The Culture Framework

In my new book, The Chemistry of Culture, out this month from Rowman and Littlefield, I introduce The Culture Framework. Building on ICLE’s original Rigor/Relevance Framework®, the Culture Framework is a new Mental Model, or map, that can guide a school’s journey toward creating more rigorous and relevant instruction by providing them a blueprint for building a positive, innovative, and effective school culture. The Culture Framework provides a context for acquiring, applying, and assessing strategies, skills, tools, and processes to guide the improvement of your school’s culture.

At ICLE we define school leadership not as a position, but rather a disposition. A disposition for taking action, for making change happen. An important job of every school leader is to broaden the definition of “leadership” to include as many staff and students as possible, and to insure they all share a common vision of where the school is heading. In a school with a Quad D culture, leadership is a collaborative responsibility, shared by all staff. They hold each other accountable for taking actions to reach specific goals.

The Culture Framework can be used as a guide for reflecting on the unique culture of any school. In each of the four quadrants of the Culture Framework, specific cultural characteristics can be identified, and the framework can be used to measure progress from a compliant culture wo one that is committed. On the framework, from Quadrant A to Quadrant D.

The Culture Framework is divided into four quadrants. But unlike the Rigor/Relevance Framework®, both the vertical and horizontal axis are labeled along a trust continuum. This important distinction is because more than any other single factor: It is the level of trust within a school’s culture that determines the effectiveness of both collaboration and empowerment! No other element of school culture comes close. School leaders everywhere understand and agree. So, the question is: Why do so many schools spend so little time thinking about trust? Working on trust? Planning for trust?

The author Stephen Covey has written extensively about trust. Covey says, “Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” He goes on to say… “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, he explains that trust is the foundation of all effective teams. He explains why members of great teams must trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level. Most importantly he says, they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.

In, The Culture Framework, Collaboration lies on the vertical axis, with Trust as the variable. Improving collaboration requires raising the ability and effectiveness of all staff to work smarter, not harder, by working collectively to solve problems together. At the lower levels oFigure 5.5f the collaboration axis, lower levels of trust inhibit every aspect of collaboration, from communication to content. This lack of trust reveals itself often when students, teachers, or administrators are unable or unwilling to be vulnerable within their group. As a result, they are less likely to admit their mistakes, communicate openly, share ideas freely, or hold each other accountable for the group’s outcomes.

Empowerment lies along the horizontal axis of The Culture Framework, with a Trust continuum again as the variable. Empowerment and trust often work in tandem. Lack of trust is the most common reason for lack of authentic empowerment, and lack of empowerment leads to lower trust. Mastering meaningful empowerment is the single most important action school leaders can take to create greater trust. And… the most powerful strategy teachers can use with students in their classrooms. You see, trust only improves when we practice it.

That means, if you want to believe you can trust your students, you must start… by trusting your students. Students (and adults) can only become more trustworthy with practice. This can be scary for some, but the result is powerful. When trust is high, empowered teams of students, teachers, or administrators are all more willing and able to take risks, make mistakes, and innovate.

Chapter 7 of, The Chemistry of Culture, explores a specific leadership strategy called, Release Control that can be used by principals or teachers to empower others. And in chapters 13, 14 and 15, a powerful set of teacher strategies to increase and improve student collaboration in the classroom.

The Chemistry of Culture introduces The Culture Framework® provides a “Mental Model” that can be used to understand the development of a highly effective culture. This new framework can be used by school leaders as a map to guide reflection on the dynamic process of creating the 3 things needed for building a culture of learning and innovation: Trust, empowerment, and collaboration.

The Chemistry of Culture is now available at or you can get a 20% discount direct from the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield at: using promo code RLEGEN19

About Jim Warford

Jim Warford is the author of, The Chemistry of Culture: Strategies You Can Use to Create a Culture of Learning. For 15 years Jim Warford was Senior Advisor and Keynote Speaker for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Jim is an author, speaker, Leadership and Instructional Coach. He was named in March 2003 as Florida’s first Chancellor of K12 Public Schools. He stepped down in September, 2005 to become Executive Director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, representing over 10,000 Florida school leaders. As a Senior Advisor for the International Center for Leadership in Education, he works with states, districts and schools to provide coaching and executive training and support to school leaders and their staffs. As Florida’s Chancellor, he led the creation and state-wide implementation of Florida’s Continuous Improvement Model, FCIM, which resulted in that state’s dramatic gains in student achievement and an 80% reduction in the number low-performing schools. FCIM remains Florida’s required intervention for all low-performing schools. As Superintendent of the Marion County, Florida Public Schools, he first implemented the Continuous Improvement Model district-wide. As a result, school grades went from three “F”, eight “D” and only one “A” school in 1999 to twenty “A”, 16 “B” and no “F” schools in 2003. Under his leadership the high school dropout rate was cut in half. He taught applied technology courses at the high school level for 17 years and created a Computer Graphics/Video Production program that won many national and state awards. He was named Vanguard High School Teacher of the Year three separate times.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s