Telling tales in school: Exploring the relationship between school stories and school culture

Robert Denis Feirsen, Fordham University


This inquiry presents an exploratory case study. It identifies the organizational stories told by an elementary school faculty and staff. It then develops hypotheses that explain how these stories contribute to school culture. Hypotheses, in turn, provide the basis for developing a plan for adapting culture to changing environmental conditions. Ethnographic techniques were utilized to gain access to the cultural information contained in organizational stories. Data were collected in two phases. In the first period, the researcher served as participant-observer, recording stories encountered within the natural setting of the school. Stories were analyzed to determine patterns of discourse and to establish preliminary speculations about implicit cultural meanings. In the second phase, the author conducted interviews with members of the school faculty to investigate the process of storytelling at the site and to assess the validity of emerging hypotheses. Data analysis enabled the researcher to identify eight themes: individuals have impact, suspect bureaucratic authority, enemies of the school can inflict great damage with little penalty, sustain traditions, value demonstrated effort, value classroom autonomy, the school is a cohesive community, and the environment cannot be controlled. These findings, combined with understandings of the storytelling process at the school, led to the conclusions that school culture is pervasive, strong, and dysfunctional. The study presents recommendations designed to remedy deficiencies in school culture. In particular, the recommendations recognize the need to prepare faculty and staff for the closing of the school as part of a proposed district reorganization. As a result, they provide both opportunities to grieve the loss of the school and its culture and to develop shared values and understandings promoting integration into new settings. The study provides a model for identifying significant aspects of organizational culture and for constructing theory that describes how these elements work together to form an integrated whole. This model may be utilized by practitioners and researchers in future work.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Feirsen, Robert Denis, "Telling tales in school: Exploring the relationship between school stories and school culture" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9136321.