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A School as an Organizational Structure

Schools as Organizations

In general, a school is a public entity. We could also categorize it as an organization. But an inherent characteristic of an organization is that such a setting is a business. The problem is that there is a certain mechanic in the functioning of a school, which makes it almost impossible to run strictly as a business.

Since schools are public enterprises, the people who run then are public officials. To that extent, individuals who hold public functions must respond to public demands. They must also be accountable to the public. Most importantly, they must operate within the realm of established rules and administrative expectations.

Does that mean a school could never be a business? I would say no. I would also say that, when it comes to running a school, there ought to be a balanced approach between public and business strategies.

A school does not necessarily function in the same manner an ordinary organizational setting should conduct itself or would operate. For instance, there can be a clear leadership mechanism in a public school setting. Such a leadership structure often affects the way the school functions as a whole.

School Operations

Educational leaders generally operate based on a certain predefined set of rules and procedures. What that means is that a school leader often has a roadmap to follow. For the most part, the leader must endeavor to reach already established goals, whether or not he agrees with them and/or whether he supports the manner to reach them.

Does that mean that a school setting is immune from the administrative scuffles and political squabbles of ordinary organizations? Does that mean everyone is on the same page? I would say not at all.

Arguably, schools are hybrid organizations. While they may have a similar structure to most organizational settings, they operate based on a different standard. This to say, schools are not perforce exempt from the issues that tend to pervade private organizations. But an important delineation is also worth pointing out here.

It is true; schools generally function differently from most organizational settings. However, like most business settings, a school must achieve a particular goal. Just the same, school leaders must yield tangible results. Many a time, such results must be in accordance with already set expectations.

Staff Collaboration

Another important difference between a public and a business entity is worth outlining as we go along in our examination of these two entities. A public school setting, for instance, tends to operate based on certain expectations. Such expectations, however, are ordinarily achievable only in two ways. One is staff collaboration. The other is community support.

While in a private enterprise staff collaboration can be paramount, employees do not always have the luxury to derail administrative goals because they disagree with them. On the other hand, in an organizational setting, such as a public school, staff members often rule. In such an environment, staff collaboration is not automatic. School leaders often find it necessary to woo staff members in order to enlist their participation wholeheartedly.

Sometimes, inducing staff collaboration is a challenge, nevertheless a doable, undertaken. Other times, it is simply impossible. I would say that without staff support, leadership failure could be inevitable. But the school as a whole could also suffer the consequences of that failure.

The next installment will examine the degree to which a leader could embrace a business slant to a school setting, as opposed to a public approach. Be on the lookout for the next post on the subject.

Ben Wood Johnson, Ph.D.

Ben Wood Johnson, Ph.D.

President/CEO at BWEC, LLC.
Dr. Johnson is an author, educator, and philosopher. He is a multidisciplinary scholar. He writes about Philosophy, Legal Theory, Public/Foreign Policy, Education, Politics, Ethics, Race, and Crime. Dr. Johnson graduated from Penn State and Villanova University. He is fluent in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian. Dr. Johnson enjoys reading, poetry, painting, and music.
Ben Wood Johnson, Ph.D.

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