views on school culture and for participants to discuss their own beliefs about school culture. As part of the day, students and parents made presentations on the topic. The presentations were discussed by everyone using these questions as a guide:

  •  What are some of the prominent values and beliefs evident in the parent and student presentations regarding school culture?
  •  How do these values and beliefs compare with your ideas and beliefs regarding school culture?
  •  How do the values and beliefs presented compare with your school culture?
  •  How is culture displayed in schools?
  •  What are the important elements of building school culture?

The paper presents the ideas which emerged from the discussion, focusing particularly on the contributions of parents. The themes which emerged from the discussions cover:

  •  How culture is “displayed” in different kinds of schools: large, small, urban, rural.
  •  Cultures which are enabling and cultures which are constraining.
  •  School symbols and how these are manifestations of a school’s culture.
  •  How a school’s “attitude” and rules reflect its organisational culture.
  •  How a school’s culture is built and how it can be changed.
  •  The crucial role of the principal in shaping the culture of the school.

Reflective Questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • In this reading one parent presents a “top ten list” of characteristics which she felt displayed school culture. What would your “school culture top ten” be, and why?
  • What strategies do you use to consult students about how they see their school’s culture? How could this data be used to enhance your school’s culture?
  • What links to school do you offer your community? How do they access help? What personnel do they approach if they have a concern? Are parents aware of your school’s policies and procedures?
  • How is success celebrated within your school? How does this nurture/support your school’s culture?
  • How do you increase the level of parent participation in your school?
  • What processes are used to assess teacher/student relationships? If concerns are raised, what procedures are in place to support change?
  • Email a colleague or post on Think.com key elements that have led to a change in your school’s culture.


Turner, J. & Crang, C. (1996). Exploring school culture. Paper submitted to the Centre for Leadership in Learning, University of Calgary.

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