'No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.' So wrote John Donne in 1624. When we see our school organisations as a network of interconnections, and recognise that the strength of the network depends as much on the quality and quantity of these interconnections as on the individual qualities of the agents being interconnected, the importance of effective relationships becomes more than a wish for an amicable daily routine. Relationships become a major plank of school effectiveness, in a complex behavioural network, where to a greater or lesser extent, each part affects all the others. We are interdependent in our quest to reach a common goal or vision for our school. In this chapter we will look at the importance of relationships as they affect culture, what the function of relating is, what qualities we should strive for in our relationships, and some ways in which we might manage the relationship-building process.
The culture of a school is an emergent property of the ways in which people relate and the messages they give each other over a period of time. As Schein (1985) says, it is 'a learned product of group experience and is, therefore, to be found only when there is a definable group with a significant history' (p. 7). The way we behave and what we value in the school are taken for granted as they become accepted and part of our culture. Earlier we heard one head describing how it was 'not something you plan for at the beginning of eight years' worth of headship' but emerged over time from the actions and interactions of those in the school.
The strange thing, though, is that the very culture people have created then begins to determine the way they behave towards each other and their work. It assumes a 'structural property', much like an unwritten policy or rulebook. Such structures guide our thinking and behaviour, the roles we should play, the rules we should follow socially, but only continue to exist as we reproduce them and act them out.