“Faculty culture” is the sum of the dominant beliefs, attitudes, and behavior patterns of the entire faculty.[i] At any given school, it existed before the dean of faculty (or principal) assumed his or her position and will continue to endure after the dean’s departure. It is not easily measured and is perhaps the most overlooked factor in analyzing a school’s environment. This intangible, however, stands as one of the most critical factors in any private school delivering its mission. Faculty culture directly impacts student culture, and these are the two most important components of what can be called “school culture.” Since a school’s higher, long term goals relate to the inculcation of attitudes for life beyond the school (and even college) rather than bits of content easily forgotten, a healthy school culture is a driver in the formation of the school’s graduates.[ii]
Independent School Management (ISM) has stressed the importance of faculty culture and maintains that “developing a growth-focused faculty culture is the most critical ingredient in the long term quality of the student experience—that is, the central determinant of your students’ performance, satisfaction, and enthusiasm.”[iii] ISM also states that faculty culture is the “prime determinant of student retention and recruitment.”[iv]
Touchstones of a healthy faculty culture include such things as:
- New initiatives percolate from educators rather than generally being directed by the Head of School.
- Collegiality within academic departments: Departments meet regularly and discuss not only administration but the education of the students.
- Collegiality among academic departments: Inter-departmental meetings take place on the initiative of the department heads.[v]
- Teachers do not have major problems finding volunteers, including administrators, to cover their classes.
- Educators support their colleagues in need within and outside the classroom.
- Educators have meals together.
The dean must be ever vigilant in tending the lamp of the faculty culture: she or he nurtures it, enforces it, defends it, protects it, and passes it on.
[i] Independent School Management defines faculty culture as the “assumptions, ideas, and beliefs that drive professional attitudes and behaviors.” “Faculty Autonomy and Collegiality: A Leadership/Management Challenge,” Ideas and Perspectives, Vol. 31, No. 7.
[ii] Independent School devoted its summer 2011 edition to the theme “Developing a Professional Culture in School.” See especially Patrick Bassett, “Towards a Professional Culture in Independent Schools,” pp. 9-12; Jonathan Howland, “Morbidity and Mortality,” pp. 24-28; Alexis Wiggins, “Doors Open,” pp. 39-42; and Hugh Jebson and Carlo DiNota, “Trust, Accountability, Autonomy,” pp. 58-62.
[iii] “The Allocation of Time and Your Faculty’s Professional Growth,” Ideas & Perspectives, Vol. 33, No. 9, July 14, 2008, 35. See also “New Research: The Relationship Between Faculty Professional Development and Student Performance,” ISM, Ideas and Perspectives, Vol. 34, No. 13, October 19 2009, p. 49. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink expounds on three key drivers: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. For an example of a school that is attempting to apply these principles in its faculty culture, see Jim Scott, “Finding Our Drive,” Independent School, Spring 2011, pp. 50-54.
[iv] “Managing Faculty Culture in Times of Turmoil,” ISM, Ideas & Perspectives, Vol. 34. No. 7, May 18, 2009, p. 27.
[v] For a discussion of the critical component of collegiality, see Robert Evans, “Getting to No: Building True Collegiality in Schools,” Independent Schools, Winter 2012, pp. 99-107.