Leading your school to success

Leading your school to success

Multiple studies show that a school’s culture can have a significant impact on student and staff engagement, performance.

As the key decision makers in their schools, the important responsibility of sustaining (or building new) a strong and positive culture falls to principals. However, it’s not always apparent to leaders when a bad culture is permeating through their staffrooms and classrooms.

On 25 July, The Educator Leaders’ Summit, being held in Melbourne, will hear from a number of education experts and influencers. One of them is Happy School creator Steve Francis, whose keynote address ‘Leading your school to success’ will focus on the importance of school culture.

 “School culture is the glue that holds everything together. Ultimately, culture wins every time,” Francis – former principal of Kowloon Junior Schools and Jindaless State School – told The Educator.

“If you have a bad culture, it will win – and ruin your school. If you have a great culture, it will also win and enable you to do great things.”

Francis said the biggest factor in school culture is leadership.

“School leaders cannot overestimate the impact they have on their school,” he said.

“Research published in 2012 by Macquarie University’s Dr Yvette Blount shows that an employees’ feelings about their managers are a better predictor of satisfaction and performance than any other factor.”

Optimising culture is the most important work of the leadership team.

Francis said it is important for leaders to know that their organisation’s existing culture has a huge impact on staff.

“It impacts on how they behave, how they interact with co-workers, how happy and engaged they are at school, how they interact with students, how much discretionary effort is put in and how much gets done,” Francis said.

“The influence of culture can be positive and fulfilling or negative and deflating. The actual culture is the behaviours, values and norms that are currently evident in the school. The unwritten rules about ‘how things are done around here’.”

Francis said culture is created from the spoken and unspoken messages people receive about what is really valued in the school.

“It is not what is being said or plastered on the walls that matters but what they see, hear and infer,” he said.

“Great leaders have an in-depth knowledge of their culture. Knowing and understanding your school’s culture is critical to optimising and sustaining the school’s effectiveness.”

Optimal results will only be achieved in an ideal culture.

Francis said the “ideal culture” can be described as the behaviours, values and norms required to create an optimal environment that achieves learning outcomes for students, engages and supports staff to do their best work and exceeds the expectations of parents.

“School leaders need to be constantly monitoring the ‘happiness’ of staff, students and parents. It’s like unlocking a combination lock,” he said.

“Fine tuning each of the factors is essential for an optimal culture.”


Steve Francis is an expert in the complexities of leading effective schools and will be presenting the keynote at our 2019 Educator’s Leaders’ Summit in Melbourne. He works with schools to enhance the skills of their leadership team and staff. For the past three years Steve has been recognised by Educator magazine as one of the top 50 most influential educators in Australia. He is the author of four books and the creator of the Happy School program.