Dennis King

Dennis King, EdD, is an assistant professor of education in the doctoral program at Baker University in Kansas. A consultant, he has served in multiple roles, from classroom teacher to assistant superintendent of school improvement.

Creating the Foundation: “Why Do We Have to Do This?”

The need to explore school culture is evident as schools work to become professional learning communities. Culture in any organization is the typically unexamined assumptions, beliefs, expectations, and habits that its members hold as true. Culture helps people make sense of their work. Structure is the rules, roles, policies, programs, and procedures within the organization (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006).

Often educators rush to declare cultural change by simply labeling structural changes they are trying to create, much like teachers grade students in the classroom. Classroom grades are often based on a wide range of activities in which students participate, such as demonstrating good behavior, completing homework on time, standing in a straight line, and performing on quizzes and tests. This ongoing practice is paralleled by attempts to name structural changes within the school such as PLC time, Common Core focus, RTI, accreditation meetings, and grade-level and department meetings. Unfortunately, these structural changes do not address why, nor do they shift the culture for sustained improvement. Results of this practice are similar to outcomes that students experience in the classroom: lack of buy-in, clarity, and competence.

DuFour and Fullan (2013) say, “Two things about cultural change: it is absolutely doable, but it is undeniably difficult” (p. 15). To make this difficult shift to impact the culture of the school, the following should be considered:

  • Establish a guiding coalition of key teacher leaders.
  • Examine student performance data.
  • Align actions of the school with the school’s mission.
  • Collectively identify the school you wish to become through the establishment of vision statements.
  • Create collective commitments to monitor, support, and celebrate behavior toward the desired culture.
  • Establish collaborative time for teachers during the school day.
  • Define collaboration and protocols of highly effective teams.
  • Clarify the expectations of teams based upon the four critical questions: What do we want students to learn, how will we know students have learned, what do we do if students do not learn, and what do we do when students have learned? (DuFour & Eaker, 1998).
  • Monitor the actions of teams.
  • Establish common assessments.
  • Review common assessment data as a team.
  • Create intervention time within the school day for students.

Identifying the desired actions within the school provides the necessary clarity to establish a solid foundation for cultural change. This fundamental shift from structural events focusing on rules, roles, policies, and programs to the cultural beliefs, habits, and expectations builds the foundation for sustained school improvement, thus enhancing the PLC process.


DuFour, R., & Fullan, M. (2013). Cultures built to last: Systemic PLCs at work™. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work™ (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work™: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

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