Dec. 8, 2016

Building Charter School Identity

How people, purpose, and the organization come to shape a school's identity
School Identity
School Identity

Forming a School's Identity

Schools often develop unique identities, expressed through the way they work, their goals, mission, as well as what it requires from its stakeholders. Forming a school’s identity requires weaving together the people, ideas, history, and purpose of the school. As a school’s identity and social organization influences its effectiveness, authentic involvement in building the desired identity is essential.

Working with Alberta’s 13 charter schools as part of a larger study, PhD graduate Dr. Merlin Thompson, Dr. Dianne Gereluk, and Dr. Eugene Kowch brought the accounts of 73 stakeholders together to find insights into the identities of these schools. These schools were found to effectively integrate the narratives of their stakeholders at all levels, allowing them to flourish, contribute to, and shape the school’s identity. This includes members from within the school, and voices from the community. Their work suggests that a school’s identity incorporates more than just the official policies, mission statements, and slogans; it requires meaningful personal and community involvement.

A Whole School Effort

This commitment and involvement does not guarantee an easy path, however. As the authors contend, passive submission or complacency to an imposed decision will not build a vibrant identity. School leaders especially must be initiators and responders in the process, who are actively and creatively engaged in guiding the school’s identity.

This involves being attentive to how stakeholders:

  • Relate to the school’s philosophy
  • Develop trust with their colleagues
  • Embrace the risks and vulnerability associated with exploring new possibilities
  • Can be empowered to act with authenticity

Knowing how to take purposeful advantage of forming school identity, and building an articulated vision, may challenge the problems associated with large bureaucratic organizations.

For School Leaders

Being engaged, and engaging other stakeholders, in the process of forming a school’s identity is key to establishing a positive identity. Connecting all stakeholders to the school’s philosophy and pedagogical approach, and coming together to respond to the challenges of teaching and learning, can promote cohesion and commitment to the school’s identity. A vibrant identity and strong functioning of a school can have implications for student attendance, behaviour, attitudes towards their education.