School Culture

Descriptive Statistics

Teaching is a relationship between students and teachers, but because it takes place in the context of school organization, external forces shape what happens in the classroom.  In the questionnaire, the teachers were asked to characterize a number of features about this larger context—for example, the role teachers play in defining staff development activities, how salient schoolwide goals are, how much sharing of student work occurs, and whether the normative climate encourages peer-to-peer mentoring.  Each of these features is part of the teacher's perception of their work culture. But by combining features and aggregating across teachers who teach at the same school, consensus among survey respondents and the factorial commonality of the items raise this variable to the level of "culture," operationally defining the difference between bureaucratic and professional work cultures.

Teacher Descriptions of Their School Culture.  Overall, our survey found that teachers report their schools to be environments where there is substantial agreement on goals and priorities, where teachers support one another to become more successful at their work, where staff development is organized in a way that respects and includes teacher concerns, and where at least positive aspects of teacher evaluation are present.  Table 12 shows the extent of agreement with eleven survey "agree-disagree" items measuring these aspects of work environment.

An overwhelming majority of teachers report shared schoolwide goals, and the existence of a learning community supporting professional growth and instructional improvement as can be seen in Table 12. For the other two aspects of school culture—the structure of teacher learning opportunities and public evaluation of teachers—the level of agreement was more mixed.

Table 12: Teachers' School Work Environment

 

% Agree

Mean (range: 1 to 6)

Standard Deviation

Shared School Goals

Most teachers here share my beliefs about central school goals

84%

4.5

1.2

Discussion of school goals is a regular part of our faculty meetings

79%

4.3

1.5

My principal's values and philosophy of education are similar to my own

77%

4.3

1.4

 

Learning Community

Teachers in this school are continually learning and seeking new ideas

86%

4.7

1.2

New ideas presented at in-services are discussed by teachers afterwards

76%

4.0

1.3

Other teachers encourage me to try new ideas

75%

4.2

1.4

It is common for us to share samples of student work

75%

4.1

1.4

 

Learning Opportunities

Teachers play an important role in defining staff development activities

66%

4.0

1.5

Staff development is followed by support to help teachers implement ideas

53%

3.5

1.5

Staff development is integrated instead of having a separate topic each time (reverse of item as stated to respondents)

35%

3.1

1.4

 

Teacher Evaluation

Teachers who successfully innovate are given public recognition

60%

3.6

1.5

Most teachers will press another if they feel that person is not teaching well

27%

2.6

1.4

 

 

Although two-thirds of teachers believe that their peers play important roles in defining staff development activities at their school, only about one-half believe that there is follow-up support for teachers to help them implement ideas promoted at those staff development sessions.  Moreover, only one-third of teachers report that the set of staff development activities formed an integrated whole.  Instead, most reported that each activity was discrete and disconnected.  With respect to teacher evaluation, a majority of teachers did report that teachers who successfully introduce a major innovation in their teaching are given public recognition, but only one-fourth report that their school culture is one which includes challenging a peer who was not performing well.  Teachers have traditionally only been responsible for what happens within the walls of their classroom. Teacher evaluation has been largely an administrative function; however with the move to teacher professionalism comes a group responsibility to monitor quality of ones peers.

The Relationship between School Culture and Teaching Practice

Table 12 presented data from individual teachers reporting on their perception of the work culture that exists at their school.  Now, as we relate work culture to teacher pedagogy, we move from individual assessment of that culture to a collective evaluation. As noted earlier, we limit the analysis to teachers at schools with at least four responding teachers, which leaves us with data on 2,893 teachers, 71% of the full responding sample of teachers.

Most of the eleven items measuring aspects of a school work culture were associated to a small degree with a constructivist pedagogy in the expected direction.  That is, to some extent, teachers were more constructivist on average in schools where they and their peers reported a stronger presence of common goals, integrated and teacher-respecting staff development, positive and negative peer evaluation (public recognition of success and constructive criticism), and the presence of a learning community among teachers.

The first column in Table 13 shows the associations with constructivist pedagogy  for each of the school culture variables reported by the group of teachers,  for the four subscales of school culture, and for an overall measure of school culture, and for a scale composed of the five "best" items.  The second column of data provides partial correlation coefficients that control on the teacher's school level (elementary, middle and high).16    Finally, the third column of data shows a more conservative measure of the relationship between pedagogy and work environment.  In this case, the work environment reported by the respondent is controlled for (thus essentially excluded, leaving the measured work environment to be that reported by other responding teachers at the school). The reason for this more conservative measure is that since only a few other teachers contributed to the measure of work environment, the respondents themselves constitute a heavily over-represented source of data for their own environments.  This alternative measure, then, provides an evaluation of the work environment completely independently of the respondent herself.  School level is not controlled for in this column.

 

Table 13
Correlations between Teacher's (Constructivist) Pedagogy
 and School-Level Indicators of Work Environment

 

Correlations with Constructivist Pedagogy

 

Indicators of Teachers'

Work Environment

No Controls

Controlled for school level (Elem, Middle and High)

Controlled for teachers own belief about work environment

Shared School Goals

*Most teachers here share my beliefs about the central goals of the school

.05

.02

.07

Discussion of school goals is a regular part of our faculty meetings

.06

.03

.03

*My principal's values and philosophy of education are similar to my own

.08

.07

.06

Goal Consensus sub-scale

.10

.06

.06

Learning Community

*Teachers in this school are continually learning and seeking new ideas

.06

.04

.05

New ideas presented at in-services are discussed by teachers afterwards

.08

.06

.04

Other teachers encourage me to try out new ideas

.11

.10

.04

It is common for us to share samples of student work

.10

.09

.03

Learning Community sub-scale

.14

.11

.04

Staff Development

Teachers play an important role in defining staff development activities

.03

.01

.00

Staff development  is integrated instead of having a separate topic each time (reverse of item as stated to respondents)

-.03

-.02

-.02

*Staff development is followed by support to help teachers implement ideas

.10

.07

.07

Staff Development sub-scale

.06

.04

.04

Evaluation

Teachers who successfully innovate are given public recognition

.06

.05

.04

*Most teachers will press another if they feel that person is not teaching well

.10

.10

.05

Evaluation sub-scale

.09

.08

.05

       

School Work Culture Index (overall)

.14

.11

.06

5 "strong" items (indicated with *)

.14

.11

.09

Note. Partial correlations at or above .04 are statistically significant at this sample size.

In terms of individual work environment indicators, four items have somewhat stronger correlations with constructivist practice than the others:

  • constructive criticism from peers
  • staff development being followed up with implementation support,
  • teachers sharing samples of student work,
  • teachers encouraging each other to try out new ideas.

When school level (elementary, middle, high school) is applied as a control, the strongest individual indicator becomes "constructive criticism from peers."  When looking solely at the work environment as defined by teachers at the school other than the respondent herself, the strongest two indicators of constructivist teaching are:

  • staff development with follow-up support for implementation
  • teachers sharing common beliefs about school goals and priorities.

All four of the sub-scales had positive associations with constructivist practice, although none of the sub-scales had a correlation coefficient above .14. Because the sub-scales were defined by similarity of content, and not by item reliability or factor analysis measurements, the individual item indicators may be more informative than the sub-scales, even though as single item indicators their correlations may be attenuated greatly by imprecision of measurement. Overall, the School Work Culture index was correlated +.14 with constructivist pedagogy, although this was reduced to .06 when just the views of teachers other than the respondent were taken into account. 

School Culture and Pedagogy subscales-Deep Thinking and Project Learning. Both Deep Thinking and Project-based Activities were about equally strongly associated with School Work Culture and its sub-scales. The overall School Work Culture index was not correlated with changes (increases) in constructivist practice, although one item, staff development follow-up support was associated (r=.10) with that outcome variable.

The size of these correlation coefficients are lower than those reported in the previous section regarding the teacher's own role orientation.  However, it is important to recognize that, in contrast to the previous set of variables, these are based on very limited data—the responses of several other teachers, in addition to the respondent, regarding their work environments.  The small sample of teachers per school, even though it is weighted to reflect their relative probabilities of selection into the sample, are only a rough indicator of the judgments of the complete teaching staff of the surveyed schools.  In addition, work environments within a school might vary among teachers in different parts of the school, for example, in heavily departmentalized structures such as in large high schools.

 Effects of Teacher Role Orientation and School Work Culture
 on Constructivist Practice

In addition to affecting teachers' pedagogy directly, school culture might affect teaching practice by changing teachers' orientation towards teaching—for example, a strongly professional teacher learning community may encourage teachers to see their role in collaborative terms.  Our final analysis examines the relationship between Role Orientation and School Culture and between pedagogy and those two variables in combination. 

Overall, there is a .20 correlation between our index of School Culture and our index of Teacher Role Orientation. In other words, teachers tend to have a more collaborative role orientation when they work in schools where there is consensus, where there is peer-directed teacher learning, and where good-work is recognized and  peer-criticism of poor work is accepted.

Table 14 shows how this correlation translates into percentages when both of those variables are divided into four groups.  Role Orientation is categorized as before, into Collaborative Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Interactive Teachers, and Private Practice Teachers. The measure of School Culture combines the mean score for the five 'strongest' school culture items (strongest in the sense of remaining correlated with constructivist practice when only the judgments of the teachers besides the respondent are considered).  Those items were:

  • Teachers 'continually learning and seeking new ideas'
  • Constructive criticism from teacher peers
  • Staff development with follow-up support
  • Similarity between principal's and teachers' philosophies
  • Common priorities for school goals among teachers 

The resulting continuous variable was transformed into four ordinal categories— representing approximately the bottom one-third of all teachers on the scale, the middle-third, most of the upper-third, and then roughly the upper 5-6 percent. That top category represents teachers who responded with an average score of at least 4.4 on a 6-point scale, (roughly halfway between slight and moderate agreement) for all items used.

Table 14
Teachers' Role Orientation by School Work Culture

School Culture: (Presence of Professional Work Culture)

Teachers' Role Orientation

Collaborativ e Leaders

Collaborative Teachers

Collaborative Teachers and Leaders

Interactive Teachers

Private Practice Teachers

 

Percent of all teachers

 

Top scores

5.6%

16.9%

(22.5%)

32.5%

45.0%

100%

(5.5%)

(Most of) Upper Third

3.7%

15.3%

(19.0%)

32.4%

48.7%

100%

(22.6%)

Middle Third

3.5%

11.7%

(15.2%)

31.6%

53.2%

100%

(37.8%)

Lowest Third

2.0%

8.2%

(10.2%)

27.0%

62.8%

100%

(34.1%)

All teachers

3.1%

11.6%

(14.7%)

30.3%

55.0%

100%

(100%)

Table 14 shows that as one moves from teachers who are in school cultures that lack the five indicators of professionalism ("lowest third") to teachers where those attributes are clearly present ("top scores"), the proportion of teachers who are strongly oriented towards their teacher colleagues more than doubles, from 10% to 22.5%.  Thus, at schools where teachers' peers report a work climate that provides staff development respectful of teacher needs and expertise, where there is a common sense of mission, and where teacher peer evaluation occurs, teachers are more likely to involve themselves in professional leadership activities, and professional interactions both in- and outside their own school.

How, then, do these two factors, personal Role Orientation and School Culture, combine to influence teacher pedagogy?  Our cross-sectional data suggest that each has an independent effect, but that the effects for School Culture are only really clear for the upper-end of the distribution—for schools with a distinctly professional practitioner culture.  These results are shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Teacher Pedagogy by Personal Role Orientation by School Work Culture

 

 

Figure 2 shows the average pedagogy score (constructivist teaching practice) for teachers in each category of School Culture and each category of Teacher Role Orientation. (Collaborative Teachers and Leaders were combined for numerical reliability.)  As seen in Figure 2, Private Practice Teachers who happen to teach in schools with a strong professional culture (the "top scores" group) are as constructivist in practice as teachers who personally interact with other teachers but who teach in schools with more typical school working cultures—schools in the "middle" and "lower third" categories where the culture is more traditionally bureaucratic.  Moreover, Interactive Teachers in "top score" schools are even more constructivist in their pedagogy than Teacher Professionals (Collaborative Teachers and Leaders) who teach at schools with typical bureaucratic work cultures.

Thus both personal Role Orientation and School Culture  play independent roles in affecting teacher pedagogy.  The effects of Role Orientation are more obvious, but that is partly because the professional climate required for a strong professional work culture is in place in so few schools.
 

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