What makes a good school? In today's public schools, where diversity is vast and complex, a good school must provide a strong functioning culture that aligns with their vision of purpose. Good schools depend on a strong sense of purpose and leadership. However, in order to build a culture that is integral to school life, principals must gear their students, faculty, and staff in a common direction and provide a set of norms that describes what they should accomplish. Sergiovanni (2001) elaborates on the principal's influence in shaping school culture by stating that, once established in a school, strong culture acts as a powerful socializer of thought and programmer of behavior. Yet, the shaping and establishment of such a culture does not just happen; they are, instead, a negotiated product of the shared sentiments of school participants. When competing points of view and competing ideologies exist in school, deciding which ones will count requires some struggling. Principals are in an advantageous position to strongly influence the outcome of this struggle.
The building of school culture further requires that building leaders pay close attention to the informal, subtle or symbolic aspects of school life. Teachers, parents, and students should look for answers to questions such as, what is this school about? What is important here? What do we believe in? Why do things function the way they do? How do I fit into the scheme of things? As Greenfield (1973) stated, what many people seem to want from schools is that schools reflect the values that are central and meaningful in their lives. If this view is correct, schools are cultural artifacts that people struggle to shape in their own image. Only in such forms do they have faith in them; only in such forms can they participate comfortably in them.
Leaders of successful schools develop moral order that bind the people around them together. When establishing culture, principals must be able to infuse various ideas, beliefs, values, theories and decision making into their school. Collaborative discourse is a powerful tool that can be used to facilitate the process of developing school culture and climate. Leaders, who look to build their school communities, must recognize that educators, who work together, achieve a collective purpose resulting from their collegiality, which is critical in establishing a successful school. However, for meaningful collaboration to occur, capacity building must take place. Capacity building has frequently appeared in educational literature across the United States. Ann Lieberman (1997) coined this term which means, organizing schools for improvement by allowing teachers to work in teams and with instructional leaders to channel staff efforts towards a clear, commonly shared purpose for student learning. When channeled correctly, these habits and conditions allow staff members to work and contribute to a professional community. Such communities are places where teachers, specialist and building administrators engage in decision making, have a shared sense of purpose and work to support an infrastructure that involves alignment of instructions goals.
Newmann and Wehlage in their 1995 work, Successful School Restructuring, firmly link student achievement to the effective work habits of adults stating that the most successful school were those that used restructuring to help them as professional communities. Teachers and leaders collaborate and help one another achieve the purpose of student learning. Teachers and instructional supervisors in these schools help one another take responsibility for academic success. These schools which maintain a strong professional community are better able to offer authentic pedagogy and are more effective in promoting student achievement.
School leaders who give their attention to establishing their school culture by addressing the question, what is this school about, begin with a period of organization as the school initiates new collaborative processes that relates to norms, teams, vision, use of data, shared expectations, and ways of working together.