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UBC Theses and Dissertations

School improvement and the culture of the school Riecken, Theodore John


This study was an investigation of one elementary school staffs experience with a school-based school improvement program. Using the conception of school "culture" as an analytic construct, the investigator examined the interaction of the culture of the school with a locally developed school improvement program. For the purposes of this investigation, culture was defined as a commonly held set of values and beliefs. Using interviews and participant-observation, the researcher collected data from the school setting over an eight month period. Observational and interview data along with data in the form of program documents and minutes of staff meetings were analyzed to obtain a) an understanding of the shared values and beliefs that constitute the culture of the school and, b) a picture of the developing relationship between the culture of the school and the school improvement program. Data pertaining to the culture of the school was analyzed and categorized into seven broad themes that appeared to characterize the school's culture. As a further refinement of the construct of theme, five "key suppositions" were identified. These key suppositions consisted of shared values and beliefs about a particular topic, and were seen as the cultural nexus of the school. They included a set of commonly held values and beliefs about the importance of 1) active involvement of students in learning, 2) ongoing professional development, 3) a cooperative ethos among staff, 4) active administrative leadership, and 5) time as a valuable commodity in the school environment. Using these key suppositions as a framework for analysis, the researcher examined the interaction of the school improvement program with the culture of the school. Analysis of the program's implementation in the school indicated that there was a reciprocal interaction between the program and the school's culture. There was evidence to indicate that three of the key suppositions had an influence on the way the program was implemented in the school. The key suppositions that had an influence on the program's implementation were 1) active involvement of students in learning, 2) active administrative leadership, and 3) time as a valuable commodity in the school environment. There was also evidence to indicate that the school improvement program acted to strengthen two of the key suppositions of the school's culture. The key suppositions that were strengthened were 1) a cooperative ethos, and 2) ongoing professional development. An examination of teachers' perceptions of the school Improvement process indicated that, on occasion, the improvement process held the potential for conflict when staff engaged in debate about multiple interpretations of some of the program materials. The researcher has hypothesized that in such situations of potential conflict, the culture of the school acted as a stabilizing mechanism in that it provided staff with a common set of assumptions on which to focus their school improvement efforts.

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