Over the last year or so, as I read research about leadership for creativity, one of the studies I found particularly interesting came from England. Researchers Stoll and Temperley carried out the Creative Leadership Learning Project over an 18-month period in 12 learning environments in the south of England. It was a complex project, including interviews, journaling, surveys, tasks, networking, etc. as groups of educators came together to carry out their own creative projects. The researcher sought to examine the conditions under which creative leadership could be effective, what conditions blocked it, and what actions supported it. What I liked best is that they studied authentic varied projects in real school environments, with all the crazy messiness that entails.
Not surprisingly, they found that the school environments differed considerably at the beginning of the study. Some leaders and their teams stepped smoothly into creative projects while others had a more difficult time. As projects progressed, those initial differences mattered. Where they were not addressed, they got in the way of creative leadership efforts. Today, I’d like to highlight those differences. In some ways, they appear to form the foundation on which creative environments can be built. Without them, everything creative is harder.
In the school environments with seemingly firm foundations:
- Participants felt valued
- Levels of trust were higher
- Communities had a sense of shared responsibility for students’ learning
- Professional learning felt like a priority, and
- Time and space were organized so participants had opportunities to work together.
It is striking to me that four of the five factors are affective, very similar to those we’d think about in a classroom. In a creativity-friendly (learning-friendly) class environment, don’t we want students to feel valued? Feel trusted and be able to trust their teacher? Feel like a community with common goals? Sometimes I think we forget that none of our needs are all that far from those of the young people we serve. We, too, need a creativity-friendly environment. It might be nice to think that we can walk into our work environments as rational adults who will be able to do what is needed, regardless of our own emotions. But, of course, that is silly. And would suggest we miss part of what makes us human. There is a reason the CASEL materials on social emotional learning suggest that providing social emotional learning is like donning oxygen masks on planes—adults first. Those who are leaders must attend to their own needs, then they can support others. It is hard to have a creativity-friendly space for students until we create one for teachers.
So, today, as you think about the process of building a creative school environment, you might start with these foundational building blocks. They aren’t simple or quick to put in place, but they make all-else easier.
Stoll, L & Temperley, J. (2009). Creative leadership: A challenge of our times. School Leadership and Management, 29(1), 63-76. DOI: 10.1080/13632430802646404