Está en la página 1de 15

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

Ethnography Case Study: Culture Crisis at Grijalva and the Golden Opportunity
Daniel I. Snchez
University of Arizona

Author Note
Daniel Sanchez
5961 N Edenbrook Ln
Tucson, AZ 85741
Daniel.sanchez@tusd1.org

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

Ethnography Case Study: Culture Crisis at Grijalva and the Golden Opportunity
Abstract
In his time management matrix, Stephen Covey conceptualizes task and time
management into four quadrants: Urgent and Important (Quadrant 1), Important and Not
Urgent (Quadrant 2), Urgent and Not Important (Quadrant 3), and Neither Urgent Nor
Important (Quadrant 4) (Covey 1989). Our group sought to study the organizational culture of
Grijalva Elementary school, with the purpose of inspecting the new dynamics present this school
year, given the schools third new leadership appointment in 5 years. Our findings affirmed my
intuition: Grijalva is in urgent need of effective leadership, and its carryover stakeholders
demand it.
Layered Purpose
On the surface, the purpose of the study was to provide my group mates and me with
research and reporting skill development with guided, group and independent activities. Just
beneath this surface was the assigned purpose: to investigate the leadership practices and crossreferenced perceptions of said practices at a local school within a school district and to evaluate
how effectively the principal's practices support the success of the school.; a secondary
assignment was to present additional quantitative and qualitative data indicating other variables
that may be significant factors influencing school performance. Deeper still, I had been grappling
with the sense of an anxious and untrusting staff with a depleted morale following the abrupt
departure of our previous administrator and the negative context I witnessed. I perceived this
assignment as an opportunity to inspect my intuition.

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

Gut Feelings and Focus Questions


In considering the guiding focus questions for this case study, I reflected upon my
intuition and predicted the following in relation to each question: How do
parents/families/community members narrate their life experiences and expectations for their
students? Parents are mostly unsure of how to support their childrens academic success,
given the shifts in instructional focus and rigor based on the standards, as well as the third
change in leadership in five years; How do school members draw upon
parents/families/community members narratives in their practices? School members
sparsely and inconsistently inspect and incorporate community and family funds of
knowledge, primarily as a result of conditioned attention to tests and standards given the
stress of rising accountability and subsequent scrutiny; What organizational and leadership
practices are evident? New leadership, with whom I became acquainted during the principal
interview process and summer meetings in relation to a large grant the school applied for
under previous leadership, spoke in a transformational and transformative manner, and initial
staff interactions reinforced my informal assessment.
Given the state of transition stemming from district-led initiatives such as curriculum
reform, along with a change in leadership that included an abrupt announcement of departure
by a prior administration that was collaboratively challenged, my group and I sought to study
the schools culture. With this emphasis, We utilized the framework the Interstate Leadership
Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standard 2, which states an educational leader promotes the
success of every student by collaborating with faculty and community members (2008), as
well as several a number of research-based theories.
Gaining Perspective

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

Our review of academic literature yielded numerous correlations to our purpose of studyschool culture. In particular, Hoy and Miskel (2008), Shein (1996) and Gonzalez et al. (2005)
spoke to the delicate nature of interpersonal relationships at schools and their effects on its
overall organizational culture. Hoy and Miskel (2008) noted the following:
Norms are influenced by sanctions; people are rewarded and encouraged when
they conform to norms and are confronted, ostracized, or punished when they
violate the cultural norms of the group. In brief, the norms of the work group
define a major slice of the culture of the organization (Chapter 5)
Educational researchers must consider the school as a whole and analyze how its
practices, beliefs and other cultural elements relate to the social structure, as well
as give meaning to social life. (Chapter 5)
Each culture describes the shared beliefs of teachers in the school. Schools with
strong cultures of efficacy, trust and academic optimism provide higher levels of
student achievement whereas schools with custodial cultures impede the social
emotional development of students (Chapter 5)
The dynamics of the work group at Grijalva were distinct in that several of the faculty
have worked in generally the same role or capacity at the school for years, and many families
were likewise highly familiar with the history of the school, with many families remaining at the
school throughout their childrens elementary school years; conversely, the principal was not
only new to the school, but also the position and the state. Additionally, although most teachers
and parents were moderately to highly familiar with the school, they were less familiar with each
other, with parents generally deferring to teachers who were teaching standards-centered
instruction to their children. Thus, the existing social culture of the school was fragmented. To

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

further exacerbate the aforementioned complexities, the morale of the staff had plummeted by
the end of the previous leaderships tenure, with a loose and custodial (at best) culture left in its
wake, and student achievement gradually slipping, as evidenced by the schools drop from a B
school to a C school.
In addition to Hoy and Miskel, Edgar Shein (1996) noted that until executives,
engineers, and operators discover that they use different languages and make different
assumptions about what is important, and until they learn to treat the other cultures as valid and
normal, organizational learning efforts will continue to fail. This sentiment was echoed
throughout Gonzelez et al. in their seminal research publication, Funds of Knowledge (2005),
where the authors emphasize the term of confianza (trust or mutual trust). Subsequently,
during our ethnography study of Grijalva, a prevalent theme within this framework emerged:
trust and relationships.
Themes: Trust and Relationships
Within the domain of Organizational culture, elemental themes that were suspected going
into the study likewise emerged from the data collected. The themes were trust and relationships,
respectively. Among the 3 Recent research shows the social trust among students, teachers,
parents and school leaders improves much of the routine work of schools and is a key resource
for reform (Schneider & Bryk, 2003, p. 40).

Howard stated, three factors have a major effect on students motivation and
performance: their feelings of belonging, their trust in the people around them,
and their belief that teachers value their intellectual competence. (2007, p. 3)

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

The theory of partnership argues that schools, homes, and communities are the
main contexts for childrens education and that greater collaboration by the
people in these environments benefits childrens learning and development.
(Epstein, 2011, p. 466)
Leadership
Transforming leadership recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of
a potential follower. But, beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential
motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs and engages the full person of
the follower. (Burns 1978, p. 67)
Burns definition of transformational leadership was evident in data collected during this
study. The new principal has spoken openly about advocating for a school that is inclusive of all
learners and supports their high academic achievement. He has often told the staff that the works
we are collaborating on this year, and the successful implementation of uniform practices reflects
upon ways we are keeping our promise to students.
Furthermore, Burns defines Transactional leadership is the relations of most leaders and
followers leaders approach followers with an eye to exchanging one thing for another: jobs
for votes, subsidies for campaign contributions (1978, p. 67). In an administrative move that is
unprecedented during my tenure at Grijalva, the new principal has continually offered to provide
teachers with added duty pay for engaging in book studies and additional trainings related to the
new curriculum. The result has been more teachers dialoguing with one another and being
supportive of each other in implementing the new curriculum. Additionally, within a span of 2
months, our new principal forged relationships with the University of Arizonas teacher
preparation program coordinators, offering classroom space and expressing interest in hiring

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

graduates from the program, and Grijalva now serve as a field methods and student teaching site
for prospective bilingual teachers. This partnership aims to meet specific and immediate need at
the school, which offers dual language classes at every grade level. Stakeholders representative
of this strand of instruction were intentionally included in this study, given the schools
demographics.
What Does the Data Say?
Our group collected quantitative and qualitative data. The former included surrounding
community statistics, while the latter was gleaned using group and course-designated interview
questions. In all, the principal, 2 kindergarten teachers (one teaching English Language
Development (ELD); the other a dual language teacher), 1 combination 4/5 ELD teacher, 1 grade
5 dual language teacher and 3 monolingual, Spanish-speaking parents were interviewed
individually. Each interview lasted approximately 15-20 minutes. Recorded interview data was
reviewed by individual group members and shared with the group, with school culture- related
responses presented to the group and analyzed through the frame of school culture and ISLLC
standard 2. Quantitative data helped to contextualize the school and community setting.
Raul Grijalva Elementary School, known simply as Grijalva, was founded in 1987, as has
experienced total enrollment numbers as high as 800; it currently has 691 students enrolled in its
Pre-K to 5th grade classes, which include 3 instructional strands: English Language Development,
Dual Language and Mainstream general education. Presently, the school is architecturally
comprised of 2 main buildings and 12 portable classrooms. 2 years ago, a park was constructed
next to the school. The park is public and accessible to both students and the public 24 hours per
day. The school neighbors a fire station and is nestled within a large community neighborhood,
known as Midvale Park. The remainder of the neighborhood includes one other park in the city

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

block to the north of the school, two large apartment complexes, and homes, with moderate to
large size businesses located on the fringes of the neighborhood.
According to public records retrieved from realtor.com, The current population of
Midvale Park is 12,003 with the median age of 28. Midvale Park's median household income is
$43,307, and the average household net worth is $279,844 (2014). Additionally, 23% of
Midvale Park's population are long term residents having lived in their homes for more than 5
years, while 26% of Midvale Park's population have moved in the last year (2014). This data
indicates a generally young and mobile membership in the community, with nearly three-quarters
of the inhabitants having resided in the community for less than five years. This could be a result
of large apartment complexes, though crime statistics suggest other factors as well.
Although Midvale Park has a reported 52% less property crime than Tucson (25% below
the nations average) in 2014, it has 50% more personal crime than Tucson and when compared
to that of United States, Midvale Park is 93% above the national average
(http://www.realtor.com/local/Midvale-Park_Tucson_AZ/lifestyle). A possibly significant
contributor to the crime rate is a large Walmart that borders the neighborhood to its south.
Ethnic data also retrieved from this site indicate nearly 1 in 10 residents are living at or
below the poverty level, while a little more than half of the population is Caucasian, with onethird reporting as other. This data did not clarify how many Hispanics lived in Midvale Park,
but it is clear when looking at such demographic data for the school that the population is almost
entirely Hispanic (89%), and that a vast majority of the student body- 94%- is living in
circumstances that qualify their families for free or reduce meals (ADE.gov 2014). Given this
prevalence, our group intentionally sought parent and teacher participants representative of these
trends.

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

All three of the parent participants interviewed were monolingual Spanish speakers and
first generation Mexican immigrants. 2 of the 3 were volunteers at the school, and 1 worked as a
custodian at the school. Conversely, 3 of the 4 teachers interviewed were Hispanic, bilingual
English and Spanish speakers, while the other was a Caucasian, monolingual English speaker;
overall educator demographic at Grijalva indicate 53% Hispanics and 47% Caucasian, with 73%
of the staff able to speak both English and Spanish. Whereas ethnic representations have
remained consistent in the student and teacher ranks, respectively, other school data analyzed
indicated shifting trends.
Over the last five years, student population has decreased from 772 to 691. This rate of
decrease has been similar to district trends, with more families moving and enrolling children in
different neighborhoods and districts, as well as more chart school options. The average student
population qualifying for free and reduced lunch at Grijalva has been nearly 90% over the last
five years, according to data from the Arizona Department of Education (ade.org); the highest
point in this range is this school year, at 94%. Additionally, over the past ten year, Grijalva has
averaged nearly 31% mobility, with nearly 29% mobility reported by ADE for the 2013-14
school year (ade.org). Given 3 out of every 10 students move to and from the school on a
consistent basis, continuity of vision is critical to consistent and culturally responsive practices.
To this end, our group also obtained the current school vision statement from its website. It is
stated as follows:
The Grijalva School Community promotes the success of all children by:
* Supporting each child's academic, emotional and social success
* Defining and communicating expectations
* Modeling and acknowledging positive behaviors

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

10

* Providing equitable educational opportunities for all children


* Respecting all learners
* Valuing a caring culture that extends to families and the community
(tusd1.org/grijavla)
Of note is the fact that this version of the school vision has been amended or completely
revised under each new administration, marking this as the third revision in five years. This
vision was most prevalent on the website, and qualitative findings suggest it is clear to
leadership, ambiguous to teachers, and unknown to parents.
(Ine)qualitative Offerings and Findings
When asked about their perceptions of new leadership and how well they felt they were
being respected, interviewed parents all alluded to the lack of communication (no hay
comunicacion con el director y los papas- Parent 1) and the resulting disorganization (los
estudiantes no tienen motivacion porque sus esfuerzos no son reconocidos- Parent 2) and
distrust (yo no tengo confianza al hablar con el director, porque siento que mis palabras estan
siendo ignoradas- Parent 3). It is worth noting the new principal, who is Caucasian, is bilingual.
Conversely, when asked about their relationships with teachers, parents generally spoke positive
of them, while mentioning differences in relating to different kinds of teaching styles.
Parent 1, who has been affiliated for three years with the school through her children,
spoke about having had ample communication with teachers, particularly with relation to being
informed about class activities and events; this parent also noted that different teachers varied in
their forms of communication, which presents with advantages and disadvantages. Parent 2, who
has also been with the school for the last three years, spoke to a generally good experience (los
ultimos tres aos en Grijalva ha sido una buena experencia.). This parent further noted some

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

11

teachers appeared to enjoy teaching more than others, resulting in more productive relationships
with students and parents. The final parent interviewed has experienced the school for six years,
noting that different relationships have emerged with different teachers, and observing that some
teachers are too nonchalant while others are effective and strict when it comes to classroom
management. Such remarks imply a sense of respect for teachers, with acceptance and tolerance
for the diversity of teachers encountered, as well as deference to the teachers judgment and
practice. A similar, distant respect for parents was reciprocated by interviewed teachers, with
commonalities in how active teachers perceived parents to be in support of their children.
When asked about their perception of parent levels of participation in the school, Teacher
1 stated Parents participate in selective learning activities. For example, monitoring homework
and making sure students submit classroom projects. A second teacher reported [My] parents
are very supportive in any class activities and they support their child at home with homework
even if they do not speak the language. They help their child on the areas they can, for example,
in math and science. If they struggle with language arts, they send notes for clarification and ask
for help or approach me to ask if I could help their child. Based on the aforementioned
responses, parent participation is primarily a function of homework help, with funds of
knowledge generally left untapped. This held generally true for the principal as well.
The principal said of parents at the school, We have volunteers that are dedicated this
place runs as much because of the people who do it for free as it does a staff, and that speaks to
the funds of knowledge of our community. Again, parents are valued based on the levels that
they support school-based efforts, with little to no acknowledgment of the culturally diverse
ways that they could contribute. In hindsight, it appears that the school is too preoccupied with
its micro-tasks to inspect and respect differences with parents to the extent of collaborating under

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

12

the premise of mutual confianza in support of educating the youth. This deduction provokes
questions about a macro-function that seemingly systematically influences how parent
involvement is framed, without incorporated strategies for assimilating funds of knowledge.
Indeed, interview excerpts from teachers sharing their perspective on new leadership likewise
implied superficial and informal working relationships.
When asked about the effectiveness of new leadership, Teacher 3 suggested the school
administration is doing the best he can with his philosophy we have to let administration know
what materials we need and what is working and not working and then we will just have to make
changes along the way. This response hints at more of transactional leadership approach, with
focus on goods, while alluding to an unidentified leadership philosophy. Teacher 4 likewise
mentioned liking the philosophy of administration, and further explaining they want the
students to work more towards independence, while citing the purchase, professional
development and use of childrens literature instead of text books. Generally, both teachers
expressed a sense of appreciation towards new leadership, though both lacked insight that
implied a still emerging relationship with school leadership. From the leadership perspective, a
tone of transformational leadership was prevalent throughout the interview, especially with
regard to perceived relations with parents and teachers.
When asked about key motivators enabling or inhibiting instructional effectiveness at the
school, the principal offered the following response:
For whatever reson, it really does seem to be fear that is motivating a lot of what
we do and it is preventing us from taking risks that we need to take to expand our
practice. The change I want to make is to do whatever I can to take the target that people
feel is hanging around them and set it aside so we can do what is best. I think our assets

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

13

are our teachers, who are very capable, and even though I am asking them to do a lot of
heavy lifting, I have not asked anything of them that I do not believe they are already
capable of.
Indeed, the principal has consistently presented professional development that has overtly
conveyed a sense of belief and encouragement in the staff, as well as empowerment via direct
and indirect support with actionable tasks. The principal, under the directive of district
leadership, has sought to instill and support common practices, particularly with instruction and
positive behavioral support. Where teachers sense this effort, parents feel left out, while
perpetuating reverence for teachers and disdain for leadership. Thus, where leadership speaks to
taking a transformational approach centered on its budding relationship with teachers, teachers
are invested at the transactional level, while parents are appreciated, but not intentionally
involved as partners. Though this situation exudes tension and weak working relationships, a
golden opportunity exists for fusing and sharing a congruent purpose.
Synthesizing Points of View
Gauging culture based on group norms, as defined by Hoy and Miskel (2008), Grijalvas
norms of work group are still being defined, indicating a major slice of the culture of the
organization is not in place. Thus, the state of organizational culture is paradoxically unstable
and malleable. Furthermore, study findings suggest disparity in school practices, beliefs and
cultural elements- key cultural factors according to Hoy and Miskel (2008)- that are contributing
to a fragmented social culture. Without intentional efforts to inspect and respect these differences
and builds relationships with confianza, new leadership risks alienating and possibly fostering a
divisive school, with students standing the most to lose under these circumstances. Reiterating
the sense of urgency is Hoy and Miskels assertion that Schools with strong cultures of efficacy,

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

14

trust and academic optimism provide higher levels of student achievement whereas schools with
custodial cultures impede the social emotional development of students (Chapter 5). Given the
principals perception of fear primarily motivating the staff, and the parents distrust of the
principal, higher levels of student achievement hang in the balance. Whereas study findings
indicate overt conflicts in need of prioritized and strategic resolution, conclusions drawn from
this study offer context in the form of limitations and recommendations for further study of the
state of organizational culture, the levels of trust and plasticity of relationships at Grijalva.
Hindsight, Insight and Foresight
Of the four members involved in this study, three of us, my self included, have worked at
Grijalva as teachers for at least five years. This resulted in limitations that included bias, and may
have factored into the level of candor expressed during interview sessions. In addition, our study
focused exclusively on the perspectives of teachers and parents within the dual and second
language learning instructional program strands. Thus, it is recommended additional interview
data be collected from stakeholders representative of mainstream instruction, with interviews
preferably conducted by nonemployees.
As for conclusions and recommendations stemming from study findings, the group
concluded that the principal, being new to the school and state, is faced with the challenge of
learning a lot about his position, responsibilities as defined by district defined macro-function,
and learning about and improving the instructional capacity of his staff, all while also learning
about the community and its funds of knowledge. Given these challenges, our group
recommended the principal begin to apply distributive leadership, whereby established and
recognized leaders among the staff can help with district initiative rollout efforts, while also
serving as links to the community at large.

ETHNOGRAPHY CASE STUDY OF GRIJALVA ELEMENTARY

15

References
Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press
Hoy, W.K.. & Miskel, C.G. (2007). Educational administration: Theory, research, and
practice, 9th edition. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.
Schein, E. (1996). Three Cultures of Management: The Key to Organizational Learning.
Sloan Management Review/Fall.
Epstein, J. L., Galindo, C. L., & Sheldon, S. B. (2011). Levels of leadership: Effects of
district and school leaders on the quality of school programs of family and community
involvement. Educational Administration Quarterly 47(3), 462-495.
Howard, G. R. (2007). As diversity grows, so must we. Educational Leadership, 64(6), 16-22.
Schneider, B. & Bryk, A. (2003). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform.
Educational Leadership. 60(6): 40-45.
Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York, New York: Harper and Row.
Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards (2008). Adopted by
the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA)on December 12, 2007.