Central to defining terms is a commitment to transparency through a communicative approach where the language of introspection serves to frame purpose. Research has shown that when opening transparent lines of communication morale is heightened leading innovative thought and progressive ideals to flourish. We would assert that the notion of communication in the arena of public education is an interesting dynamic to examine. In such a field you would imagine that a highly collaborative and professionally grounded model of organizational culture would guide the communicative policies of a district. On the surface, this is exactly the sentiment that many in positions of leadership hope to convey to the public. Unfortunately, for an institution that has operated under a factory model for over a hundred years, this window dressing merely obscures the reality of the highly charged political nature that defines communication within the system. In short, the hierarchical apparatus is the preeminent feature of the communication policies in this cloistered environment. As such, information is delivered to employees through the chain of command that begins in the political arena and works its way down to the sphere of those charged with cultivating environments of learning. Through this mechanism, the organizational culture is predicated on institutional and by proxy self-preservation (Elmore, 2019). Consequently, the institutional structure creates a cycle of cynicism and apathy amongst employees along with limitations in the behaviors that frame their efforts.
Strengths and Challenges
In this very structured hierarchy, when messages are controlled and pedagogical innovation is restricted the political apparatus can manage challenges from a narrow lens of preservation. From an institutional vantage point, this is perceived to be a strength as many within the administrative sphere operate from a position of management. However, as expressed by Bennis et al. (2008), maintaining such a narrow lens limits the communication flow necessary for building transparency through the testing of assumptions. Moreover, it erodes the trust critical to engaging those assumptions in a manner that advances the mission and vision of the organization (Richardson & Hinton, 2015). To a larger extent, we contend that the controlling nature of this culture diminishes any attempt at the engaging leadership that Mazzetti and Schaufeli (2022) suggest builds resiliency and adaptability.
Engagement and Satisfaction
Employed by one of the nearly fourteen thousand school districts in the United States, we have witnessed a system that Strong (2020) suggests fails to foster the evolutionary competition of diverse ideas and methods. From this perspective and under the hierarchical scenario we present, it is clear that the system operates from a vastly different set of priorities than those that center on a learner-focused paradigm. Unfortunately, the prominent theme of dissatisfaction found throughout individual schools has continued to entrench the culture of mediocrity and complacency that frames the broader system. In short, Tarko’s (2017) statement regarding top-down intrusion plays a significant role in the system's inability to foster substantive change.
Enhancing a Culture
Despite this assessment of organizational communication, stakeholders keen on advancing the tenets of life-long learning have challenged the confining features of the hierarchical structure to ensure quality pedagogical practices are employed within their limited sphere. From our vantage point, these individuals and the learner-centered classrooms they develop serve as a microcosm of the trust, resilience, and adaptability that frame the transparency Bennis et al. (2008) promote. In shifting and adapting to meet the needs of individual learners, these environments reflect Jiang and Men’s (2017) emphasis on authentic leadership being a link between transparent communication and work-life enrichment. As a collective, we must look inward to be transformational. As such, authenticity and self-awareness are the mechanisms that can allow for transformative change. Understanding the self is the first step to meaningful communication that can foster shifts that unlock avenues of possibility.
Bennis, W., Goleman, D., & O’Toole, J. (with Ward Biederman, P.) (2008).Transparency:
How leaders create a culture of candor. Jossey-Bass.
Elmore, R. (2019). The future of learning and the future of assessment. ECNU Review of Education, 2(3), 328-341.
Jiang, H., & Men, R. (2017). Creating an engaged workforce. Communication Research, 44(2), 225-243.
Mazzetti, G., & Schaufeli, W. (2022). The impact of engaging leadership on employee engagement and team effectiveness: A longitudinal, multi-level study on the mediating role of personal- and team resources. PloS One, 17(6), E0269433.
Richardson, K. B. & Hinton, M. (2015). Applied public relations: Cases in stakeholder
management (3rd ed.). Routledge.
Strong, M. (2020). Is the U.S. education system adequately polycentric? The Independent Review, 25(2), 235-248.
Tarko, V. (2017). Elinor Ostrom: An intellectual biography. Rowman and Littlefield.