Review of School Culture Recharged: Strategies to Energize Your Staff and Culture, by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker

October 3rd 2017 @ 10:15 AM
Categories: Book Reviews


Review of School Culture Recharged: Strategies to Energize Your Staff and Culture, by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, 2017.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), paper.

The authors propose a variety of methods and ideas for helping to positively impact and carefully change the culture of the school.  They provide a lot of definitions from the traditional school culture and climate perspective.  They hope to help make life easier for administrators. 

The main problem with the book is that the authors talk about teachers and other people in terms of their “categories” of personality and work, instead of the types of behavior persons engage in.  As examples, they give advice about people who are “real crazies” (p. 38), “best teachers” (p. 44), “weak teachers” (p. 79), “positive persons” (p. 107), and “negative people” (p. 126).  Summarizing people that way is a shorthand method of explaining or describing them, based on their actions—which may be consistent and constant—or may not be.  Examples are: “Mrs. Smith is a complainer,” “Dr. Chan is resistant to change,” and “Mr. Moreno is a techie.”

While some shortcuts in talking about people are handy, they are never professional.  Talking about colleagues as “weak teachers” is a huge oversimplification and may be terribly off-base, such as when “the rest of the story is not known…”

As an example, I had a colleague who was excellent at teaching beginning world language courses, always patient and engaging, funny, encouraging, and able to get even some of the students having the most difficulty to embrace the work.  She got many, many students in her classes to at least minor--if not major--in French.  She even developed some French teachers out of her sections.  However, she had difficulty teaching the courses of introductory French fiction that she was constantly assigned to teach.  While some of her colleagues loved teaching those courses, she dreaded it.  She insisted she was terrible at it, did not enjoy it, and hoped she could find a way out of it.  Having to teach those courses influenced the rest of her day, and relations with all students and colleagues were often complicated by those classes.

This is a complex situation.  To call her a “weak teacher” or some other name really accomplishes nothing.  There are many other things going on in this scenario—and some leaders and administrators who were ignoring the situation.  Why the problem was never “fixed,” I don’t know.  In short, lumping people into categories is foolish and shows a lack of attention to the realities and complexities of the educational process, the school, the schools, and the faculty.

I cannot recommend this particular book from ASCD—though they have dozens of excellent ones—because of the unfortunate use of all of these shorthand terms for personalities and work styles.  I was actually surprised to see this in a brand new book.  The authors have written *another book on school culture.  They seem to be very observant.  Their anecdotes are ones like we have all seen in schools.  They mean well and hope to provide good advice to leaders to improve school culture.    

However, the connections between their perspective and current thought in psychology and instruction are unclear.  Further, the use of these shorthand terms perpetuates old-fashioned and provincial ideas about schools and their cultures and climates.  What’s worse is that the use of the shorthand terms perpetuates narrow views on the people within the school. 

 

*School Culture Rewired: How To Define, Assess, and Transform It, by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, 2015.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD, paper.

 

Thomas Hansen, Ph.D., is an Independent Consultant with a variety of roles in Advocacy, Education, and Social Justice.  He is involved in Grant Writing, teaching others to Write Grants, and serving as a Grant Reviewer in federal programs.  He has written well over 100 articles, book reviews, and essays.  He often teaches as an adjunct in nearby colleges and universities.