Creativity in an Organization:

How Work-climates stimulate and impede teachers’ creative ideas

Larry Audet, Ph.D.

Teachers are now being asked to create rich environments where all students deepen their thinking and increase their creative potential. Webb's Depth of Knowledge is a tool for teachers to use when identifying existing and new elements of cognitive depth.  Adding creativity to a learning taxonomy will require school leaders to encounter and struggle with complex questions about these carefully designed Common Core learning standards. In higher education, many leadership programs initiate the conversation by asking aspiring and practicing school administrators a key question: How do leaders best create conditions that allow for these student achievement gains? Modern leadership theory weaves its way through important literature, which suggests a need to shift away from leader as inspector of teacher performance to leader as coach. Leader as coach establishes side-by-side relationships with teachers as they discover and routinize new pedagogy that changes the way students learn (Marks & Printy, 2003). Most researchers agree that side-by-side coaching is significantly more effective than top-down directing - characterized by principals expecting employees to listen, learn and improve (Shaker & Heilman, 2008).  Moreover, creativity research emphasizes requisite skills that creativity leaders need such as having domain specific skills in creativity and placing a premium on social perceptiveness by creating a supportive work-environment.


Supplementing school leadership discourse with psychological discourse is necessary for school leaders when creating a psychological climate necessary for teacher creativity. One challenge is the body of knowledge on how school leaders create conditions for teacher and student creativity is emerging but slim. Another challenge is - lines of inquiry exist but largely reside within colleges that offer degrees in business and psychology. School leaders will need to increase their knowledge on creativity in order to enact the kind of a change required by the new school reform policy because schoolteachers are now expected to reposition creativity to the top of their teaching agenda. If leaders are expected to create a new work-environment - a new leadership model is essential (Shalley & Gilson, 2004). For now, school leaders are primarily on their own for learning outside their current domain of expertise. Investigations on school leadership largely explore leader-follower transactions, which are initiated by the leader. The other point of view is that of a proactive relationship that attends to basic human needs and finding ways to stimulate employees who willing generate creative ideas that solve problems and accomplish important organizational goals. Creative organizations require leaders to fluently converse in several fields of inquiry, some of which include organizational development, instructional leadership, individual and collective creativity, a psychological work-climate, and motivational theory.


Focusing attention on basic human needs is a line of inquiry that largely resides in psychology and is an emerging line of inquiry for school leaders who value increasing the creativity quotient in Common Core Reform. Behaviors, feelings, and attitudes distinguish life in an organization in that “each organization member perceives that climate, and can describe it in light of his or her own perceptions” (Ekvall, 1983, p. 2). At the individual level of analysis, the concept is called psychological climate. At this level, the concept of climate refers to the individual perceptions of the patterns of behavior. When aggregated, the concept is called organizational climate (Ekvall, 1996). According to contextual theories of organizational creativity, it is the psychological meaning of environmental events that largely influences creative behavior (Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). The necessary advancement of school leadership is to identify and measure the degree to which and reasons why a school environment is able to stimulate people to make a choice to be creative; a conscious act that requires a leap from the known to alternatives (Pickard, 1990).  Creativity lives and dies based on employee perceptions of their leader’s behavior (Byrne, Mumford, Barrett, & Vessey, 2009; Puccio, Murdock, & Mance, 2006; Sternberg, 2006). While the magnitude of necessary change may seem daunting and insurmountable, dogma of current leadership models will surely kill creativity before it gets started.  


Leading a traditional school toward creative ideation is unfamiliar and empirical research that guides those who are willing to plow this new ground is slim. The school setting complicates motivational challenges. The leadership challenge for an innovative school is to create conditions for an optimal work-climate that stimulates the initiation, direction, intensity, persistence, and quality of creative behavior and reduce barriers that impede them . To meet this challenge, effective leaders will balance the organization’s needs with the basic human needs and create conditions that stimulate teacher creativity and minimize impediments to creativity.  When school leaders orient themselves to human needs and organizational goals they help create what educational scholars refer to as “conditions” and what creativity researchers refer to as "work-climates." Schools with leaders who model creative change by increasing their knowledge and creative potential stand a far greater chance of successfully implementing all levels of learning within the Common Core Standards.


One of the first questions educators might ask is, “Is it possible for teachers to perceive a work-climate that stimulates their creativity?”


The answer is, “Yes,” and quantitative results are displayed in a link - below. Perceptions of a work-climate can be measured by KEYS; a survey developed by a renown creativity researcher and the norm group is owned by the Center of Creative Leadership (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996).  


The work-climate has several dimensions (Management Practices: Freedom, Challenging Work, Managerial Encouragement, and Work Group Support; Organizational Motivation: Organizational Encouragement, Lack of Organizational Encouragement; and, Resources: Sufficient Resources and Realistic Workload Pressure).  The norm group consists of highly creative organizations, primarily from the private sector.  The range does not represent employee perceptions of non-creative organizations.


Combining the Keys Survey with Woodman, et. all's (1993) Theory of Creativity provides a potent illustration of not only the importance of eight dimensions of a work-environment but interactions of creative individuals who work in groups within the organization.


Watch a movie with teachers who report their perceptions of their school work-climate.  The first teacher shares perceptions of a work-climate that kills creativity and productivity.  She works in a state that requires all grade-span teachers to deploy the same lesson, on the same day, throughout the entire state.  In contrast, other teachers report perceptions of their work-climate and teach in a school with a reputation for being highly creative. All this implies that modern school leaders need to consider how to create conditions and work-climates that increase student knowledge and their creative potential and when achieving those important outcomes, teachers will be most able if they perceive their work climate as supporting and stimulating their creativity.

Education Creation Group