“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is highly applicable to schools, though Peter Drucker didn't exert most of his effort here. Most employees remain in schools for the majorities of their careers, and knowing school culture is at least as important as developing good strategy. I worked with a Chief Technology Officer that struggled to disrupt traditional school employee communications in an effort to improve the rationality of technology decision-making. Relationships that often spanned 25 years, however, were hard to disrupt.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

Placing relationships ahead of structural or data-driven decision-making may not be the most efficient path to educational change, but human networks are the foundation for most real-world decision-making. Schools are human institutions, and sustainable school improvement requires cultural transformations to match. Every strategy needs to consider culture, not as an excuse for inaction but as an opportunity for the most powerful system-wide improvement.

Where to begin?

Building relationships is central to identifying and establishing sustainable improvement. School leaders need to enjoy the company of talented, hard-working experts seeking excellence in their work. One of my colleagues spent significantly more time than his peers developing trusting relationships. Measuring the value of that time was hard, but he often succeeded where others failed. Knowing who can get the work done is essential to success in any project, and matching goals to the talented people who can accomplish them is the best path to strategic and cultural improvement.