Creating the Culture and Distributing Leadership

There’s a saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy matters a lot, but culture is what makes strategy work. It’s like the oil that helps an engine run. So, one of the most important things to do before embarking on the path toward modernizing education is to proactively lay the foundation for a supportive culture. Some people ask if this is a prerequisite. In other words, “do I have to have the right culture in place before I do anything else?” The answer is, “no.” If you wait to have the perfect culture or for every single individual to be “ready” you might never get started. But you will want to think about designing for culture early on, long before you get started. Here are some key indicators that you are on your way toward a supportive culture. You can ask these questions to assess when you have enough of a foundation to start, and to monitor your progress along the way.

  1. Commitment to equity. Have you established a vision that commits to every child thriving? Have you set accountable goals related to equity? Have you worked with your leaders and community to identify problematic biases at the individual and collective levels? Do you have a plan in place to mitigate these biases? Have you started this work with teachers and leaders?
  2. Growth and empowerment. Do you have systems in place for continuous improvement? Do you know how you will learn from things that go well, and things that do not? Have you changed evaluations or other practices that penalize all failures? Have you made a commitment to agency for students, teachers, leaders, and families?
  3. Learning and inclusivity. Have you included community in your process? Have you prioritized building relationships between students, teachers, leaders, and families? Have you begun to create multicultural learning environments and responsive curricula? Do you have systems in place for professional collaboration?
  4. Distributed leadership and flexibility. Do you have systems in place to share leadership in schools and in the district? Do schools, leaders, and teachers have adequate autonomy? Are resources and systems flexible?


  • Leadership Competencies (CCSSO and JFF)
  • The following books are recommended by district leaders that have made the transition to personalized, competency-based education
    • Good Leaders ask Great Questions by John Maxwell
    • Leadership on the Line by Ronald A. Heifitz and Martin Linsky
    • Building a New Structure for School Leadership by Richard F. Elmore
    • Total Leaders by Charles Schwahn and William Spady