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Lead Change in Your School Culture

How can you systematically change the school culture?

This innovation allows you to transform the structures of leadership at your school and shift from a traditional power structure into a collaborative school culture.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






Target group
March 2017
Working long and hard has resulted in a school culture that increases the wellbeing of the entire community and its members. This has made individual growth possible.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

The world outside educational institutions is transforming from rigid hierarchies into global networks where the individual has more power and influence. Schools should mirror this change.

When communities shift from strict power structures to a culture of influencing and collaboration, everyone feels like they matter. Furthermore, a collaborative culture is key to learning and development. This new school culture also empowers the work community and may even increase wellbeing among the staff.

By investing in this seemingly slow process of transforming the school culture, you can reap the rewards far into the future. The lack of hierarchies creates an environment where innovations come from collaboration, real dialogue as well as a desire to grow as a person and a team. It also prepares students for tomorrow's labor market.

Changing the school culture involves managing various aspects of everyday school life. These include school values, the implementation of the curriculum, recognizing staff knowhow, the organization of the instruction and reconfiguring the school facilities.

Ritaharju school began to transform their school culture in 2008. The results of this systematic implementation work became visible after about three years. The school has seen the change especially in the interactions between people instead of individuals' thoughts and attitudes. Life throws new situations at you every day and it is important to face the situation at hand and recognize your actions and reactions.

These five steps introduce the aspects behind the transformation at Ritaharju school:

  • Framework for leadership
  • Values, vision ja strategy
  • Team culture
  • Managing knowhow
  • Facilities and pedagogy

The steps describe each aspect in more detail and explain how they can be managed.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


No school can change without leadership and this innovation provides schools with functional instructions to completely transform the school culture.


Implementing a new school culture in a comprehensive way increases the sense of belonging and wellbeing in the whole school and dismantles obsolete hierarchies.


You can adopt this model to fit your resources and needs, but it requires time.

Implementation steps

Framework for leadership
Assess your current situation. The goal is to analyze all aspects concerning influencing, decision-making and collaboration and ultimately to recognize the available knowhow and processes, both the functional and dysfunctional ones.

Assessing the current situation also launches the dismantling of old management structures and, in turn, change can start to grow. The most important part is to create a new management structure that remains close to the student. The entire structure should serve as an adhesive gluing together people working in close proximity. The structure should be meaningful for everyone's work.

Change is fueled by excitement, collaboration, learning together, appreciation and being valued.

When you usher in a new school culture, even the invisible and rigid power structures will crumble. This allows the school to replace toxic competition, jealousy and apathy with brainstorming together, valuing and developing your professionalism as well as valuing others, recognizing and utilizing strengths.

Case Ritaharju

Ritariharju school strode to dismantle the traditional management structures and rebuild them. The goal was to create a model that encourages change instead of blocking it. Furthermore the school reimagined and innovated new meeting protocols, communication models and avenues for influencing.

Values, vision and strategy
Define your school's values, vision, strategy and mission with the entire school community.

These values, vision, strategy and mission as well as their definitions form a shared language for the community. They also serve as the foundation for school development and guidelines for implementing the curriculum in the development work.

Using positive language in the development process and sharing experiences in everyday discussions support the development of this shared language.

Values: They explain the reasons and methods for your actions. They should be measurable.

Vision: A shared dream.

Strategy: What should we do as we work towards our dream?

Mission: How can we make the strategy a reality? This relates to the planning and reality of the everyday lives of teachers, instructors and students.

Working towards common goals does not mean that “we're all in the same boat” but instead that we can all work towards those goals in our own boats rowing in the same direction.

Case Ritaharju

The school board should start the process by defining the values, vision and strategy of the community. This draft and ideas go through all the teams and come back to the board for final approval. This discussion should also reach the parent-teacher-association. Teachers, instructors and students are strongly involved in defining the mission.

Team culture
Discuss what the leading ideas guiding the teams are. Create a shared process model to diffuse potential conflicts and tensions.

These teams should be based on a culture promoting skills and abilities that create a communicative and open school staff. The culture is founded on these principles:

  • Sharing knowledge and skills freely

  • Learning from and helping others

  • Appreciation and being valued are key

You must recognize potential tensions, conflicts and take time to solve them.

Case Ritaharju

The school dismantled the traditional management model eight years ago to replace it with a team-based leadership culture. The school includes two principles and five team coaches.

The school consciously fostered a culture where the principles and team coaches communicate freely and effectively. They continue to set goals in constant dialogue.

The team coaches manage their teams and build trust in the workplace. The teams hold regular meetings. They have learnt how to manage conflict and discuss openly in a respectful manner. The teams focus on recognizing, sharing and improving people's knowhow. The knowhow and experiences of the teams have become a part of the school's shared processes which, in turn, has made the community work better and more efficiently.

Managing knowhow
Recognize teachers' knowhow and how it can be utilized in the restructuring process. Furthermore plan together how the new school culture can support the teachers' self-improvement.

“Managing knowhow” includes

  • recognizing,

  • utilizing and sharing,

  • maintaining,

  • facilitating improvement and

  • recruiting effectively utilizing

the teachers' knowhow.

Case Ritaharju

During the reconfiguration process, the school developed a staff knowhow map to improve knowhow management. The map was based on four dimensions of knowhow that are used in the recruiting process, development discussions and when employees set personal professional goals.

The school opens every school year with team discussions where the team notes their knowhow and strengths.

Facilities and pedagogy
Learning environments play an important role in the change in school culture because facilities steer activities. Plan and construct new facilities based on the new school culture, where possible.

This includes building, renovating and furnishing facilities as well as reconfiguring old ones.

During the planning process, the school should have a pedagogical view on the structure of the instruction and learning desired to achieve in the future. Suitable furnishings provide the finishing touches and setting for the desired pedagogy to materialize. The key for furnishing and construction is good planning.

Case Ritaharju

The Ritaharju campus currently consists of five school buildings. The change in school culture has been visible in constructing and furnishing learning environments. These new facilities encourage team learning and up to seven adults can work simultaneously with children and youth. All of this allows different kinds of learners to learn and grow.

The buildings are also fiscally efficient. The area is 6,18 m² per student and the building costs for a school of 380 were 5.4 million euros. The school consists of four sectors, each with 80–90 students, that is, four classes. Every sector hosts 4–7 adults working together.

The area for students is 272 m² which enables a variety of learning structures. When students of different ages work in the same sector and the curriculum is optimized, the students have even more space in which to work.

The school has considered acoustics. Every sector has carpeting and soft furniture that provide soundproofing.

Spread of the innovation

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