Education Opinion


By LeaderTalk Contributor — January 06, 2009 2 min read

Definition: ” a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.”

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.


* When it becomes normal to attend meetings and pretend to go along with the flow and then leave the meeting and complain about it or the people who attended… and/or undermine the decisions that were made…it’s dysfunction.

* When it becomes commonplace to pretend to trust each other and at the same time secretly solicit information and opinions from others because we don’t really trust each other… dysfunction.

* When people who work for us, or around us, are not competent but we ignore it because they are ‘nice’ people…dysfunction.

* When the administration and staff are okay with stapling new cover pages on old technology plans to meet compliance deadlines…dysfunction.

* When we have standards and norms and they are routinely ignored…dysfunction.

* When we write a beautiful mission statement and we all know, collectively, that there is a ‘snowballs chance in Hell’ that it will ever be achieved and most likely will be forgotten after being written …dysfunction.

* When it is part of the culture to expect people to talk about each other critically and secretly…dysfunction.

* When it is normal for the school culture to be cynical, critical, and dismissive of new ideas, vision, and change…dysfunction.

* When people commit to things and then don’t keep their commitments and no one expects them to…dysfunction.

* When the staff feels they’re just mushrooms growing in the dark! Dysfunction.

* When we can’t talk about ourselves as a team and what we might do to become more effective because in our school culture we look at the world ‘us and them’ and we are too busy blaming “them"…dysfunction.

* When it’s common in our school to turn our backs and say, “Not my job!” Dysfunction.

People are people and from time to time we might behave poorly, it’s part of being human. We aren’t proud of our slip up; and we make up our minds to do better next time; and most of us do.

What is most troubling is when we allow these things to become so common they seem normal. They become part of the culture. We don’t expect better. It’s just the way things are. We accept it. We live with it.

It may be that some of these behaviors have become normal in our situation; but they come at a price: lot’s of drama, lot’s of distrust, anger, and frustration...and a lack of effectiveness.

We know better. We can do better.

It takes courage to confront the dysfunctions of a school culture. It starts with stepping forward to say that we can do better, that we should hold ourselves to higher standards. It takes a commitment to create those standards as a team, and monitor how well we live up to them.

Each of us, no matter our title or position can step up to challenge a dysfunctional status quo.

In order to transform teaching and learning, we need to deal with the cultures which exist in our schools, otherwise, change will be a long time coming.

Pete Reilly

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.