In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section School Culture

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Texts
  • Journal Articles
  • Guides and Assessments
  • National Reports
  • Professional Learning Communities

Education School Culture
Patrick J. Schuermann, James W. Guthrie, Colleen Hoy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0034


Similar to change efforts in other sectors, organizational growth in education does not occur in an isolated environment. Rather, it occurs within institutions that have norms and values, assumptions and expectations. While often used interchangeably, several authors distinguish the constructs of “school climate” and “school culture” on the basis of organizational climate being the descriptive beliefs and perceptions individuals hold of the organization and culture being the shared values, beliefs, and expectations that develop from social interactions within the organization. School culture is “the way we do things around here”—those tangible and intangible norms and values shared by members of a school that help shape the behaviors of teachers and school leaders. This article provides a compilation of the major works that form the literature base on the topic of school culture, with an emphasis on works that discuss ways in which school leaders and teachers can utilize school culture in the service of achieving key educational goals.

General Overviews

School culture involves many stakeholders—policymakers, principals, teachers, students, and parents—and their behaviors impact the motivations, behaviors, and achievement of students. The history, definition, surrounding debates, measurement, importance, and applications of school culture are provided below in Anderson 1982 and Stolp and Smith 1995, both widely regarded reviews. Building on these overviews, Eller and Eller 2009 provides for the user both theoretical frameworks and practical activities that inform reform strategies. As schools and teachers are forced to meet increasingly specific standards, school culture scholars espouse the importance of retaining the value and wonder of education when planning and implementing reforms (Deal and Peterson 2009). The ability to foster positive culture while adhering to standards imposed from above requires strong assessment tools that allow leaders to ensure that norms and positive environments are maintained. Deal and Peterson 1999 argues that reforms without these values are unlikely to succeed. Maslowski 2006 reviews an array of inventories and questionnaires used to evaluate school culture and its reforms that will be highly useful for policymakers and school leadership. All of these frameworks and assessment tools inform school leaders in hopes that a strong school culture will improve student achievement levels, which DiMaggio 1982 argues are significantly related in a case study of cultural capital. These authors and resources offer a sampling of the most widely regarded studies of school culture available to the user. Finally, for an international perspective on measuring organizational health, Freiberg 1999 provides a wealth of assessment tools and implementation guides.

  • Anderson, Carolyn S. 1982. The search for school climate: A review of the research. Review of Educational Research 52.3 (Fall): 368–420.

    DOI: 10.3102/00346543052003368

    A vital and thorough review of research on school culture that will be a useful guide for the user. This piece reviews research concerning the history, definitions, debates, and measurement of school culture. The author provides widely accepted conclusions on the topic as well as suggestions and methodologies for providers.

  • Deal, Terrence E., and Kent D. Peterson. 1999. Shaping school culture: The heart of leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

    Reforms that do not take a school’s unique culture into account are unlikely to succeed. The authors identify the main attributes of culture as the purposes, traditions, norms, and values within the community. The book uses real-life examples to provide a roadmap for leaders and identify strategies for leaders to use a school’s unique culture to successfully implement change.

  • Deal, Terrence E., and Kent D. Peterson. 2009. Shaping school culture: Pitfalls, paradoxes, and promises. 2d ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Educational leaders face the paradox of standards-based reforms and the need to preserve the cultural roots of education. These expert authors use this paradox to discuss the influence of culture on school functions. The authors encourage teachers and school leaders to reengage the “magic and myth” of education while reshaping school culture.

  • DiMaggio, Paul. 1982. Cultural capital and school success: The impact of status culture participation on the grades of U.S. high school students. American Sociological Review 47.2 (April): 189–201.

    DOI: 10.2307/2094962

    A major contribution to the study of school culture, in this study the author investigates the impact of cultural capital, as a component of school culture participation, on high school grades. The author uses Pierre Bourdieu’s definition of cultural capital and status and develops a useful cultural mobility model.

  • Eller, John, and Sheila Eller. 2009. Creative strategies to transform school culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

    This comprehensive overview of school culture provides theory, strategies, and practical activities for school leaders to improve culture and teamwork among staff. The authors focus on creating and sustaining strong interpersonal relationships within the organization and address conflict and strategies for reconciliation. This is a valuable resource for leaders implementing change to cultivate staff development and team building.

  • Freiberg, H. Jerome, ed. 1999. School climate: Measuring, improving, and sustaining healthy learning environments. London: Falmer.

    This exemplary work on the measurement of school climate provides the user with myriad assessment tools and implementation guides. Eighteen instruments to measure climate are presented by an international group of authors who analyze culture from multiple perspectives (e.g., student, teacher, principal, community). The authors offer a roadmap for assessing organizational health.

  • Maslowski, R. 2006. A review of inventories for diagnosing school culture. Journal of Educational Administration 44.1: 6–35.

    DOI: 10.1108/09578230610642638

    In this study, a first of its kind, the author offers a critical review of available school culture inventories and questionnaires. The author finds that questionnaires can be valuable tools to assess school culture and that inventories primarily address specific cultural traits. This review is an important tool for researchers, policymakers, school boards, principals, and teachers to determine which tool best meets their objectives.

  • Stolp, Stephen Wayne, and Stuart Carl Smith. 1995. Transforming school culture: Stories, symbols, values & the leader’s role. Eugene: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, University of Oregon.

    The authors offer a definitive discussion of school culture: its definition, importance, and application. They define culture as a dynamic process with significant implications on teacher and student performance. The piece offers measurement instruments, processes for improvement, and strategies for principal and staff development.

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